Guilt and Forgiveness

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2009

29 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Guilt
1.1.1 Definition
1.1.2 Psychological and Theological guilt
1.2 Forgiveness
1.2.1 Definition

2 General Considerations
2.1 The Flow of forgiveness: Vertical and Horizontal Forgiveness
2.1.1 God
2.1.2 Self
2.1.3 Other
2.2 Do we need to forgive God?
2.3 Why shall we forgive?
2.3.1 Biblical Obedience That we may be forgiven Mercy That our prayers will not be hindered Not giving Satan a foothold
2.3.2 Personal Unforgiveness will hurt no one more than myself Character Body How often do we have to forgive?
2.4 Why people choose not to forgive
2.4.1 Pride/Stubbornness
2.4.2 Fear
2.4.3 Ignorance
2.4.4 Vengeance
2.4.5 Grudge

3 Effects of forgiveness and unforgiveness
3.1 On Individual
3.1.1 Love vs. Hatred
3.1.2 New Beginning vs. End
3.1.3 Relationship and Community vs. Loneliness and Isolation
3.1.4 Being forgiven vs. not being forgiven
3.1.5 Peace vs. unrest
3.1.6 Closeness to God vs. Grieving the Spirit of God
3.1.7 Healing vs. Hurting
3.2 On Family
3.3 On Community

4 Remedial and Healing Interventions
4.1 Forgiveness takes time
4.2 Realizing Wrongdoing
4.3 Reaffirming Love / overcoming hatred with love
4.4 Confessing Wrongdoing
4.5 Repentance
4.6 Forgiveness
4.7 Releasing the Past
4.8 Reconciliation
4.9 Rediscovering Community
4.10 Future prevention

5 Available Recourses

6 Conclusion

7 Bibliography

1 Introduction

Perhaps the hardest things we have to do in our lives are summed up in two words: repent and forgive. Is there forgiveness for the man who raped and murdered a seven year old girl? Is there forgiveness for the one who is responsible for the millions of Jews and other people who died in concentration camps? Is there forgiveness for the husband, who for 30 years neglected the needs of his wife? This research paper is not only the endeavor to present the view that there is forgiveness, but also why it is important to forgive, and what tremendous effects the decision to not forgive has on the physical and spiritual life of the individual, the family, and the community. The last part of this paper includes a practical step-by-step ‘how to forgive’ paradigm. However, first I want to show how guilt and forgiveness are related to each other.

1.1 Guilt

1.1.1 Definitionm

The dictionary defines guilt as, “Remorse and regret, caused by having committed an offence, crime, violation, or wrong, esp. against moral, religious or penal law; justly subject to a certain accusation or penalty.”[1] Guilt is caused by breaking a law which the Bible calls sin; falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Since one is declared ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty,’ it is therefore not a feeling but a status we have because of sin or breaking a law. However, being guilty is usually accompanied by emotions of regret, inadequacy, unworthiness, remorse, embarrassment, shame, and blame–consequences that are painful. As I will explore at a later point, unresolved guilt does have the power to destroy one´s life emotionally, physically and spiritually, and therefore a wise counselor had better take it seriously.

1.1.2 Psychological and Theological guilt

Satan accusing us: Psychological guilt is the internalization of the emotional experience of, for example, being rejected or shamed by one´s parents. It involves self-rejection (“I´m not worthy”) or self-shame (“I always blow it”). Psychological guilt often leads to self-punishment (such as cutting)[2] and self-denial as an attempt to find relief, which turns out to not be a relief at all. Sadly, destructive thoughts such as “I deserve punishment,” or “I don´t deserve to live” are the motivation for a shockingly high percentage of people who see their only way out of their despair in attempting, or even committing, suicide. However, nowhere in the New Testament is psychological guilt regarded as a desirable or constructive feeling. In fact, Paul says that worldly sorrow leads to death, but godly sorrow (i.e. theological guilt) can lead to life (2 Cor. 7:10).[3] The root of psychological guilt is often the ‘diabolo,’ which is the Greek word for Satan.[4] In

Zechariah 3:1 and Revelation 12:10 we learn that he is also called "the accuser of the brethren."

