William Shakespeare’s classic play Macbeth focuses on the struggle with guilt experienced by Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth. The two had conspired and killed King Duncan in order to seize the throne. Yet, they cannot enjoy their new power because of the guilt they feel. Macbeth seems to immediately regret his actions and asks, “Will all of great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hands?” He fears the answer is “no,” that the stain of his guilt can never be removed. Lady Macbeth ridicules her husband for his tender conscience and seems not to be troubled by guilt, at least while she is awake. Yet, at night she sleepwalks through the castle trying to somehow remove blood stains from her hands. At one point she rubs her hands together and shouts, “There’s a spot. Out damned spot! Out I say!” The nightly torment eventually leads her to commit suicide. It seems Shakespeare’s point is that we really cannot escape the guilt which descends upon us when we do something evil.
Friends, most of us have never plunged a knife into a king or any other human being. Yet, all of us, in some way, struggle with remorse and regret over things we have done or said. We all want to find a way to get rid of those feelings of guilt. Even folks who seem to have little interest in church or religion are still looking for a way to remove those stubborn stains from their souls.
Some counselors claim guilt feelings should simply be ignored. Individuals are often told to move on from their past, try to ignore feelings of guilt and just seek to make decisions that will make them happy. Yet, simple admonitions to not feel guilty don’t really work. The stain of guilt still remains. Even if we have never opened the Bible or gone to church, each of us still has a conscience which lets us know that we have failed to live the way God intends for us to live. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The reason we often feel guilty is because we really are guilty. Admitting this requires humility, but it is the first step of removing the stain of guilt from our souls.
Many years ago, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, visited a prison and talked with each of the inmates. There were endless tales of innocence, misunderstood motives, and simple injustice. Finally, the king stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent. “Well,” remarked Frederick, “I suppose you are an innocent victim too?” “No, sir, I am not,” the man replied. Frederick then shouted, “Release this rascal immediately before he corrupts all these fine innocent people in here.”
Once we have admitted our guilt and our inability to remove those stains from our souls, we then need to turn to God for help. He alone, through the blood of Jesus Christ, can remove those stains for us. The good news is that no matter who we are or what we have done or how many times we have done it, there is free and full forgiveness to who turn to the Lord Jesus. Friend, if you place your trust in Jesus Christ, the promise God gives in 1 John 1:9 belongs to you. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That is the only way to get rid of the stain of guilt.
Rev. Dan Erickson
Senior Pastor, Chisholm Baptist Church