On Guilt, Hell, Talking Reptiles, and Other Really Scary Stuff

It won’t do you a particle of good to enter upon a career of self-condemnation. Remorse never got anybody into heaven. A sense of regret and all that sort of thing is not the process. The process is reform; it is change; it is correction…There is no merit in suffering. The only merit there is is in transformation. I have found people carrying along their agony because they thought it was entirely proper to be everlastingly berating and condemning themselves. You will never get to heaven that way…There is nothing rational in self-condemnation. One may condemn the error, but not himself – never himself.” – Edward A. Kimball, Lectures and Articles on Christian Science 

I have come to believe that self-condemnation is one of the most self-indulgent of things.  It doesn’t really fix anything, you know? We sit in it, ruminate on it, live and relive scenes from our lives over and over again, full of regrets and guilt – and how, I ask you, does that make us, or the world we live in, any better?

Several years ago, when I was struggling with a depression (part hormonal and part severe job burnout), one of the symptoms I had to grapple with daily was a crippling feeling of guilt.  I felt guilt about pretty much everything – what I said, what I did, what I felt – I even felt guilty about feeling guilty. I often doubted that I’d ever make it through and find a place of peace for myself. It was hell.

When I say it was hell, I’m not being metaphorical.  Jesus said the “Kingdom of God is within” us, and Paul said that “now” was the “day of salvation.” I don’t think we have to die to experience heaven and salvation – we can have it right now. I believe when our thoughts are full of love, joy, forgiveness, and hope – voila! -we’re in heaven.  And, likewise, when our thoughts are full of fear, anger, hate, and guilt we’re in hell.

During the time of my hormonal-burntout funk, I was in hell.  I didn’t feel angry or hateful towards other people, but I sure felt it towards myself.  I felt like a failure, and I was finding it really hard to live with myself, and live with my thoughts and feelings. I often doubted that I’d ever make it through to the other side.

I should probably explain that what I was experiencing at that time was something completely new and alien to me.  Most of my life I’d been a really joyful person – I’d found it easy to see all the good going on around me, and in me.  I saw myself, and everyone else, as children of God – as children of Love, Truth, and Life – and it was easy for me to recognize and appreciate the beauty and harmony around me, and align myself with it, and wrap myself up in all that beauty.

When I was living through the depression I was in the same physical space – the same space filled with beauty, harmony, and good – but I couldn’t see it.  It was like there were two separate universes filling the same place simultaneously – right where I was experiencing hell, there was heaven – and I knew if I could just shift my thoughts, I’d be able to see it. But man, it was a struggle.

You know, I wonder if a lot of the world thought about guilt and self-condemnation can be traced back to the allegory in the third chapter of Genesis –  the chapter with talking reptiles (no, not Barney the Dinosaur – although I guess some people find him kind of scary, too) and forbidden fruit, and Jehovah booting his own creation out of Paradise because they’re unworthy to experience it.  I can see how, if someone interpreted that chapter literally, one’s future might look pretty grim.

I myself have always preferred the first chapter of Genesis: God creating man (male and female) in his image and likeness, and seeing that everything he created was “very good.”  Personally, I’ve always thought the second and third chapters of Genesis are insulting to God on just so many levels: In those chapters his “image and likeness” is a sinner, made of dust and a rib – and this would indicate that God is a sinner of dust and ribs, too – which…well, I’m not really sure that’s a god I’d want to worship, you know?;  And in the second and third chapters Jehovah condemns his own creation to eternal damnation for being what he created them to be – which makes God look like a pretty unfit parent – I mean, giving your child an eternal “timeout” in a place of fire and brimstone doesn’t speak well for one’s parenting skills, does it? No, if I have to choose between the first chapter of Genesis and the second and third chapters – I’ll pick the first chapter, thank you very much.

In his beautiful sermon on love, The Greatest Thing in the World, Henry Drummond has this to say about “sin”: “Many things that men denounce as sins are not sins; but they are temporary… John says of the world, not that it is wrong, but simply that it ‘passeth away.’ There is a great deal in the world that is delightful and beautiful, there is a great deal that is great and engrossing, but it will not last. All that is in the world, the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, are but for a little while. Love not the world therefore. Nothing that it contains is worth the life and consecration of an immortal soul…You will give yourself to many things; give yourself first to love. Hold things in their proportion.” – Henry Drummond

Holding “things in their proportion” is one of the keys to sanity, I think. I believe we make too much of “sin” – focus our energies on fighting it and fearing it.

Edward A. Kimball writes (In Lectures and Articles on Christian Science): “The fear of evil is the confirmation of it… Fear is not inspired by good… Fear serves no good purpose.”

I still vividly recall the day I told my husband that everyone was telling me really wonderful, flattering things  – what a great teacher I am, what a great writer, what a good person – but that I felt detached from all of that, likes these people didn’t really know who I was.  My husband started laughing. “Karen,” he said, “everyone else sees who you are. You’re the only one who’s not seeing it.”

That was a powerful moment for me – in that moment I think I began to wake up from the nightmare of guilt, self-condemnation, and self-hate.

If you’re struggling with that same nightmare, I want you, dear reader, to recognize who YOU really are, too.  You are the expression, manifestation, reflection, image and likeness of Love, Truth, and Life – the good that people are recognizing in you and telling you about – that’s all true! Accept it. Recognize it. Thank God for it. Enjoy your wonderfulness, and use it to help others see their wonderfulness, too.  Be part of the revolution!

At the time I thought that period in my life was the worst thing I’d ever gone through. But now, looking back, I realize it was one of the best things I’ve ever gone through.  Experiencing the depression gave me huge empathy for other people struggling with the same kind of thing, and during it I learned how to consciously shift my thoughts and see the good all around me – that was a huge lesson!  I lost myself for awhile, and then found myself again – rediscovered myself as the child of Love, Truth, and Life.

We are Love’s creation, created in the image and likeness of Good.  I believe that about you and I believe that about me, too. We are way cool.

“Behold, now are we the sons of God.” – I John 3:2

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