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Out of the question: haunted by guilt feelings

29 August 2007

Your answers

Stop praying for forgiveness for those sins. You have been forgiven. Trust God. When feelings of guilt and shame threaten to overwhelm you, remember Jesus’s dying words as he was nailed to the cross: “Father, forgive them,” he pleaded on behalf of his executioners. And to the dying murderer hanging at his side, he said: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” If Jesus could for-give these, he can, and has, forgiven you.

Your temptation has been to wallow in the Slough of Despond. Whatever your emotions, you need to accept God’s forgiveness. Give thanks. Ask God to teach you how to love him and trust him and rejoice in his love. He will. But it will take time.

Don’t be surprised if God leads you to seek medical help as well. God works in mysterious ways. Persistent feelings of guilt can be a symptom of clinical depression — an illness. Be humble enough to face up to this. There is no shame in asking for medical help with a broken leg and nor is there shame in asking for medical or psychiatric help with depression.

You won’t need to confess your sins to your doctor: just explain your longstanding feeling of overwhelming guilt and remorse. Medicine now has many strategies to deal with depression. Thank God for this, and accept these ministrations as part of God’s plan for you. It could be part of the forgiving process. God bless you.
Elizabeth Bray
Linton, Cambridge

Forgive me if this is an impertinence, but has the questioner tried availing himself or herself of sacramental confession?

Many find that the full disclosure of one’s sins and one’s sorrow for them, aloud, to God in the presence of a priest, followed by hearing the priest’s authoritative statement of God’s forgiveness (“I absolve you”) and any “ghostly counsel” which the priest may be able to provide, enables the guilt-ridden sinner to forgive himself or herself and thus complete the process of healing.
Rosemary King (Reader)

More than probably God has forgiven you; and more than probably you haven’t forgiven yourself. It may be that you will find that a course of counselling or psychotherapy will help. A counsellor might encourage you to talk about your childhood, and in particular how forgiving your parents were to you. If they were reluctant to forgive, it’s not surprising that God, whom we call Mother or Father, you experience as someone also unwilling to forgive.

If being forgiven was not something you experienced as a child, it will need some time in therapy for you to experience it as an adult. Further, you say: “the more I pray for forgiveness, the more the sins haunt me.” If they are always on your mind, they might always be on your heart, however much God may wish to forgive you. Again, a counsellor could help you look at how you think about these “sins”. I suspect the constant thinking about, or even the constant trying not to think of them, has become self-defeating.

Just talking about your sins and how you feel about them will have an amazing cathartic effect. I would hope that seeking out a sympathetic or, should I say, empathetic and trusted priest may do more than a thousand private tortured confessions. God has done all he can to make forgiveness available, which includes giving us others to talk to about our feelings and sense of guilt.
(The Revd) Tim Coleman (counsellor)
Romford, Essex

Your questions

A bishop with a recognised doctorate from one of our universities is not uncommonly referred to as “Dr xxx”. Following this practice, can a bishop without a doctorate be called “Mr yyy”? R. T.

Why was the Benedictus Qui Venit dropped from our eucharistic liturgy in 1552, and what are the implications of its reintroduction? G. C.

How did the dangerous and irrational ending “This is the Word of the Lord” take the place of the more rational and reverent “Here endeth the first [second] lesson” and “Here endeth the epistle”? M. P.


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