When your past revisits you

Is it possible to carry deep resentment without being aware of the power it holds over you?

Consider the story of a woman who learned the power of suppressed resentment. Fifteen years after a tragic accident, she came to terms with the anger she held and the hold it had on her.  The woman currently resides in California but was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (our home town).

One evening, fifteen years ago, she stopped her car along the road to assist a broken down motorist and on her way to the car, she was violently struck by a drunk driver. For an entire year after the accident, this otherwise athletic young lady was unable to walk without assistance. Shortly after the accident, the drunk driver wrote a letter to her but she refused to open it.

Many years later, another tragedy occured in Lancaster, Pennsylvania that caused her to revisit her past. It also prompted her to finally open the letter from the drunk driver. Ironically all of this happened as she was writing a book on forgiveness based on an Amish family. I say ironic because the tragic event that caused her to revisit her past was the Nickel Mine murders at an Amish School house in Lancaster. On that fateful day, the gunman, Charles Roberts IV shot ten girls (aged 6–13), killing five, before committing suicide.

As the story unfolded on national news, the woman found herself unable to continue to write her book. She was so deeply moved by the love the Amish showed toward the Roberts family (the family of the murderer). Their love and forgiveness forced her to face a flood of pent-up emotions. Her anger toward the drunk driver who forever changed her life had never been fully resolved. She knew she had to come to terms with the power it held over her and the resentment that consumed her soul.  

For many years, in her anger she chose to deny the very existence of the drunk driver. But gripped by the power of the Amish example of forgiveness, she recognized a need to humanize the man who hurt her and acknowledge the possibility that he had struggles of his own.  She had saved his unopened letter in a file and decided it was time to open it. The information she learned about the man helped her come to resolutions and release years of suppressed anger.

When asked what changes she experienced with forgiveness, she spoke of a new freedom from a strong gravitational pull toward a cynical and sarcastic outlook on life. This is a common shield people use to protect themselves and to hide their deep hurts and anger. Cynical and sarcastic people are usually covering up deeper issues.

When her novel on forgiveness was completed, as a powerful demonstration of her freedom from bitterness, she dedicated it to the drunk driver.  

Resentment is an emotion that enslaves us to the past. It gives whatever hurt us power over us. Resentment gives extended life to the damage or hurt we experienced. Resentment is based on a way of thinking that implies that I have been treated wrongly and I deserved better. It says, “I’ve been wronged; I deserved better.” When significant losses or hurts control us we can easily slip into cycles that move from expectation to  disappointment to despair to  more resentment.

Anger, bitterness …… idolatry

The spiritual consequences of withholding forgiveness are significant. We must not gloss over the urgent warning from our Lord where He said,

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Lack of forgiveness is one of the primary reasons why many followers of Christ are not experiencing the joy and fulness of life in Christ. A little root of bitterness is both personally troubling and poisonously infectious. When hurt by others, we become vulnerable to anger. Angry people are vulnerable to bitterness.

God pictured anger as a vicious animal looking to pounce its’ prey (Genesis 4:6-7). When anger turns into bitterness it comes with new levels of control and bondage. Bitter people are particularly difficult to help.  We must deal with our anger before it becomes bitterness (see: Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:26-27).

Bitterness for many people has become a form of idolatry that rules their hearts in place of God. If we desire freedom, we must see bitterness as a protective mechanism we use to guard our cherished resentments. As hard as it might be, we must confess bitterness as idolatry.

A bad attitude toward God?

Sometimes the resentments we hold trace a subtle line to God. We think about how God could have changed things and become resentful that He let us get hurt. I’ve met people who stay connected with Christian community while concealing their attitude toward God behind a veneer of expected Christian happiness. When I travel and teach about forgiveness, I am typically approached with general questions about “why God would allow…?” As I probe, more than once I’ve discovered that their questions are connected to deeply personal stories of pain.

We must not take lightly the dangers of allowing our hearts to become resentful toward God. The father in the book of Proverbs warned his son about allowing a bad attitude toward God. ”My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

The father wisely offered advanced notice to his son that life will not always turn out the way you think it should. After instructing his son to trust God with all of his heart and acknowledge God in all of his ways (proverbs 3:5-6), he warns him that when trials and hardships come, temptation will be there to grow resentful toward God. Many centuries later, a writer in the New Testament treated this father’s advice as God’s enduring word to first century believers (see Hebrews 12:1-15). They too stood in danger of misunderstanding their hardships (i. e. hostile treatment from sinful men (Hebrews 12:7) and becoming resentful and bitter toward God.

