Genuine Guilt Or Self Atonement: A Theological Assessment -- By: John A. Restum

Journal: Michigan Theological Journal
Volume: MTJ 01:2 (Fall 1990)
Article: Genuine Guilt Or Self Atonement: A Theological Assessment
Author: John A. Restum

Genuine Guilt Or Self Atonement: A Theological Assessment

John A. Restum

A problem believers have struggled with is the role of guilt feelings in the Christian life. Do these “feelings” come from indefinable, subjective factors or from the Holy Spitit? Due to the fact that the believer is accepted in Christ and is no longer under any state of condemnation, he is free from the bondage of subjective guilt.

Is God in the business of making us feel psychological guilt? Are subjective guilt feelings necessarily a constructive motivation? Should all forms of guilt be equated with divine conviction? Such questions challenge the believer to examine the role guilt should play in the believer’s life. The scope of this examination into the construct of psychological guilt will involve matters of definition, secular and Christian opinion, and theological integration.

Significant to this discussion is the distinction which must be made concerning the different nuances of the term “guilt.” Guilt can be seen from both an objective and subjective point of view. The objective condition of guilt is a result of the violation of human and divine law. It is a condition, or state, of being that exists independent of emotions or feeling. An individual is legally guilty when thus pronounced, whether or not it is experientially felt. Likewise, Scripture consistently affirms that man is guilty before God whether or not he feels guilty. Thus both civil guilt and guilt before God are an objective state or condition (Romans 5:12).

In contrast to this objective state or condition of guilt are the subjective emotions or feelings associated with the condition of guilt. Psychological guilt regards the subjective experience of this guilt state. Psychological guilt is invariably described as a painful inner feeling predicated upon some type of selfpunishment, rejection, loss of self-esteem, shame, or inferiority. These feelings of culpability which may arise from behavior or

desires contrary to one’s ethical principles also involve both selfdevaluation and apprehension growing out of fears of punishment. Psychological guilt is defined by S. Bruce Narramore as, “a complex cognitive-emotional reaction we experience over the disparity between who we are (or how we act) and who (or how) we think we ought to be.”1 Hence, guilt felt subjectively is primarily an internal process.

Closely related to the construct of psychological guilt is the notion of conscience. The conscience is generally associated with the functioning of an individual’s system of moral and ethic...

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