My MC’s Got a Problem, Guilt
One of my main characters (MCs) in a romantic-suspense novel I’m currently planning has a big problem. He was actively engaged in criminal activity so morally base that, even though he has repented and is no longer involved in the evil activities, he is tormented by guilt. He still views himself as guilty and, because of that, unlovable. Enter the heroine, who sees a wonderful man she could love if she can somehow free him from whatever is holding him prisoner.
Ravi Zacharias captured my character’s problem in a statement he made on a Slice of Infinity commentary entitled, Where can we go with the guilt.
Guilt has, in fact, become the cornerstone of all neuroses according to some psychologists. Would it not be wonderful if we could find a way of removing it completely? --Ravi Zacharias
In grappling with my character and the story’s plot, I needed to look first at the cries of the human heart that drive us at the deepest level of our being. Some may propose slightly different existential issues, but I chose to approach the problem with my character by assuming we all want to be loved, but we also want to be loved because we are lovable, i.e. because we are good enough to deserve it.
Guilt makes us feel that we aren’t lovable. Sometimes people will reject love that is offered them because of their feelings of guilt. Some end up in mental institutions. Some commit suicide.
A song called Beautiful (use the link to listen), written and sung by Bethany Dillon, expresses our desires to be both lovable and loved. Note the words in the first chorus:
I want to be beautiful
Make you stand in awe
Look inside my heart,
and be amazed
I want to hear you say
Who I am is quite enough
Just want to be worthy of love
How can we achieve this lovable beauty when we are so flawed in our very natures? Bethany Dillon answers the question near the end of the song, with a modified version of the same chorus:
You make me beautiful
You make me stand in awe
You step inside my heart,
and I am amazed
I love to hear You say
Who I am is quite enough
You make me worthy of love
As a Christian I understand she is talking about the work God does in our heart, making us new and forgiving us. But it is insightful to look at how God has chosen to deal with our guilt. Rather than sending Christ into this world, God could have simply said, “I view you as forgiven. Go. Be happy.” That might have been nice, but I’m not sure we could have truly been happy, because our crimes (sins) wouldn’t have been paid for. Justice would not have been served. Some measure of guilt would remain.
Guilt remains unless we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our crime has been paid for and we have been absolved from the guilt and its penalty, because full payment has been made. For a human being, full payment requires their death. If they pay by death, they aren’t around to be lovable or loved. Not in this life.
God, who wrote the moral code on our heart, knew all of this about us in advance, and He planned the remedy. The demands of justice and love are met simultaneously and uniquely in Christ Jesus. By either modern or ancient standards, Jesus Christ's manner of death would be adequate payment for any human crime. As we identify completely with Christ, we realize justice has been served. Only those who fully identify with Him have the means to deal with personal guilt – let alone have a means to satisfy the demands of a righteous, just, and holy God.
There is no other place one can look, no other worldview, religion, etc. that deals with the guilt issue in a way that actually remedies it. At best other worldviews deny guilt or the validity of its causes (e.g. atheism/humanism, Hinduism, Buddhism), or they offer something totally inadequate (pagan sacrifices).
Some belief systems offer nothing at all except your own bootstraps, e.g. Islam. With no way to assuage the guilt and eliminate the fear of punishment, it’s no wonder suicide bombing exists. It supposedly offers an immediate way of escape. You pay and supposedly you get Paradise. But what about the crime the bomber committed at death? It seems there is another payment to be made, but no life left for the bomber to give … except in the next life. Paradise? It would seem not.
As in the case of my fictitious male MC, the cries of the human heart demand an answer. But the answer must be sufficient, or these cries will continue unabated even though we attempt to stifle them.
How are you dealing with the guilt of your moral and ethical failures? Are you denying the mistakes and/or the guilt, offering nothing, offering something inadequate; or, are you fully trusting in, and identifying with, Christ Jesus, thereby appropriating His provision for you? Your answer to this question will have a profound impact on the way you think, feel, and behave in this world, as well as where you find yourself in the next.
As an author of fiction, I get to “play” God in my stories. My MC will come around. He will find love and become lovable. Will you?
H. L. Wegley