I have an overactive conscience. In ministry this is awful. You are overwhelmed by a unique sense of FOMO. For those that don’t know, FOMO is the Fear of Missing Out. Perhaps christian FOMO is fear of not letting God move. However it is, every action for years had an underlying layer of guilt.
I remember a time where I stopped playing video games for about 6 years. Every time I picked up a controller, this little voice would whisper in the back of my mind… “You are wasting your time. You are being unproductive. This is a waste!” so then I would take a guilt driven urge to do good and turn it toward something productive. I would watch people doing normal things like spending the night having fun with friends and think, “I have at least an event for every night of the week. I have to serve. No one else will. Let them have the cake and devour it lustfully too.” People didn’t help either, instead of supporting a hobby like video games, often it was lambasted by former mega church pastors in Seattle and christian culture. I should’ve picked a more proper hobby like talking about cars and watching football. After all those aren’t wastes of time. After all Every Sunday football game contributes toward the good of society and has never once been asinine or banal. People love to add guilt to what you are doing.
Ultimately it felt unhealthy. It felt wrong. Things I once loved such as reading the bible when I woke and serving in my spare time at church began to feel less about love and more about what’s expected. Guilt began to drive a wedge between myself and what I enjoy. Serving felt so wonderful before and then it began to feel less fulfilling. Perhaps this is what burn-out is I would think.
I was 24. I was living in Asia. Our school took a holiday break, the students left, and I realized when the weekend hit and my friend Dale was out of town that I had somehow managed to eliminate any context of having hobbies. I had eliminated anything personality about who I was. I had no artistic outlet, no creative expression, and this being four years ago was before Netflix and instant television. I sat in a house for 72 hours, wandering occasionally outside for food.
Guilt had driven me to the point of exhaustion, eliminated my hobbies, and taken the joy out of serving. I realized then that guilt had became my motivating factor in serving God. I didn’t know how to process that. It has been years now, and I think I am finally seeing what it is like to not feel guilty all the time. I may or may not play a little Fallout 4. I sometimes take my wife on dates instead of doing every possible event offered in the area that is spiritual. I am learning to feel free. I am learning to just feel innocent.
Last month, I was perusing a book by Roland Muller and he made a profound observation. Muller claims that three primary views exist on earth and they spring from the Garden.
When Adam and Eve sinned they expressed three things, fear, guilt, and shame. These three negative values grew and multiplied to create three main worldviews.
The Shame and Honor worldview makes honor the highest value. This is often found in Asiatic cultures. Asian education systems, Islam, China’s concept of Face, Honor killings, never being good enough, always having further to fall on the social ladder then further to climb. The currency of this worldview is shame.
The Fear and Power worldview is about fighting fear, causing fear, and obtaining power. This seen in tribal conflicts and superstition. Staying awake at night wondering about mortality. Skipping the 13th floor. And ultimately pursuing a way to have control in a world without control. The currency is fear.
And finally the Guilt and Innocence worldview where the western mindset finds itself most comfortable. Everything boils down to guilt or innocence. Didn’t read your bible? Guilt. Didn’t do your homework. Guilt. The currency and motivator in this worldview is guilt. Everything in the west tries to push guilt or eradicate guilt. It is our currency.
Take a homeless man on the street asking for money. We know very little about him except he doesn’t bath or shave much and he somehow can afford the money to buy sharpies, which as I is recall one of the most expensive forms of pens. We walk past him and see a sign, “Veteran, family, out of work, need money.”
A Guilt worldview feels guilty and decides to give to the man. “Oh good, i did my deed, i feel good about myself.”
A Shame worldview might shame the man or if surrounded by people, give to him in order to look honorable.
A Fear worldview might see it as an omen. “It is of course good karma to give to him!”
We are burdened by these motivating factors. In fact much success is found when a homeless dude just honestly says, “I want the beer. ALL THE BEER!” People drop fat stacks of dosh on that. They breathe a sigh of relief and say, “At least he’s honest.” which loosely translated is saying, “Thank God he didn’t guilt me once more like all those other people. I can make an honest intellectual decision to bless him or not. I don’t have to be guilted into it.”
Think about it for a second. Have you ever wondered why you struggled so much to reconcile biblical concepts? Calvinism and Reform theology being absolutely obsessed with legal terminology and definitions. Western society boiling everything down to guilt analogies, “Christ took our guilt, therefore we are declared innocent.” It is strange, the power this holds over us. As I started thinking about guilt I realized it may singlehandedly be the most powerful motivator in my life. I have seen the self-purgatory prayer meetings where people beat themselves on chest hoping servant prayer will make them heard or healed of sin. Doctrines such as total depravity make innocence UNATTAINABLE and yet want us to be motivated. Is it any wonder that falling too far into certain theology creates Beer and theology nights and angsty hipsters? It’s like watching a football game when you know the score. Why bother? We are guilt obsessed and in a sense we found a solution.
Why has moral relativity taken a stranglehold in this generation? Because it’s genius really. If the currency of your world is guilt, remove the guilt, and suddenly everything will be fine. Rebel against the guilt by removing the stinger of our actions. Things that once seemed evil as a 90’s kid now seem to echo inside of me as a resounding, meh. Acceptable. The flood of terrible behaviors has just overwhelmed. Sometimes I look at people and think, “A decade ago you would’ve hidden this.”
Then a next assault instead of living upright lives and trying really hard to be holy, we idolize “Authenticity.” As long as someone is struggling our guilt feels bearable and we can breath a sigh of relief. We idolize being people who smoke and drink and swear. Maybe nothing is wrong with those things but the emphasis on propagating that behavior in this generation is shocking when compared to just a decade ago. Same-sex relationships once were considered wrong, but as society has shifted, our views have slipped less and less toward justice and more towards enabling us to do anything we please. Regardless of how you see these issues, the assault was simple, make them guiltless pleasures. And then they become acceptable.
We don’t need to go back to conservative values. Rather we need to actually have values. It is so hard to get people to see right and wrong these days and I find myself sometimes looking back and thinking about how my moral compass is constantly being assaulted. Remove the guilt, and you have made it acceptable. Genius.
This is why I see blog after blog and article after article by some big name Christian saying, “Stop reading your bible!” or “Don’t feel guilty about this and that!” The cry goes forth, “Those things don’t make you spiritual! Being spiritual is different, like not judging people or something, but yeah, no more bible guilt!” And yet those answers… they remain hollow. If I feel bad because I don’t do spiritual things, shouldn’t there be a better solution then identifying people as spiritual even though they don’t do spiritual things? Isn’t that just a cop-out?
“I’m not guilty of being unspiritual because I do these things!” Maybe you actually are but not because of what you think. We are fighting the wrong battle and as a Christian minority in America, it is KILLING us.
Look back on all this and still it is a very guilt motivated world. A western world were our currency is the negative emotion associated with failure or lack of action. In fact all three of those world views are terribly negative.
Let’s go back to the homeless guy. I want you to see something in that situation. Everyone is motivated by negativity. Every worldview is so negative.
Our legal western terminology has whitewashed the biblical ideas and turned them into a different system then they are. Other views don’t do much better with that idea. Hebrew words with very positive thoughts have been turned into negative ideas. The Hebrew world was very positive. The American day starts with a grueling wake up and a trudge toward work. It ends with rest. The Hebrew day starts with rest at around sundown and ends after work. The idea of the law was an opportunity to do good, teachings to live by that offer life.
There is a fourth worldview. Jesus was getting to it with all his beautiful mountain top sermons. A new worldview oriented toward the positive. The charity worldview.
Maybe, just maybe, we are walking around and feeling constantly broken because we are laden by the burden of guilt, shame and fear.
Jesus though. Dat Rabbi…
He would’ve given to the homeless guy not out of obligation, honor, guilt, or fear. Rather, He would’ve given because it was generally good for the homeless guy. And if it wasn’t He wouldn’t have given. You see the biblical worldview seeks to free us from these false motivators and strike at the heart. It seeks to create a real and positive relationship with God and with people. Some theologies are so westernized and so dark in the interpretation of the human spirit it would be impossible to be charity motivated within them.
Maybe, just maybe, Jesus wanted us to do good for the sake of good. Not for any weird outside motivation. It makes God’s reputation beautiful and shows Him to the nations. This idea though is revolutionary. So revolutionary people would crucify a man over it.
Give because giving is good, not because you get something back. Love your family because love demands that you actually care, not because society demands that you look like you care. It roots the unjust out of our causes. It says stop stealing because it’s hurtful and start giving because it is the charitable thing to do. It is right, and decent, and honorable.
So often the church has been moved with much passion toward crusades of change driven by a guilty conscience. Perhaps it is time we got actually authentic and stopped sinning when no one is looking. Started giving because you want to see those gifts make a difference and do good. Heck, get up in the morning and read your bible not because it’s the “Christian thing to do.” but because you actually want a real relationship with God. A good relationship with God. It is time for the guilt to be ripped from our motivations and the true motivation behind it to shine. Buy your wife flowers, not because it clears the air and earns a smile, but because she likes flowers and you like her.
Go feed the homeless, not because it’s morally a superior thing to do on a weeknight. Not because you feel bad for them. But because they are hungry, and you have more food then you know what to do with.