Herbert Lee Stivers, a former US guard, claims he unwittingly supplied Nazi leader Hermann Goering with the suicide pill that killed him on the eve of his execution in 1946. Some might wonder what’s the big deal, since Goering was scheduled to hang, anyway. Good riddance!
Regarless of our feelings on this, what sticks out to me is how guilt, whether perceived or actual, can follow a person his entire life. Mr. Stivers is 78 years old now, and he’s carried this burden for 60 years.
There are times guilt is real, no doubt. Hermann Goering was a dispicable man who inflicted horrible crimes on humanity. The ripple effect of Goering’s actions continue, more than half a century later. His is an inflated, bigger-than-life example of the darkness of the human heart…Yet there are those who harbor such hatred and ugliness all around us, unseen.
There are times, too, when guilt is unfounded, a weapon used to inflict pain and leverage power. It’s used unwittingly as a teaching aid. It’s the inner voices some hear, telling them they’re worthless. Guilt is a relentless phantom pursuing young and old, rich and poor, male and female. Guilt does not discriminate.
But then there is what I’ll call God guilt. In Christianese it’s called “conviction”. Call it what you will, it’s that inner twinge of dismay that happens when you do something you know is wrong.
Christians are quick to decry this, saying, “God does not condemn us!” Rest assured that while God does forgive the sins of them who ask Him, He more likely than not lets us suffer the consequences of our actions. How would we mature as human beings if this were not so? Sometimes the consequences are obvious for all to see, such as Goering’s pending execution following the Nuremberg Trials, but sometimes the consequences are hidden deep in the recesses of our hearts.
Call it what we will, it’s guilt, and it’s a healthy emotion as long as it’s allowed to settle down and take up residence in our hearts. Guilt is not meant to mire us down, but to propel us toward a resolution, if one is possible. Sometimes the ammends with people are no longer possible, but they always are with the Lord.
Guilt might repel us, might make us squirm, but it can be a good thing.