The old "guilty conscience" creeped in a bit today.
For those who don’t know me, I used to be seriously strict, religion-wise. No alcohol, no non-Christian music. I was very uptight about what I would watch on television. All of my opinions were cut and paste from today’s top preacher, verbatim. Every conviction I had, every limit I imposed on myself, had nothing to do with my genuine desires. Did I limit myself because I genuinely wanted to keep a healthy mind? No…it was all compulsion.
The problem was a guilty conscience. Somehow, despite the Christian belief that Jesus provides forgiveness and he declares us righteous in his own sight, I felt like I always had something to prove.
I understand many Christians don’t drink, or don’t watch certain types of movies, and that’s fine. I’m not saying every Christian who holds those convictions does so out of guilty conscience. If their genuine heart’s desire is to operate that way for the sake of their soul-health, then it’s good. My problem was not any of these invidual examples I listed (drinking, movies, music), my problem was a pure and simple guilty conscience. If it wasn’t movies, music, or drinking, I would’ve obsessed about something else. I would’ve found something else to condemn in my life.
Nowdays I am much more concerned with love and grace then I am on external things. I read the Sermon on the Mount the other day, and was struck by how intentional Jesus was in it on stressing a religion that touches your heart more than it does your externals–or your rules. "You’ve heard it said..but I say to you". Since I’ve given up many of these old convictions, I’ve found that instead of causing me to stumble, the freedom I’ve allowed has caused me to be more devoted. Suddenly I perceive God’s compassion, and I am more willing to show it to others.
Back in the day I was so consumed with a guilty conscience, it was so severe, so tormenting, that I believe I have developed PTSD. Sometimes all it takes is for me to hear a Christian song I used to listen to, or to hear the voice of a certain preacher, and suddenly I lock up…I feel the same strictness and tension I used to be plagued with. I feel pressured to not to do this, not to do that, not to drink, not to watch movies, not to have any secular music on my page. All things that are of little effect in how I love other people and love God.
It can be devastating, because the first person it damages is me, and the next person it damages is anyone else around me who I feel compelled to judge as much as I feel I’m being judged.