Hate seems to rule the world.
The things that people are willing to say and do to each other is nearly incomprehensible. Politics have become toxic. Disagreements are now equated to brazen declarations of bigotry. Civil discourse is a thing of the past. Anger (the fruit of hate) is almost palpable today. Where does this come from?
The world is consumed with hatred because people are consumed with themselves. Even some Christians find the themes of service, preferring others before self, and forgiveness to be irrelevant in today’s culture. Everyone seems to think they are right(eous). Yet Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” (John 16:8). People don’t like finding out that they aren’t right and that God always is. We don’t like being told we’re wrong. Consequently, if God won’t affirm us, we’ll just recreate Him in our own image. That’s why the god that most people acknowledge is the god of accommodation and acceptance instead of the biblical God of holiness.
Enter guilt and shame.
The Holy Spirit convicts everybody of sin, revealing to them what true righteousness is and looks like (Jesus), letting us know that without Him (Jesus) we will all face judgment. Hatred is born of an unwillingness to accept God’s righteous revelations that are so profoundly different from our view of ourselves and the world. The Spirit convicts us and no matter how we spin things we inevitably begin bearing the weight of shame and guilt because our eternal being knows God is right despite our best efforts to convince ourselves and Him that we are. It is a sore that festers and the infection spreads until we are consumed with hatred and anger because we know God won’t ever change. We must.
Following are three men in the Bible who had to deal with being confronted with the holiness of God which exposed the sin in their hearts and how they responded to the weight of shame and guilt that ensued.
Cain loved farming. Maybe too much. There is no way to know exactly why God rejected his offering but it had something to do with the way it had been offered (see Genesis 4:6). When he received his punishment for murdering Abel he cried out “My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13). The punishment? He wouldn’t be able to farm anymore (4:12). Maybe he thought to burn any of his crops as an offering was a waste of good food and skilled effort on his part. One thing that is certain is that there is not a jot or a tittle in the text that suggests he was sorry for spilling Abel’s blood and ending his life. He was just crushed that he would never again be a successful farmer.
The curious thing about Cain, though, was his certainty that his separation from the land as its master and subsequent wandering would cost him his life: “I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14). Why would he think anyone would kill him just because of looking at him? Perhaps the guilt of his sin was so blatant that he believed it was physically tangible. God had told him, “your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). Is it lost on us the irony that Abel’s blood was crying out to God from the ground and that Cain’s punishment had to do with the ground? Have you ever read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”? The consequence of his sin ruined Cain’s dreams for his life. But it was the guilt and subsequent burden of his sin that ruined his soul. Cain ran from God for the rest of his life. But his failure to repent followed him eternally.
In the short epistle of Jude, the author rails against the apostate who, among other things, “defile the flesh” and “reject authority” (8). Then, he connects them to Cain:
Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain (11).
Cain never expressed an ounce of regret. The burden and guilt of his sin increased exponentially with time. He became the poster child of a bitter and unrepentant heart. Millennia passed, yet his name was still being associated with hatred, anger, and ultimately, apostasy. Don’t harden your heart to God’s conviction. It will ruin you eternally.
King David’s reign was about a thousand years before Christ. Everyone who is familiar with the Bible knows that during the height of his reign, he committed adultery (Bathsheba), tried to hide it, and when that failed, had her husband killed. Just another cheater who got away with murder, right?
No, because God had Nathan the prophet. And Nathan was fearless. He confronted the high and mighty king by telling him a story about a rich man who took a poor man’s only lamb for himself. The king was indignant declaring to the prophet that a man who would do such a thing was worthy of death (was the guilt-ridden king subliminally condemning himself?). Unafraid of David’s power, Nathan pointed a finger in the king’s face and said: “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).
How, then, is it possible that more than a thousand years later, Luke records in the book of Acts that Paul stood up in a synagogue in Antioch and reminded the listeners that God said of King David, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart who will do all my will” (Acts 13:22)? How can that be possible? Does God reward adulterers and murderers? No, but He does embrace the repentant. The moment Nathan the prophet finished his tirade against the king, David said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).
My life experience tells me that one doesn’t respond instantly with a confession of guilt when accusations first fly…unless a great burden of guilt and shame has been choking the very breath out of the guilty. It is obvious. David was waiting for Nathan’s accusation. He was under conviction and he knew God knew his sins. Read Psalm 51 if you want to know how King David felt about what he had done. Do you think that as a king in the ancient world David didn’t have to deal with guilt and shame? Look at these words he wrote about the time prior to his confession of guilt:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength dried up as by the heat of summer (Psalm 32:3-4).
Those who truly have a heart for God are yearning, like David, for the occasion to confess their sins. David wrote, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles” (Psalm 34:6). When righteousness reveals our guilt and shame it is not an act of judgment from God (yet). Rather it is an opportunity for repentance and restoration.
Judas was desperate for affirmation and the rewards that go with it. How cool (and profitable) would it be to be associated with the guy who was going to shake Israel (and maybe even the entire world) to its core? Almost everyone who has ever met anyone of celebrity status proudly displays a picture of themselves with the celebrity. We can’t help ourselves. The picture implies we’re important too. Judas was hanging out with the world’s greatest celebrity.
But then the celebrity started talking about sacrifice, service, and becoming the least. What would that yield? Maybe there was still a way to redeem the situation and become a celebrity (with all the benefits). And so Judas betrayed Jesus for both the money and the fame. But then there was guilt and shame. Just like Cain. Just like David. Just like everyone else throughout time that has done something they knew hurt God. His response?
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have condemned innocent blood" (Matthew 27:3-4).
Instead of running away from God, like Cain, or acknowledging how he hurt God by his deeds, like David, he buried himself in grief and regret: “And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:3).
Think about this for a moment. Of the three men who did terrible things, who was in the best position to come out from under the terrible burden of guilt and shame? Would it not be Judas who heard Jesus speak of God’s desire to forgive the repentant heart? Judas, who heard Jesus speak of giving rest to those who carry burdens?
But his whole life had been about alignment. Aligning with whoever had the best chance to make a splash. But what happened when guilt and shame washed over Judas? Since his whole life had been devoted to aligning with someone, “Then Satan entered into Judas…” (Luke 22:3 & John 13:27).
There are really only three responses to being crushed beneath a load of guilt and shame. You can run as far away from God (both physically and spiritually) as you can like Cain. But you will never outrun the apostasy of unrepentance. You can run to the warm (for a moment) embrace of evil like Judas. But a self-alignment with sin never ends well. Or, you can take advantage of the conviction of the Holy Spirit and immediately confess your sin(s) and repent like David. King David was an adulterer and a murderer. If there was still hope for him to be called “a man after God’s own heart” then there is hope for me and you…if we quickly take advantage of the opportunity God provides.