Scripture has the only good answer to guilt, including the guilt a parent might feel after the death of their child. I have talked with thousands of bereaved parents. Most of them will say something about the things they feel guilty about. It’s my opinion that All parents feel Guilty Every day. We can all think of things we could have done better, things we did or didn’t do that weren’t what we really believe we should do and want to do. So we all feel guilty in some way. Bereaved parents have those same feelings. What they do not have is opportunity to change their behavior or to talk about it with the kids or to see how resilient and forgiving kids are toward their parents. All they have is the continuing guilt feelings. I want to think for a moment about guilt. Humans can feel 2 kinds of guilt: true guilt and false guilt. True guilt is guilt for having broken a clear law or principle, especially one that has its roots in God’s Word. False guilt is not related to any real law or principle. False guilt is the guilt we put on ourselves! Guilt for little things, like not getting up one more time for the 10th glass of water one night. For imagining we can be the perfect parent. For not giving them more money when they… (you fill in the blank). Guilt for making the medical decisions you had to make. Guilt for something we said or didn’t say. False guilt is our response when our actions fall short of a state of imagined perfection. Since that state of perfection is imagined, the state is false and the guilt is false. Two kinds of guilt and 2 kinds of forgiveness are required.
From a Biblical point of view, guilt gets forgiven through the act of repentance. For true guilt, the offense was nailed to the cross. Jesus took that offense on his shoulders and paid the penalty for it. That’s forgiveness – wiping away the offense, as if it never happened. It is no longer on your record, so to speak.
For the false guilt that we put on ourselves, there never was an offense against God, so He does not need to forgive us. In fact, His redemptive plan to take away the penalty does not apply because there is no real guilt. If we continue to “feel” guilty, the issue is within us. Our “feelings” are sometimes not a good guide to what is true. You must learn to say to yourself in some way: I am not guilty, though I wish I had done a better job. Then say: I plan to learn from this and actually do better in the future. Then, let go of the “feelings” of guilt. Begin to rest in what is real and true: God’s Word and rules for us, God’s act of forgiveness for when we do fall short, and the truth of your love for your child and God’s love for you.
Ask God to help you see the difference. You will find a deeper peace, even in your grief.
(Scriptures that I meditated on in preparing these thoughts: I John 1:8-2:2, II Corinthians 7:10 and John 21:15-17 - to Peter after he had denied Jesus 3 times Jesus said 3 times “feed my [people].” Jesus placed him in ministry after his disappointing behavior.)