I came across a fascinating piece called "On Guilt and Social Responsibility" the other day by a guy named PoserorProphet. He argues that guilt is something Christians ought to feel, yet some (many?) Christians think they shouldn’t feel. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:
“So, do I believe that others should feel guilty for living lives that are, in general, apathetic, self-absorbed, and damaging to others? Sure I do. I really do wonder about this aversion to guilt that we have -- it is as though we believe that "accepting Jesus into our hearts" absolves us from all responsibility. But that is not the case. I am well aware of the fact that I am God's beloved, indeed, I have vividly experienced that love, but I am also aware of how complicit I am in corrupt social structures and lifestyles, just as I am aware of the responsibility I have towards my neighbour. Indeed, it is precisely the awareness of ourselves as God's beloved that empowers us to confront, and admit, how guilty we are. That so few Christians seem able to confront or admit their guilt, especially as it relates to social issues, suggests to me that very few Christians actually have been transformed by encounters with God's love.”
Oh, I have felt this guilt. I wrote about it here. It was a horrifying, overwhelming burden that I ultimately realized I couldn’t bear. It led to a debilitating depression in which I literally lost an ability to function day-to-day for a year. It also fueled my ever-increasing pleas and questions to God as to why he doesn’t do more -- because it seemed that no matter what effort I put forth to ease someone else’s suffering, it wouldn’t ultimately make a difference. It would be a drop in the bucket.
Some years later, I have enough distance from the circumstances I witnessed in India (and elsewhere) that I don’t carry this burden, this guilt, in quite the same visceral, close-to-the-surface way. Yet I still feel responsible; I know that I am part of the structures of violence that wind up oppressing others. I remain very aware of how privileged I am; and I do very much feel a call to social responsibility and social justice. But, short of a call to literally live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed (which I don’t have and feel (yep, you guessed it) guilty about), what does it look like in daily life to do something about that call? Is it some set of “think globally, act locally” actions? Is it being kind to the people I encounter? Is it signing political petitions to save Darfur? Is it biking instead of driving my car? Is it serving a meal at a homeless shelter once a month? Joining the ONE campaign? Is it doing pro bono public sector work every now and then?
I do such things now. I want to do more and think I should do more. But I struggle very much with the question of how much is enough? I fear I can never do enough, ever. In that sense, then, I do feel constantly guilty; yet this guilt tends to drive me back toward legalism, obligation, and self-recrimination...not at all toward grace and love.
I wanted to be able to rest in the bosom of God and know that he would take care of all the crap that I couldn’t. But if God isn’t taking care of all the crap that I/we can’t, where does that actually leave us? In short: how guilty should we feel… and what should we do about it?