Questions for discussion

  1. Do you carry any unresolved resentments?
  2. Who do you resent?  Any names come to mind?
  3. What do you resent?  Circumstances: past or present?

Finish these sentences:

  • I really resent the fact that ______________________
  • I struggle with resentment toward _________________
  • I guess I will never or always_____________________” (missed opportunity/altered circumstances)

For deeper reflection

Two of the most common obstacles to spiritual growth (and often to receiving God’s gift of salvation) are resentment and anger. But how can we be free from resentment, anger and an unforgiving spirit? The ultimate way out of unforgiveness, resentment and anger is to meditate deeply and often on the greatness of God’s forgiveness of your sins— on the gospel of grace.

Please consider the following resources:

 Steve Cornell

When trust is deeply broken

 

What do you do when someone betrays you? I am talking about someone you love, not an acquaintance. How do you restore a broken relationship? You just forgive the person, right? After all, God forgave you, so who are you to withhold forgiveness from another?

But wait a minute! Forgiveness is one thing; reconciling a broken relationship is another.

Forgiveness is always required by God from those whom He has forgiven ( see: Forgive or else!). True forgiveness results in personal freedom from a vindictive or vengeful response and power to love even an enemy (see: Romans 12:17-21). But forgiveness does not always result in an immediate restoration of a broken relationship. Forgiveness must be viewed as a matter of worship between the offended and God (see: Empty your grudge account).

Don’t make the mistake of equating forgiveness and reconciliation. Restoring a deeply broken relationship usually takes time. This is the goal of reconciliation but those who commit significant and repeated offenses must realize that their actions affect the timing of the process. If genuinely repentant, offenders will accept this fact with brokenness and humility. Of course, only God can provide the needed strength for embracing the process.

The truth we must understand is that reconciliation is a process conditioned on the attitude and actions of an offender. In some cases, even if an offender confessed his wrong to the one he hurt, and appealed for forgiveness, the offended person could justifiably say, “I forgive you, but it might take some time for me to regain trust and restore our relationship.”

Minor offenses:

Forgiveness and reconciliation occur together in relation to minor offenses. In relationships shaped by the gospel, “love covers a multitude of sins” (i.e. offenses)” (I Peter 4:8). Those who withhold restoration over minor offenses are revealing lacking in genuine love based in the gospel (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1). Where such love is absent, immaturity and manipulation threaten unity. Please take time to review the two principles for resolving conflict here.

When deeply or repeatedly betrayed, however, forgiveness does not necessarily require that one immediately grant the same level of relationship back to an offender. Even when God forgives our sins, He does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions. Yes, being forgiven, restored, and trusted is an amazing experience, but it’s important for those who hurt others to understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process of rebuilding trust. Words alone are not enough to restore trust in such cases.

When a husband speaks harshly to his wife in a way that is out of character, his acknowledgement of sinning against her should be received with forgiveness and restoration. If he repeatedly speaks this way, he should expect his acknowledgements of wrong to be more difficult to receive. If the pattern continues, his wife could appropriately tell him that she forgives him but will not accept his harshness in the future without consequences.

Deeply hurt

When someone has been significantly hurt and feels hesitant about restoration with her offender, it’s both right and wise to look for changes in the offender before allowing reconciliation to begin. This is especially true when the offense has been repeated.

The act of forgiveness surrenders the desire for revenge in the context of one’s relationship with the God who said, ““It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” (Romans 12:19). Forgiveness is first about God. When forgiveness is genuine, the heart of the offended person should be open to the possibility of reconciliation (unless personal or family safety are clearly at risk). Forgiveness requires us to offer a repentant person an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and to regain trust. Yet when a person has repeatedly behaved in a sinfully harmful and irresponsible manner, he must accept the fact that reconciliation will be a slow and difficult process.

Three main considerations in the timing of a process of reconciliation:

  1. The attitude of the offender
  2. The depth of the betrayal
  3. The pattern of the offense (often repeated offenses)

When an offended party works toward reconciliation, the first and most important step is to confirm whether the offender is genuinely repentant (Luke 17:3). An unrepentant offender will resent a desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. He might even resort to lines of manipulation. 