The Holy Spirit convicting us: Theological guilt is the Holy Spirit convicting us of breaking God’s law as it is recorded in the Bible. This leads to the feeling of having failed in one’s relationship with God. Dealing with it in the proper way leads to reconciliation and restoration of a full relationship with God and others.[5] On the other hand, rejecting the Holy Spirit´s guidance leads to the hardening of our hearts (Hebrews 3:15) and grieving of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).

Guilt is the ‘phenomena’ humanity has been dealing with since the fall of Adam and Eve.

Nevertheless, there are four common approaches I want to emphasize. First, as in the 60´s, it was the common practice that the counselor tried to convince the client that he should not feel guilty for divorcing his wife, because divorce is legal. Second, as in the 70´s, the counselees were encouraged to see themselves as more than their guilt. Their potential for good would overcome their guilt. Third, as many people believe, one has to feel guilty only when one is being caught. If no one knows, no one worries.[6] These approaches lead only to denial and ignorance. None of them deals with the core of guilt, which is sin. Therefore I want to consider a fourth option: forgiveness. It may be the most time-consuming treatment of guilt, but the only one that is really orthodox with scripture and the only one that brings true holistic restoration and healing.

1.2 Forgiveness

1.2.1 Definition

Leroy Aden understands forgiveness as a divine tool for dealing with brokenness: “Guilt speaks with a loud voice, but forgiveness has the last word.”[7] According to the dictionary, forgiveness is granting pardon for a mistake or wrongdoing, to free someone from penalty (like a sentence) or obligation (like a debt or payment).[8] Forgiveness is the response to sin and an act of grace which cannot be earned or deserved (Romans 3:23). Forgiveness denies the self that demands its “rights.” It is, as David Augsburger said, “like turning a key in the lock. You never go back to look at it again. It´s closed. Forever.”[9] Therefore we can say that forgiveness is the highest form of giving in a relationship, as we can see when Jesus was incarnated and died for our sins so that whoever repents shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Leroy Aden highlights that

forgiveness is not only the Center of relationships, but also of Christian faith on which all other biblical claims rest.[10] Forgiveness suggests that there is another and better way than to ignore and deny guilt, which allows us to be honest about the reality of our own guilt and that of others. It encourages us to take honest responsibility for our own side of relationship.[11]

Though forgiveness is a gift, it requires that the guilty person repents and turns away from his sin and desires and pursues to cure the cause of the problem.[12]

Having said this, forgiveness, pardoning one´s sin, does not come easily for most of us. Our natural instinct is to recoil in self-protection when we have been injured. We do not naturally overflow with mercy, grace and forgiveness when we've been wronged.[13] In this next section I want to elaborate first on the vertical and horizontal aspect of forgiveness and then on several reasons why we should forgive.

2 General Considerations

2.1 The Flow of forgiveness: Vertical and Horizontal Forgiveness

2.1.1 God

If we picture a world without forgiveness, we need to humbly confess that God´s forgiveness and his willingness to pay the price of that forgiveness makes a real difference in our vision of human life. It is God´s love and forgiveness toward us which forms the basis for our forgiveness towards ourselves and others, which I call vertical forgiveness. God is not only the author and perfecter of our life and faith (Hebrews 12:1) but also of our forgiveness. Pride, rather than forgiveness, is our human default setting, and therefore the concept of forgiveness is a divine concept. He enables us to forgive! Everything we have comes ultimately from him!

2.1.2 Self

Without experiencing this vertical forgiveness of our sins (John 3:16), we cannot forgive ourselves, which is necessary to forgive others. Though talking about love, Matthew 22:29 (love your neighbor as yourself) supports this principle: Our love for our neighbor is based on our love for ourselves. Not loving ourselves will disable us to genuinely love our neighbor. In line with this train of thought: if we cannot forgive ourselves, how are we supposed to forgive others?

Experiencing the forgiveness of God brings us back in right relationship with God. Through this right relationship with God, we now have the hope of discovering our true selves and of being able to live at peace with what we find. We also have the hope of discovering others, meeting them in no exploitative intimacy instead of self-serving manipulation.[14] Forgiving our selves also implies accepting the way we look and are. It means accepting–even though we may not be perfect—that when God created us he said “behold, it is very good” (Genesis 1:31). Believing anything else about ourselves is declaring God to be a liar.

