I find it ironic, when I think back through the years, that the one event – the death of Christ – that is supposed to free us from guilt, is used so readily and repeatedly to induce some of the biggest guilt-tripping I’ve ever witnessed.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that part of good Christian theology is recognition of human sin and creation’s unraveling at our hands. I also understand that the apex of our sin is at the cross – our attempt to destroy creation by destroying the Creator. There is some level of guilt-recognition that needs to take place and be owned.*
Yet, with all that understood, I still can’t get past the feeling sometimes that we use the cross as a cosmic guilt-trip.
One of the ways places this cosmic guilt-tripping comes out most clearly is when we preach the cross of Christ without coupling that message with the resurrection of Christ and God’s plans for new creation.
Without the resurrection/new creation message, the cross really is just a guilt-trip message. We killed God and God couldn’t do anything about it…so feel bad for him. We killed God and God lost…so feel bad for him.
The reason the story of the cross isn’t a cosmic guilt-trip is precisely because in the resurrection, though we killed God, he could do something about it. Though we killed God, the resurrection says that God did not lose. We need not feel bad for him; it was his plan the whole time to show us that our sin – that which makes us guilty – was never enough to stop him, his love, or his power.
If our story begins with a cosmic guilt-trip, we will rarely be able to move beyond the emotional manipulation therein to see that we are called, not to live in guilt, but to live in the victory of the resurrection, and work with God toward the future when everything will be recreated in the image of the victorious Creator.
The cross and resurrection means the defeat of our guilt. If the ends of our message is to be reflected in the means of our message, then we need to understand that a message centered on guilt can never give us a vision of what life could be like without guilt. Again, this is not to deny the realities of human sin, but the cross is always also to be set in the context of a God who works new creation and resurrection life out of our brokenness.
Human beings run out of gas pretty quickly when we’re on a guilt-trip. But Spirit-led hope is the fuel of persevering in the journey of faith.
*I think there is a difference between healthy ownership of wrong-doing (guilt) and feelings of guilt incited by passive aggression or emotional manipulation (guilt-tripping).