  • “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving.”
  • “You just want to rub it in my face.”
  • “I guess I should expect that you want your revenge.”
  • “I am not the only one who does wrong things, you know?”
  • “Are you some kind of perfect person looking down on me?”
  • “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”

These lines of manipulation reveal an unrepentant attitude. Don’t be tricked into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance. Carefully and prayerfully use the seven signs of true repentance listed below. I highly recommend seeking the guidance of a wise counselor to help you see things clearly — (but only one who understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation). Such a counselor can help an injured person establish boundaries and define steps toward reconciliation that are restorative rather than retaliatory.

It’s hard to genuinely restore a broken relationship when an offender is unclear about his confession and repentance. You must be as certain as you can of your offender’s repentance—especially in cases involving repeated offenses or deep betrayals of trust. Even God will not grant forgiveness to one who is insincere about his confession and repentance. The person who is unwilling to forsake his sin will not find forgiveness with God (Proverbs 28:13).

Of course, only God can read hearts –– we must evaluate actions. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16a). We must not allow superficial appearances of repentance to control our responses. Displays of tears or appearing to be sorry must not become substitutes for clear changes in attitude and behavior.

Steve Cornell

See also: Question about forgiveness and reconciliation

Overcoming a painful past

 

My grandfather was an alcoholic for most of his adult life. Like many alcoholics, he was functional during the day and drunk most nights. My mother recently told me that she never had a single meaningful conversation with her father. As a young girl, she tried to get rid of her dad’s alcohol and even went to a pastor to ask help for him.

Mom’s life was obviously affected by living under an alcoholic father. The absence of a healthy father-daughter relationship is a significant loss. Some, (like my mother), overcome their loss and live healthy lives. Many others carry their struggles into life in a way that sends their pain to the next generation.

As a counselor, I am convinced that most personal and relational problems have strong connections with what I call the eighteen-year factor. This is the amount of time lived in one’s family of origin. These are defining years when we learn and experience many things that we carry with us for life.

If you grew up in a functionally healthy home, you received a gift that has become increasingly rare.

If your eighteen-year factor was disrupted by a significant negative experience, you can be sure that it affected your sense of security, identity and your relationships. Traumatic experiences (like the loss of a parent or sibling, the divorce of parents or sexual abuse as a child) are life altering. But you must be honest about your past and the way it affected you.

Families plagued with severe dysfunctions are also damaging to children. If you lived under an alcoholic parent or in an atmosphere of physical or emotional abuse, or with significant neglect of nurture and discipline, your life has been deeply affected–usually beyond what you realize.

Emotionally aloof fathers or parents who withhold affirmation and acceptance leave deficits in the lives of their children. It’s not uncommon for men of all ages to battle issues related to a bad father-son relationship. And women are especially vulnerable to future instability when their fathers withhold affection and affirmation. Many pursue unhealthy male relationships. Some battle deep feelings of inadequacy and a continual sense that something important is missing. Others struggle with anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.

Children in such homes tend to develop protective mechanisms to shield themselves from pain. When forced to deal with things that they lack the maturity to handle, they have to find a means to protect themselves. They’re often unaware of these protective instincts when they carry them into adulthood. Protective mechanisms no longer protect you in adult relationships.

A tendency to shut down emotionally may protect a child in an abusive home, but when the same response is harmful to adult relationships. Children of alcoholic parents often become enablers and co-dependents. Others find relief in anger or excessive efforts to control their lives. All of these protective responses are damaging to future relationships.

Those who carry protective mechanisms into adulthood often don’t understand why they feel and act as they do. They usually remain unaware of the significance of their upbringing until they enter intimate relationships with other adults — especially marriage. The walls used to shield them from hurtful experiences in childhood hinder them from enjoying meaningful and mature adult relationships.

The damages from an unhealthy eighteen-year factor must be identified for the path of healing and restoration to be effective. Although it seems easier to pretend that you have not been affected by your upbringing, denial always makes matters worse. It also assures that the next generation will experience the hurt and perpetuate the damage.

Overcoming a problem can only begin when we admit we have it and recognize how it’s affecting (and perhaps hurting) us and those around us.

Confront yourself with the truth. Do not allow yourself to drift into a state of loss by never dealing honestly with the damage done to you. Do not hide behind superficial clichés no matter how spiritual they might sound. Change is rarely an overnight accomplishment.

