Forgive Us Our Sins Guilt is a real symptom, thank God, there is a cure
Perhaps nowhere is the profound change that has occurred in evangelical belief over the last century more apparent than in our capacity to say the Lord's Prayer and really mean it.
Take Jesus' words, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." They seem reasonably straightforward and to-the-point, right? Christians are meant to confess their sin and shortcomings whenever they pray. Well, if that's what you think, you're in for a surprise. A Newsweek editor, who has covered the present church scene extensively, put it bluntly: the modern evangelical movement "tends to be a guilt-free, sin-free environment."
One of the most popular TV preachers, Joel Osteen, preaches to some 25,000 people each week at his Lakewood Church in Houston and to millions of viewers around the world — and sin is not on the menu. Osteen says his goal is to "give people a boost for the week."
I think for years there's been a lot of hellfire and damnation. You go to church to figure out what you're doing wrong and you leave feeling bad like you're not going to make it," Osteen said. "We believe in focusing on the goodness of God.
Another famous (although now retired) televangelist, Robert Schuller, who is credited with "reaching more non-Christians than any other religious leader in America", takes a similar line. He made it his aim to "positivise" religion by expunging words from spiritual discourse which had a "negative interpretation", words like "sin, salvation, repentance, guilt, that sort of thing."
Indeed, Schuller once said to Christianity Today: "I don't think anything has been done in the name of Christ ... that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition." One wonders whether the congregation at Crystal Cathedral ever prayed the Lord's Prayer, and if they did, what they made of the words, "Forgive us our sins"?
It's hard to know exactly what lies behind the denial of sin among many evangelicals today — whether it's the lingering influence of Charles Finney's dismissal of original sin that bedevils us, or whether we've been seduced by the clever suggestion of Freud that the fault is now, not in the stars, but in that part of ourselves for which we cannot be held responsible — deep down in our unconscious. For most of us, I suspect, it's the latter.
Freud, of course, believed that guilt is a sign of an unhealthy mind. He refused to concede that a sense of guilt is the reflex action of our souls in response to sin. However, what he and many other therapists like him have failed to see is that any attempt to deny guilt is as sensible as smashing a blaring fire alarm because the noise gets on our nerves. Silencing the alarm is not the solution: the logical step is to douse the fire.
When Jesus teaches us to pray "Forgive us our sins", He dearly suggests that we must not suppress our guilt or attempt to transfer it to others. In taking this approach, He dismisses every social theory which seeks to place the blame for sin beyond ourselves and tries to find refuge in a thousand familiar excuses.
When we pray "Forgive us our sins", we can no longer claim that "the devil made us do it". Nor can we plead the presence of preservatives in our food, that we are "a chip off the old block", that we live in a bad neighbourhood or that the weather is driving us crazy. When we ask the Lord to forgive our sins we are acknowledging that the problem is not with our hormones, but in our hearts. Our most pressing need, therefore, is to respond to the spiritual alarm bell by confessing our sins to the Lord.
Of course, some who should know better, suggest that confessing sins as "sins" will induce a guilt complex. Actually, it does the reverse. When I sent my kids to school to overcome their lack of understanding, I never observed that they developed an "ignorance complex" because I was trying to deal with their deficiency of insight and information.
When we respond to guilt by confessing our sin to God, this should bring us profound relief.
Those who should be most concerned about guilt are those who refuse to pray the Lord's Prayer. By refusing to pray it, they place themselves beyond a cure for their sinful hearts. The really unforgiveable sin is the denial of sin, because, by its very nature, there is nothing now to be forgiven. The modern denial of guilt is, therefore, the mark of apostasy. As the psalmist says:
An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.Psalm 36:1, 2
The mark of true wisdom, however, lies in the confession of sin. And this is nowhere more eloquently expressed than in the words of the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."