We expect to feel guilt when we sin, since we know that godly sorrow is essential to true repentance. But is it possible that we mistake shame for guilt?
Guilt is a universal emotion. But for religious people, feelings of guilt can escalate because we believe that we have not only wronged another person but that we have also offended God. Wendy Ulrich points out the difference between guilt, which lets us know we have done something bad, and shame, which tells us that we are bad.
God is so disappointed in me. He won’t love me until I repent. If I can just get over this, then I’ll be all right with God again and he can bless me. These are shameful ideas that Satan feeds us. It is easy to confuse them with guilty feelings, which spring from a desire to be open and close to God. Both may lead us to repent; however, shameful feelings can continue to weigh down our self-worth even after we have sincerely repented.
Shameful thoughts run contrary to the true character of God and the attitude we should take toward sin and repentance. We know that God’s love is unchanging, his patience infinite, and his confidence in us eternal. We know that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, sin can be forgiven and abandoned.
Our loving Father in Heaven does not condition his love on our good behavior. He knows we will not be perfect in this life, and he gives us weaknesses to teach us humility and dependence on him. As we turn our hearts to him and trust our own goodness—trust that we are truly striving to become more like Jesus Christ—our minds can be cleared. We will begin to see the difference between devil-driven shame and God-given sorrow, and we will come to know that God’s love has accompanied us all along (see 1 John 4:8, 16).
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Photo courtesy of (c) Jean-David Lafontaine