Overcoming a significantly dysfunctional past usually requires assistance from a wise counselor. But first we must allow those closest to us to help us to see our walls and our defense mechanisms. Usually the hardest part of this is the vulnerability it requires.

Those who have lived with neglect or abuse find it difficult to trust others and their fears sadly hold them in defensive postures. Their loss is multiplied as they never learn the joy of intimate relationships.

One of the dangers in identifying the failures and neglect of one’s parents is a temptation toward self-pity or resentment. When I asked my mom how she overcame her past, she said she refused to allow self-pity to control her life. She said, “I think too many people just wallow in their hurts and allow the past to ruin their lives.” 

The only thing we can change about the past is how we let it affect us in the future.

It’s sometimes hard to recognize that when we choose anger and bitterness, we double our loss and extend the effects of the evil done against us. I’ve observed far too many people who hold tightly to cherished resentments as a means of dealing with their painful experiences.

I encourage people to recognize that resentment at least indicates a level of emotional connection with the reality of one’s past and could become a catalyst to freedom. But resentment also offers a false feeling of control through a kind of emotional retaliation. Feelings of resentment can only lead to freedom and true control if processed in God-honoring way. Again, this often requires the assistance of a wise counselor.

Mom’s father was not a violent alcoholic and she realizes it would have been harder to overcome worse circumstances. Mom attributes her victory to her faith in Jesus Christ. She trusted Christ as her Savior when I was eleven years old. In the early days of her faith, a turning point came for her when she thanked God for allowing her to have an alcoholic father and asked God to use her experience to help others.

Beyond her eleven children, mom has had many spiritual children. These people often look to her for guidance. Mom’s life verse is:

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (III John 4).

Steve Cornell

* My grandfather authentically trusted in Christ shortly before his death. 

 

Five resources for guilt and forgiveness

 

  1. Dealing with guilt
  2. Eight possible reasons we still feel guilty
  3. Guarding cherished resentments
  4. A closer look at forgiveness
  5. Forgive or else!

How people experience guilt and shame

Have you ever heard of the term elentics

Don’t bother with google because you won’t find much about it. Elentics comes from a Greek word translated into the english word “convict” ( ἐλέγχω / elencho). It means to expose, convict or reprove. Jesus used this word in relation to ministry of the Holy Spirit:

“…when he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment concerning sin, because they do not believe in me” (John 16:8-9).

I was first introduced to elentics when asked to review a paper titled: The Application of Missionary Elentics to Preaching to Postmoderns by David A. Ridder. Elentics is concerned with how people experience guilt and shame. It’s especially important in relation to evangelism (particularly in a  cross-cultural context) because the gospel is experienced from conviction to conversion. Confession of sin leading to salvation must involve sincere acknowledgement of sin in contrition and conviction.

Elentics (in a theological context) is concerned with how people experience conviction about sin. All who care about reaching others with the goodnews of salvation must care about elentics. Taking this subject seriously will help us avoid the risk of offering a solution to people who do not understand the problem. The good news of salvation is only good because the bad news about our sin is very bad.

Salvation unfolds experientially through a series of experiences which find a connecting point in guilt, shame and conscience. It includes four elements: conviction, confession, contrition and conversion.

All people experience guilt and shame. All people feel conviction based on a moral conscience. This is related to the fact that God made humans in his own image. Although that image has been profoundly marred by sin, it remains an important part of what it means to be human (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). Even those who do not know God and His revealed will experience guilt associated with divine standards of right and wrong.

An example of the universal experience of guilt: Romans 2:14-15

“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)”

Conscience always involves a degree of cultural conditioning but it provides connecting points for God’s truth.

“In initial evangelism the missionary should stress sin, guilt, and repentance principally with reference to native conscience – particularly that aspect of their conscience which is in agreement with Scripture…We must preach in such a way that native conscience functions as an independent inner witness to the truth of what is being proclaimed about sinful selves. In this fashion conscience works with the missionary message.”  (Robert J. Priest, 1994. Missionary Elentics: Conscience and Culture. Missiology: An International Review  XXII (3): pp. 309-310)   

Application to Postmodernity

In Toward a Cross-Cultural Definition of Sin, Wayne T. Dye noted that,

“In order to speak to the postmodern conscience effectively, we must do what any good missionary does when initially engaging a new host culture. We must learn how sin is defined for the particular culture (Dye, p.29). This is the fundamental starting point for missionary elentics. As applied to postmoderns, we may safely assume that even those who reject the notion of moral absolutes, especially as revealed in Scripture, still have consciences, experience guilt, and are aware that they don’t measure up to their own sense of right and wrong.  We may safely assume on the basis of Scripture that the Spirit of God is still convicting postmoderns.”

