While feeding the cats this morning, two males got into a kerfuffle. I stuck my foot between the two moggie pugilists and gently but firmly sent them to their mutual corners. One of the participants, the victim, decided to make himself scarce for a time. Meanwhile, the instigator continued chowing down. Enter my father. My siblings can attest that my dad can cut quite the intimidating figure. It seems apparent that even cats can appreciate this. Dad sternly stated the aggressor’s name and walked towards him. The feline perpetrator may be the alpha among the cats, but he slinked away from my father. The guilty glances he returned to my father said, “Yes, I did something I should not have done.” Even so, the guilty cat lacks the intellect to grow from having been caught in his transgression.
Despite being human, there may be many persons able to identify with our mischievous cat. They may feel guilty when confronted with their sin, but they will not allow that discomfort to prompt restoration. Eventually, they will sufficiently recover to resume their everyday life. Hence, wrongdoers may view guilt as a wholly negative emotion, a pesky nuisance. Sadly, they might find validation from a few pop psychologists. I recall one Christian telling me that her therapist assured her that she would feel better if she would discard her pesky religious convictions. Despite what such pop psychologists have said in the past, this guilt can be a positive. The apostle Paul addresses this subject in his second epistle to the Corinthians.
“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7.10 NASB1995)
So, if you will permit me to anthropomorphize my cats further, my cat experienced worldly sorrow. This lack of godly sorrow means that the next time a similar situation confronts this male cat, he will fall back into the same behavior that earned his initial rebuke.
Fortunately, God gave humans the propensity to experience sorrow according to His will. This sorrow can lead to repentance (2 Corinthians 7.8-9). No one enjoys being like Nathan, pointing the accusatory finger at a friend (cf. 2 Samuel 12.1-15), not even Paul. Paul said that he initially regretted his role (2 Corinthians 7.8). However, such finger-pointers realize, like Paul, that inflicting momentary guilt leads to a restoration of another’s relationship with God. The only prerequisite for imposing godly sorrow upon another is to ensure your eye is free of beams while spotting specks in your brother’s eye (Matthew 7.3-5).
We feel guilt for a reason. Guilt helps us understand that our actions have strained our relationship with God and others. As such, guilt causes us to preserve our connective bonds. When acknowledging we have wronged someone, we make amends to them. We will not allow the rift to continue or grow. Research also suggests that you may be more trustworthy if you are more prone to feel guilt (Emamzadeh). Such guilt-prone people are more reliable because they want to avoid the guilt that comes from strained relationships entirely. Therefore, they will avoid situations imperiling a relationship. Just as a quick aside, we should not confuse shame with guilt either. Shame causes a person to see themselves as a failure rather than seeing a mistake that they can rectify with another. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3.23). So, we all have flaws. However, we can make sure that we do not purposely do anything disrupting our relationship with God and others. To that end, guilt can be a positive thing that though uncomfortable, leads to our refining in the fire.
Emamzadeh, Arash. “New Research Determines Who You Can Trust the Most.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 20 Sept. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201809/new-research-determines-who-you-can-trust-the-most.