Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
(Psalm 51:2-3 NRSV)
All day long my disgrace is before me,
and shame has covered my face
at the words of the taunters and revilers,
at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.
(Psalm 44:15-16 NRSV)
For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever.
Rise up, O LORD! Do not let mortals prevail; let the nations be judged before you.
Put them in fear, O LORD; let the nations know that they are only human.
(Psalm 9:18-20 NRSV)
Jesus went throughout Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues
and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom
and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
(Matthew 4:23 NRSV)
Each Sunday, the Presbyterian worship service includes a prayer of confession followed by an assurance of God’s continuing grace of forgiveness, healing, help, and guidance – in short, renewal of the damaged relationship. Confession in this sense admits need, but mostly I find it narrows to admitting fault. The focus falls upon guilt summarized in the familiar phrase about those things we have done (that we ought not to have done) and those things we have left undone (that we ought to have done). Here we have the two-fold source of guilt: sins of commission (done) and sins of omission (left undone). Grace then narrows to pardon and cleansing – not counting our sins against us but washing our guilt away – and may even be degraded into the notion of another chance to get it right even though we are assured we shall fail and need pardon again. Such a misunderstanding of grace tends to have the wrong effect: instead of making us gracious toward others, it may make us continuously guilt-ridden and pressured to do life perfectly (or just better than someone else).
I am not suggesting that guilt is no great human problem. I know better, but I know also that guilt is far from being the only human problem, and currently it does not seem to be weighing so heavily on many people’s minds, especially not the minds of younger adults, as other problems in the human condition.