“The missionary should systematically note when and why people feel offended, unfairly treated, or exploited.  What makes them seek revenge? What do they think is fair? What sorts of offenses do they think cause illness or crop failure? From such clues he can learn the ethical system and thus better understand the consciences of those he is trying to reach.”  (Dye, T. Wayne. 1976. Toward a Cross-Cultural Definition of Sin, Missiology: An International Review  IV (1): p.38).

Based on careful research, Ridder’s paper offers insightful contributions about how postmoderns experience guilt and shame. As one who has ministered in a University town for 30 years, I found his conclusions perceptive and helpful. 

Steve Cornell

See also: “Exploring Unbelief: Why do people refuse to believe?”

To young leaders and Christian counselors (pt 2)

Five examples of counseling from real-life cases

I ended my first post to young leaders by emphasizing that Christian counselors have a unique advantage of being holistically honest in dealing with human problems. We know that God has made us physical, social, psychological and spiritual beings. We also recognize important connections between three dimensions of personhood: emotion, intellect and volition (will).

In counseling others, we don’t have to discount any part or dimension of humanity and this protects us from simplistic reductions of behavior to one-dimensional sources and solutions. 

We also know (from Scripture and pervasive empirical evidence) that the most corrupting and alienating force in the world (sin) has affected each dimension of life. As a result, we know that any one of these dimensions can profoundly affect the others and that each one should be considered in resolving the problems of life in a fallen world. The Christian counselor should use the widest lens for understanding human behavior.

Yet my concern in this series of posts is a tendency among young Christian leaders (and some approaches to Christian counseling) to reduce life to the spiritual dimension by applying overly simplistic spiritual formulas to more complicated, multi-dimensional issues.

My personal journey

Most of my early training in counseling fit a model sometimes called behaviorism. This theory tends to reduce people’s problems to behavioral choices. On this view, life is about the human will. People must make better choices. They must choose to obey God. When faced with decisions about right and wrong, they simply must do what is right and best.

My Type A personality fit well with this model. No excuses! No blame games! Get with it and do the right thing! This also seemed to be the only way to sincerely take God at His word. “Why” I asked, “would God command certain things if it wasn’t possible for some people to do them?” It’s all quite simple and straight-forward! Right? 

Not exactly. Through many years of experience, both as a pastor and as a parent (faced with special challenges), I’ve learned that life isn’t always easily reduced to simple formulas. In fact, ironically (as I will later develop), my superficial understanding of the Bible supported my simplistic notions about life were behind my misdirected thinking.

Five Examples:

Allow me to use five counseling cases as examples of this approach. Each case represents issues I’ve repeatedly counseled. I’ll present each problem as described by a counselee and then present the kind of pastoral responses that illustrate the potential dangers of overly simplistic reduction of life issues.

At first glance (for many readers), the pastoral responses might sound appropriate — even faithful to Scripture. But, as I will demonstrate later, the responses (although using applicable Scriptures), risk oversimplification of life by dealing with people as if they were one dimensional.

Please be patient as I develop my concerns. In presenting each counseling case, I am not trying to take away the appropriate use and application of the Bible to life. Instead, I am advocating a more thorough and accurate application of Scripture based on the multidimensional way God created us.

Let’s look at each scenario:

1. The anxious counselee – “Lately I can’t find a way to control my anxiety. Unexpected waves of anxiety come over me for what seems like no reason at all! Sometimes it is so debilitating that I can’t even do the normal things of the day. Fear and worry seem to control my life.”

Pastoral response: “The fact is that you’re feeling the way you do because you’re choosing to feel that way. The solution is to choose to feel differently by obeying God when he says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). If you want to experience His peace, you must follow this formula. Obey God! You must stop trying to be in control of your life. This is a matter of Lordship. Who will be in charge — you or the Lord?” 

What does the old hymn say? “O what peace we often forfeit all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!” Have you been praying faithfully about this? Make sure you’re really trusting God to do what He says because Scripture says, “when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7). Remember the command and promise in I Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Are you really doing that and trusting Him?

2. The depressed counselee - “I am not sure why I feel so discouraged. I feel like a dark cloud just follows me wherever I go.” Sometimes I find it hard to even do the basic things of life because I feel too depressed.”  

