Living Well without Guilt

My pastor told the congregation a few weeks ago in a Sunday evening sermon, “show me how you live and I will tell you what you believe.” It was an assertive statement that was endorsed by several contemplative hmm’s from the pews. As for me, I was impressed with the way he said that basically, worldview leads to behavior. Admittedly, I blush as I confess that what the pastor had said had made me reflect on my lack of integrity in many realms of my life in a way I never really thought before. Usually by comments like these, I feel attacked and tend to disarm such statements so that their validity is gone and I can toss it aside. But this I decided I liked because I think it is a good way to assess one’s beliefs in accordance to one’s lifestyle. The pastor probably wasn’t saying that he will judge our hearts and beliefs by what we do. It was in fact a statement on principle: that a good tree bears good fruit. Likewise, a bad tree bears bad fruit. Some here (myself included) would challenge the definition of “good” fruit—what does it mean to be good? Or better yet, what is bad? Who says so? Why should I live according to someone else’s definitions?

Obviously, not living up to the expectations that others put on us make us all feel guilty at times. In fact, we may not even feel guilty that much because we are constantly trying to avoid that terrible, no good feeling by pleasing others and meeting that certain standard of goodness. Everyone has guilt and that comes from failing a standard that society has put on them. Guilt is an inward sense of wrongdoing or feeling of remorse for a committed offense. Typically those of individualistic cultures, such as the U.S., live out their lives in avoidance of guilt. Those in collectivistic cultures base their lives more around shame—avoidance of dishonoring the family. Living better to protect one’s family and self is not bad, in and of itself. However, if a person is only doing good deeds or restraining from evil deeds in order to avoid guilt and shame (which is trying to meet up with other people’s standards), then this person is not living with real integrity. The only benefit that guilt and shame bring is that they encourage integrity. But when this person decides that what society deems is good and just is against their personal morals, or when the person finds a way to be evil without others ever knowing, then the person is liable to do wrong and never have repentance.

If we lived not to other’s standards, but for goodness, then I think our actions would be more sincere and we would be better people all around. We’d have more integrity! Yes, there is still a standard of goodness—some things are absolutely wrong and cannot be justified—but the difference is in reorganizing the mindset. Don’t live for others so that you won’t feel bad, but live for others so you feel good. Believe in what you do is right and good! If only my students would learn this and study because they know it’s good, not because I tell them it is.

Also, people should not make others feel guilty. Instead, people should take on their own responsibility as a human living in a rapidly depraving world of nearly seven billion other human beings with still more to come. People should be thinkers and doers–people who think before they act. Of course we all make errors (I can still hear my mom say “that’s why they put erasers at the end of pencils”) but that isn’t always an excuse. There are consequences for every mistake, but we shouldn’t live to avoid those, merely. Instead of doing good to avoid the bad, we should just do good for goodness’ sake!
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