Easter and the Persistence of Guilt

Our world has “succeeded” in its quest for the “death of God”. But what’s persisted is guilt. The sense that we are wrong, or have done wrong. In his essay, “The Strange Persistence of Guilt”,* Wilfred M. McClay argues well that our increasing interconnectedness has multiplied our opportunities to do wrong. Think of Facebook – how easily we “wrong” others by saying wrong, or by speaking with the wrong “tone”.  

And as we have multiplied in power, over our choices and creation, so have we multiplied our responsibility – which multiplies the ways we may fail in our responsibility. Think of how many ways one can “fail” daily at tending the environment. 

Read Leviticus, and you’re struck by the manifold ways one could transgress the law, every hour – even unconsciously, or while sleeping! But our present day is no different. We too live in systems of multiplying sin and guilt – but we have no way to pay for it. 

When one drives past police, she will fulfill the law, one way or the other – either by obeying the law, or by paying for violating it, in the form of a ticket. But we are left with the ticket, but no way to pay. 

So we seek to justify ourselves, in the face of this multiplying, persistent guilt. One way we try is by identifying with an aggrieved class or group. In one bizarre version of this phenomenon: people in the 1980’s and 90’s who wanted to voluntarily amputate a limb. Driven by an unconscious drive for justification, they sought to become a member of this victim class, out of hatred of self. 

One wonders how many gender-transition choices today grow out of a similar felt need. 

McClay well puts it: “Making a claim to the status of certified victim, or identifying with victims, however, offers itself as a substitute means by which the moral burden of sin can be shifted, and one’s innocence affirmed.” 

Note here that the goal is good. But the means is destructive. When we seek this shift, this innocence outside of God, it ironically leads to self-destructive, and even bizarre behavior. 

The good news of Good Friday and Easter, is that on the cross, Jesus became the victim in our place, but by becoming one who committed the crime. Our guilt was shifted on to him. And all his innocence was counted to us. By faith we are free, washed of our guilt by his blood, and possessing the same justification that raised him from the dead.

*Found here: https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/the-post-modern-self/articles/the-strange-persistence-of-guilt