Pastoral response: “You’re feeling the way you do because you’re choosing to feel that way and the solution is to choose to feel differently by obeying God when he says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). God even tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2).

Counselee: “The thing is, pastor, I know all of those verses and I try really hard to apply them, but the dark cloud won’t go away. Then I just add guilt to my depression for not obeying Scripture. I don’t know what to do.”

Pastoral response: “Are you sure you’re not just using your ‘dark cloud’ as an excuse? Surely God didn’t mean, “Count it all joy unless you have a dark cloud that won’t go away!” You need to search your heart about your motives. You know, ‘the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12).”

3. The confused counselee -Our son just won’t obey us. We discipline him diligently and he just returns to the same behavior. It’s driving us crazy and discouraging him. Someone recommended that he might have ADHD or something. He does seem to have way too much energy. We don’t know what to do.”

Pastoral response: “Remember that Scripture says, ‘Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him’ (Proverbs 22:15). Our sin nature shows itself in rebellion. You have to deal firmly with rebellion. And watch out for people who blame sin on things like ADHD. We should probably change ADD to BAD. Let’s put responsibility where it belongs. The blame it on the brain psychobabble of the world contradicts the Word of God. Parenting is hard work. You have to keep with it and trust God for the results. You didn’t think it was supposed to be easy did you?”

4. The angry counselee – “Pastor, my husband has a severe anger problem. He can go a week or two without blowing up but then he explodes and sometimes it scares me.” “She’s telling the truth” the husband admits. “Sometimes,” he says, “I am blindsided by my own anger. I want to control it but is seems to take over my life and control me.” 

 Pastoral response: “Well the first step to overcoming sin is admitting you have it in your life. The Bible clearly teaches that, ‘human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires’ (James 1:20). In fact, it says, ‘In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold’ (Ephesians 4:26-27). By letting anger control your life, you’re giving the devil and opportunity to ruin your relationships. You have a choice to make here. Will you listen to your anger or listen to God?”

Counselee: “You’re right, pastor, I know that I just have to tray harder. But to be honest, sometimes, I think there’s something wrong with me at some deeper level. I feel like I can’t get control of my life. I just need to see it as sin and try harder.”

Pastor: “Yes, you do need to name your anger as sin. The Bible says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (I John 1:9). It doesn’t say, ‘If we make excuses…’ does it? But it’s not all about you being in control. You must admit that you don’t have the strength and ask God for the strength. The Bible says to ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5). You can’t please God in the strength of your flesh. Only the Holy Spirit can give you the strength you need. When you begin to feel angry pray for strength at that moment to overcome it. God will help you. I’ll pray for you too.”

5. The betrayed counselee -Pastor, when my wife and I met, neither one of us were walking with God. Our relationship was very physical when we were dating. In fact, my wife was very aggressive in this area. But that didn’t last long into marriage. In fact, she seems to have no interest in sex. I almost feel betrayed. It feels like she used sex to get me to marry her, but now that we’re married, she isn’t interested in sex. I’ve told her how I feel but she doesn’t say much. It’s almost like there’s some deeper issue going on in her life.”

“I admit,” the wife responded, “I thought sex was how you got men to be interested in you. But that whole area of life is messed up for me. I really don’t like to talk about it.”

Pastoral response: “When you get married, you have a responsibility to meet each other’s physical needs for affection and fulfillment of sexual desires. Men and women approach sex differently but that can’t be used as an excuse for not meeting each other’s needs. The Bible is very clear about this and attaches a strong warning for those who fail, ‘The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control’ (I Corinthians 7:3-5).”

“Do you want to give Satan an opportunity to tempt your husband? You need to see this as a matter of obedience to God. If your husband is not putting unreasonable demands on you, you need to think about his needs in this area. Scripture says, ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others’ (Philippians 2:3-4). Your husband is responsible to love you as Christ loved the Church and you must see to it that you respect your husband. By withholding sex from him, you are disrespecting him and failing to meet your marital obligations according to God’s word.”

Conclusion:

On the surface, the pastoral responses might appear to be appropriate. Certainly all of the Scriptures have some application to the issues. But, in my next post, I will explain why the pastoral responses are potentially superficial, inadequate and possibly even harmful.

Steve Cornell 

See Part 3

 

Why do I still feel guilty?