2.1.3 Other

Based on the forgiveness of God (vertical forgiveness), applied in forgiving ourselves, we are able to forgive other people: horizontal forgiveness. Since this paper is basically elaborating on horizontal forgiveness, there is no need to talk about it at this point. However, in order to make the flow of forgiveness more visual, here is a simple diagram.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

2.2 Do we need to forgive God?

Many people have declamations against God such as “why don´t you answer my heartfelt prayers?” “God, I´ll never forgive you for taking my lovely daughter. Why me?” The question is if we actually can forgive God, and what are we to do with non-understandable events that God allows to happen?

Common sense tells us that we can only forgive if there anything to forgive. If someone is not breaking a law or wronging somebody, he does not need forgiveness but is righteous. Having said this we have to answer the question: is God sinning against us? Though it may look like God is wronging us and that he offends ‘our rights,’ he is not. God is the potter and we are the clay. Paul says “who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:21-22). Since God is God and we are created by Him, he has the right to do whatever he wants to. However, in his unfailing love for us he says in Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the LORD, ‘plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’”

So it is very possible that occurring events are not pleasing to us. Jeanette Lockerbie says that, “we will never be able to understand or explain the wonderful alchemy that produces sweetness out of sorrow, beauty from ashes, peace in the midst of pain. Who will dispute that this is so? God is the Master Designer. He knows how best to perfect that which He has created.”[15] Isaiah says, “His thoughts are not my thoughts, nor my ways His ways” (Isaiah 55:9). Therefore, practically speaking, we do need to forgive God since he did not sin against us. However, we have to accept–rather than react toward–Him and His ways as sovereign. Reasons why we would not accept Him and His plans is another topic but has lots to do with our human pride.

2.3 Why shall we forgive?

2.3.1 Biblical Obedience

The Bible is very clear on the matter of guilt and forgiveness: “forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:13). Failing to forgive is not being obedient, and therefore, a sin against God and the one who sinned against us. Considering that the person we have to forgive is a man created in the image of God, who are we to say that this person does not deserve our forgiveness? However, since forgiveness goes against our human nature, we must forgive by faith, whether we feel like it or not. We must trust God to do the work in us that needs to be done so that the forgiveness will be complete.[16] That we may be forgiven

It is very noticeable that the forgiveness from God is very conditional. In the Lord´s prayer we proclaim countless times, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:4-6), but so many times we hear that God´s forgiveness is unconditional. Forgiveness is at the heart of our relationship with God and to know that we are forgiven means that we in turn are able to forgive others with the same generosity.[17] In other words: if we do not forgive those who sin against us, why do we expect that God will forgive us? Mercy

It may be easier for us to forgive when the person who sinned against us repents, and acknowledges that he wronged us. However, following the example of Christ, we shall forgive even if the other person is ignorant to the pain the sin caused in our lives and, therefore, does not repent. Jesus said in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”


[1] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Article “guilty” was accessed on 10 Dec. 2009. <>.

[2] William T. Kirwan, Biblical Concepts for Christian Counseling, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 197.

[3] Ibid..

[4] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language <>

[5] William T. Kirwan, Biblical Concepts for Christian Counseling, 198.

[6] Gary R. Collins, Counseling and Guilt, (Texas: Word Books Publisher, 1987), 40.

[7] Leroy Aden and David G. Benner, Counseling and the Human Predicament –A study of Sin, Guilt and forgiveness- ( Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 184.

[8] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language <>

[9] David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Not Forgive, (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1981), 39.

[10] Leroy Aden and David G. Benner, Counseling and the Human Predicament, 177.

[11] Ibid., 183.

[12] Duncean Buchanan, The Counselling of Jesus, (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 101

[13] is a part of New York Times company. Article “What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness ?” was authored by Mary Fairchild. Date of publishing this article is unknown. Accessed on 10.12.2009. <>

[14] Leroy Aden and David G. Benner, Counseling and the Human Predicament, 206.

[15] Jeanette Lockerbie, Forgive, Forget and be Free, (San Bernardino: Here´s Life Publishers, Inc. 1984), 31

[16] “What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness ?” <>

[17] Duncean Buchanan, The Counselling of Jesus, (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 96,

Excerpt out of 29 pages


Guilt and Forgiveness
Prairie Bible Institute
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Guilt, forgiveness, Schuld, Vergebung, Heilung, bitterkeit, Gemeinschaft, Isolation, neuanfang, healing, bitterness, community, new beginning
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Christian Mogler (Author), 2009, Guilt and Forgiveness, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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