The Bible’s Answer
Yes. The Bible can help us to deal wisely with feelings of guilt. (Psalm 32:1-5) If we have done something wrong but are truly sorry, God will forgive us and help us recover. (Psalm 86:5) The Bible shows that feelings of guilt can at times be beneficial—they can move us to correct a wrong course and to try harder to avoid it in the future. (Psalm 51:17; Proverbs 14:9) That said, the Bible advises us against having excessive guilt, perhaps judging ourselves as hopeless or unworthy in God’s eyes. Such harshness could cause us to “give up in despair.”—2 Corinthians 2:7, Contemporary English Version.
What can cause feelings of guilt?
We might feel guilty for a number of reasons. We may sense that we have hurt someone we love or have fallen short of a standard we believe we should live by. At times, we might feel guilty without really being guilty. For example, if we set unreasonably high standards for ourselves, we will likely have needless feelings of guilt every time we fail to meet those standards. That is why the Bible encourages us to have reasonable expectations of ourselves.—Ecclesiastes 7:16.
How can I deal with guilt?
Instead of being paralyzed by guilt, do what you can to correct things. How?
Admit your mistakes. In prayer, ask Jehovah a God to forgive you. (Psalm 38:18; Luke 11:4) You can be sure that God will hear you if you are repentant and truly sorry and if you try hard not to repeat the wrong. (2 Chronicles 33:13; Psalm 34:18) He sees the inner person, which no human can see. When God observes us trying to abandon a wrong course, “he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins.”—1 John 1:9; Proverbs 28:13.
Of course, if you have wronged someone, you may need to acknowledge that and sincerely apologize to the person. That might not be easy! It may take courage and humility. But a heartfelt apology does two important things: It lifts a huge burden off your shoulders, and it restores peace.—Matthew 3:8; 5:23, 24.
Reflect on scriptures about God’s mercy. Consider 1 John 3:19, 20, for example. There the Bible acknowledges that “our hearts may condemn us”—that is, we may be too hard on ourselves, perhaps feeling unworthy of God’s love. However, that passage also states that “God is greater than our hearts.” How so? He sees the whole person and fully understands our feelings and weaknesses. He also knows that we are born imperfect, prone to do wrong. b (Psalm 51:5) He therefore does not reject those who are truly sorry for their errors.—Psalm 32:5.
Do not live in the past. The Bible contains many accounts of men and women who did bad things but later changed their ways. One example is Saul of Tarsus, who became known as the apostle Paul. As a Pharisee, he violently persecuted Jesus’ followers. (Acts 8:3; 9:1, 2, 11) But when he learned that he was actually opposing God and the Messiah, or Christ, he repented, changed his ways, and became a model Christian. Of course, Paul deeply regretted his past behavior, but he did not live in the past. Aware of God’s great mercy toward him, Paul became a zealous preacher and never lost sight of the hope of everlasting life.—Philippians 3:13, 14.
Bible verses about guilt and forgiveness
Jeremiah 31:34: “I will forgive their error, and I will no longer remember their sin.”
Meaning: Once God forgives us, he will not bring our mistakes up again. His mercy is genuine.