 

Eight possible reasons-

You were in the wrong and you know it. You’ve sinned. What should you do? Confess your sins to God. Be honest with God. Come clean. Don’t make excuses. Tell God that you know you’re wrong and you need His forgiveness. If you do this, scripture promises, “…if we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (see: I John 1:9). But what should you do if you still feel guilty? Why do people struggle with guilt after confessing their sins to God? Why do they have difficultly accepting God’s forgiveness? Let me suggest eight possible reasons:

1. Unfinished business

Sometimes guilt remains because you need to finish things — to complete the circle of confession and make restitution. If a store clerk gives you too much change and you keep it or you speak hurtful words to someone and walk away; if you were dishonest in a business deal, in each case, feelings of guilt are tied to unfinished business. The circle of confession should equal the circle of offense (see: Proverbs 28:13).

2. Inability to bring closure

How do you finish the circle of confession when you’ve lost contact with the one you hurt or he has passed away? This is a common struggle for those who’ve had an abortion. They carry unresolved guilt because of an inability to bring closure. The damage is irreversible. In these cases, we must remind ourselves that the only thing we can change about the past is how we allow it to affect us in the future. If we remain bound to guilt, we’re more likely to multiply pain in the lives of others. Some have found help in writing a letter of apology and reading it to a trusted counselor. When dealing with deeply painful regrets, we often need the assistance of a wise and godly counselor. 

3. Unwillingness to accept forgiv
eness

Many feel too wicked to be forgiven. Others can’t believe in forgiveness because they don’t feel they could forgive someone who did the same thing. Those who nourish an unforgiving spirit toward someone else will have difficulty believing in the possibility of being forgiven (see: Matthew 6:14-15). Remember Jesus extensive promise in Matthew 12:31 “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” The surest sign you have not committed blasphemy against the Spirit is concern that you may have committed it! Memorize and believe the promise of I John 1:9!

4. Desire to punish ourselves

Some carry guilt as their payment plan for their sin. But the desire to punish ourselves contradicts the fact that Jesus took our punishment for us (II Corinthians 5:21). It is right to make changes in relation to the wrongs we’ve done but these changes should not be viewed as payment for our sins (see: Isaiah 53:6; Galatians 2:21; Ephesians 2:8-9).

5. Working to deserve fo
rgiveness

Sometimes we feel a need to off-set our sin with good deeds to make ourselves worthy of forgiveness. Sometimes a woman who gets an abortion will devote herself to crisis pregnancy work as a kind of repayment for her choice. Parents also fall into this trap when looking back with regrets. This is a spiritual snare for one who seeks forgiveness and restoration after having an affair. Though forgiven, he feels he has a mortgage that will never be burned. We must not accept performance-based forgiveness. This insults the grace of God by failing to take the sacrificial death of Christ seriously (see: Galatians 2:21).

6. Struggling with “What ifs” and
“If onlys”

Some get trapped in guilt when they struggle over the “what ifs” and “If onlys.” We all have a list of “what ifs?” and “If onlys”.  Some are worse than others but wallowing in them holds us hostage to guilt. This is a choice to live in past regrets and miss the present and future joys of life. It honors God when we do our best to make things right and then move forward in a positive, other-centered direction.

7. Equating forgiveness and r
econciliation

When a relationship has been severely damaged, people will struggle with guilt if they think that forgiving requires immediately restoration to their offender. Unprepared to reconcile, they feel they are also unable to forgive. This leads to guilt—especially for those who know God commands forgiveness. Yet it’s possible to forgive an offender without being reconciled to him. Unlike forgiveness, reconciliation is often a process that requires rebuilding trust.

8. Conseque
ntial reminders

Although God forgives the guilt of our sins, he doesn’t promise to remove the consequences. It’s common to battle feelings of guilt because of consequential reminders. But God will graciously carry us and comfort us through these painful circumstances. Guilt is positive when it corrects us; negative when we never move beyond condemnation to forgiveness. Destructive guilt is past-oriented, based on a refusal to receive forgiveness and move forward in freedom. Constructive guilt, when it leads to confession and forgiveness, is grace-based, future-oriented and other-centered.

Unresolved guilt produces turmoil and misery. Forgiveness brings peace and joy. Scripture says, “…if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2).  To gain freedom from guilt, we must refuse to hold against ourselves the sin God has forgiven.

Steve Cornell 

See: A closer look at Guilt 

For reflection: