Missing and Moving the Mark: The Recipe for Growing Guilt

Missing the Mark

Missing and Moving the Mark: The Recipe for Growing Guilt

Over the weekend, David Brooks wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times, exploring the strange dimension of guilt in a largely amoral society.  Brooks postulates that in a society bereft of absolutes, guilt remains, because “society has become a free-form demolition derby of moral confrontation.”  There is much wisdom and insight in Brooks’ article, but this has caused me to reflect on the nature of sin and what it means to live in God’s world, even if we fail to acknowledge it.

Sin in the Scriptures is a descriptive word from the world of archery.  It literally means to “miss the mark,” and theologically it is to miss the bullseye of God’s standards.  But in order to deal with the guilt and shame of sin, one of the things we have done is simply move the mark.  How?  We shoot the arrows of our own desires and designs, which often change day-to-day, week-to-week, and year-to-year.  Once the arrow is on the proverbial wall, we paint a new bullseye – a new standard.  We say, “this arrow is my standard on sexuality, that arrow is my standard on the value of human life; that arrow over there is my standard on how I handle my money; that one is the extent of my faithfulness to my spouse; that one way over there is my standard on honesty and lies.”  In creating new standards with which I inherently agree, I can now be guilt-free.

But as Brooks observes, creating my own standard strangely doesn’t eradicate my guilt, but may actually enhance it.  In Romans 2, the apostle Paul says that the law of God is written on the hearts of men.  In other words, when we zoom out on the new bullseyes we’ve created by shooting the arrows of our own desires and designs, we discover that God’s standard remains, because we remain in the world He created!  Therefore, our guilt hangs on like a burden that will not fall.

I’m so glad the Easter story gives the answer to the guilt that remains, as Jesus exchanged our guilt for His grace, so that we might be truly set free – not from God’s standard – but from the guilt and enslavement of my own!  May God have mercy on us –  that we might be set free from guilt and shame and made free to desire that which God desires!