Here’s a conundrum. You sin. You know it. You mull over it. You obsess over it. You feel the shame. You lay it before God. You pray. You weep. You repent. It’s done.
Except it’s not.
The guilt is still there. It dogs you. It jumps up out of nowhere when you weren’t even thinking about it. It bites – takes a sudden chunk out of your throat when you see something that triggers a memory. It’s there in the darkness when’re trying to sleep. It makes your heart twitch and your stomach churn. It makes you feel queasy with shame.
We think we’re supposed to be fine, right? We’ve given it to God, and we know that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
So why do we still feel the tentacles of shame gripping our throat? Does it mean I didn’t really lay it before God? Does it mean he hasn’t actually forgiven us?
Then, on top of feeling the guilt, the worry starts. And this is where the devil gets us – we see this on memes and inspirational instagrams. The devil makes us carry the guilt in order to interfere with our relationship with God. The devil gives us fear to stop us enjoying life to the full, the way God intended. Are the memes true? It’s possible. But there is an additional danger that it removes any responsibility from ourselves to rectify it. If it’s the devil’s fault, there’s nothing we can do. We are powerless.
Well, that’s just not true.
For starters, there’s two problems with how we think this should work. First, we try and do it on our own. Secondly, we think we should be unburdened immediately. 1 John 5:16 says “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Confess to each other. Pray for each other. This is something we do with our support networks. Our Christian friends or our Bible study groups, or our trusted pastors. Not something we do on our own. This is burden we share
And we will be healed. Not miraculously better. We pray with those we trust and who share our burden – which means its a process, its not instantaneous. So expect this to take a while. But expect it to gradually get better.
Where we do let the devil in, is when we think that we laid it before God, but the sin is still there, owning us in the the shame. Which must mean that we weren’t worthy of forgiveness. We may think we are being self-deprecating and humble, but what we’re really doing (unintentionally) is rejecting God’s gift of his son. So when I say “let the devil in” I mean, where we fall into sin. We are so worthy of forgiveness that God sacrificed his child for us. Let us not forget that.
So what do we do? Because I don’t say all this to make us feel worse about ourselves. We can look to King David, who had done one of the worst things a human could possibly do. He saw Bathsheba (actually spied on her while she was taking a bath – see 2 Samuel 11:2) who was married to Uriah the Hittite. He slept with her/raped her (you can’t really tell from the text) and she falls pregnant. David tried to trick Uriah so that he will think the baby is his but Uriah is an honorable man and doesn’t walk into David’s trap. So David has Uriah sent to the most dangerous part of the war so he’ll be killed – which he was (2 Samuel 11:15). Then David marries Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:27).
The whole thing is despicable. In Psalm 51 we see David’s repentance. In this psalm, he pours out his heart to God. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” (v3) he says. This feels familiar. His sin is always before him – its there when he sleeps, when he is thinking about something else, when a memory is triggered.
What does he ask God? “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean.” (v7) Hyssop looks a bit like lavender and has been used in traditional herbal medicine for millennia. It’s also mentioned several times in Leviticus and Numbers in relation to cleansing from impurity – both the body and the house. It is also key in covenant making. In Hebrews 9:19-22, it says that Moses dipped hyssop branches in blood and sprinkled the scrolls and the people. “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
It perhaps should not be a surprise to us then, that we see hyssop mentioned at the cross. In John 19:29, John says Jesus was thirsty and “a jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.” There’s a great irony here. A ceremonial plant used for cleansing is used in an act of humiliation of the living God. The cross. Where everyone is sprinkled with the blood of the lamb in our new covenant. Where everyone is cleansed with his blood.
In our guilt and shame, we need to remember to go back to him. David asked for cleansing with hyssop which was a ceremonial tool available to him. We must ask for cleansing by Jesus. We have been saved. Now we need to be cleansed.
Even as David said in Psalm 51, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (v10) This is a prayer we can share. This is a prayer we can speak. This is a prayer that our trusted friends can speak for us as they share our burden. And with his help and strength, we can renew our steadfast spirit – renew. This happens repeatedly. We cannot be perfect. Remember we must renew every day.
So when you find the guilt crushing you, remember: Take it to God. Absolutely take it to God. Repent. But don’t expect to not feel the twinges from an old injury. Take it to trusted friends. Let them share the burden. Pray for cleansing. Go back to the cross. Allow Jesus to remind you that you were sprinkled with his blood of the new covenant. Look to Jesus and pray “create in me a pure heart, God! Renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Let this be the circuit breaker when you lie in turmoil in the darkness.