Many nowadays do not understand the place of guilt in modern day protestant churches. Confession is rare and not understood by those who bear the name of Christ. Yikes!!! Other less-Christian models of dealing with the human condition of guilt have taken center stage in Christian churches today. Oddly enough, the secular world has barfed out something that looks like a confessional on www.postsecret.com. I’m not surprised. This secular confessional, demonstrated by its popularity, is providing a therapy not otherwise available. Here people embrace their guilt and reveal their secrets.
The problem with psychotherapy today is that it often attempts to alleviate guilt in the human person by justifying it with reason and circumstance. It does not face guilt head on with courage and with faith. It does not know faith. Unfortunately, the culture is such that most church’s “small groups” fall into or are intentionally formed therapy groups after the psychotherapy model not after the Christ model of accepting the unacceptable.
In Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be” he talks about the human person’s need to accept acceptance in its relation to human guilt. This is the foundational story of Christian faith. God embraces us. He welcomes us. He brings us into his “household” as adopted daughters and sons even though we are guilty and do not deserve this acceptance. Guilt and condemnation in Tillich’s schema is category of existential anxiety. The other categories consist of fate and death and emptiness and meaninglessness—all of which lead to pathological anxiety and are expressed in the human body as neurosis, if taken to its natural end. In the reformation evidence of the manner in which the anxiety of guilt was addressed is reflected in such phrases as “forgiveness of sins” and “justification through faith”. Our reformer forefathers overcame their anxiety of guilt by owning their guilt and embracing the acceptance, which accepted them in their guilt even as though their guilt was non-existent. This is the Christian’s salvation. This is the Christian’s encounter with God. The person who attempts to convince a person, expressing his/her guilt, that he/she is not guilty is doing his friend a great disservice. While the friend’s guilt anxiety is rationally alleviated, the spirit suspects otherwise and the nagging suspicion of being unacceptable drags on and on and on. Yet the friend is best a friend and becomes a brother if he faces his friend’s anxiety of guilt, staring into its ugly face, declaring it unacceptable, terrible and worthy of the punishment of eternal separation from himself. Yet in this moment of anxiety on the precipice of eternal separation, he makes a movement of grace. He embraces his guilty friend as though he were not guilty, giving him the courage to believe he is accepted despite his unacceptableness, inciting him to walk in the “courage to be” above the anxiety of guilt. He then is transformed by the acceptance, rising above the particular behaviors which feed into his guilt bank.