Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Thursday, August 02, 2007


    A survivor in an interview following the bridge collapse in Minnesota made a statement (that has been voiced by others in the past who also survived a tragedy in which others died), saying: "I felt guilty because I lived through it and they didn't."

    My question: Is this a legitimate thought?


    Guilt has been defined as "the state of having done a wrong or committed an offense; culpability, legal or ethical (2) a painful feeling of self-reproach resulting from a belief that one has done something wrong or immoral (3) conduct that involves guilt; crime; sin (Websters New World Dictionary-Third College Edition)

    Consider the following:

    1. If there is no God and FATE rules the day, then there's no reason to feel guilty since the outcome of events was determined(or predetermined) by an impersonal power either before or as the event(s) occurred. In this case, there is no reason for guilt or drawing any relationship between oneself and another person. Each simply would receive what fate (an impersonal power) determined.

    2. If there is no God and CHANCE rules the day, then there's no reason to feel guilty, since the outcome of events is determined randomly or accidentally (w/out apparent cause). In this case, there is no reason for guilt. Again, each is the benefactor of a blind power.

    3. If there is a GOD(which is true), then there's no reason to feel guilty in relation to those who died, but rather reason for gratitude to God according to the mercy and grace extended to the individual through his providence. Here, one has not been the recipient of blind power, but the recipient of one who personally deals with all, not only according to justice, but also according to mercy and unmerited grace, to the praise of his gracious and holy name.

    Note - it's interesting that individuals express they feel "GUILTY" when one lives while others do not. The truth is that humans recognize that none of us in and of ourselves "merit life" or "deserve" to live (... more than another). The truth also is recognized that we all are just as subject and liable to death as another.

    What's noteworthy is that if survivors, rather than falsely presuming some sort of random power (or blind power) and feeling "guilty" because they came out on the better end of the deal than others, were to deal with the issue that they continue in life even though they have done nothing to deserve it (even while others may not have) and that they are personally subject to and liable to death, they might come to experience not only the temporal grace already received in this life (which they did not merit), but the grace that God extends to those who will acknowledge we are not deserving of life, and who will believe on his name and repent.

    Consider the testimony of those who not only acknowledge that none of us deserves to live, that we all are subject and liable to death, as well as the fact that they feel some sort of "guilt" when they live though they can give no reason for it (and perhaps their conscience can give many reasons why they do not). The truth is, when one comes to understand the presence and presents(gifts) of God, there's no place for misplaced feelings of guilt, but only for right feelings and expressions of gratitude and the need to look continually to God for more of the same and for the life that only he can give!

    Because he is a God both of the past and of promise, we can not only look back at grace received, but ahead at grace to come.

    May God's grace and mercy be with those who, not only in this catastrophe but in others also, seek not only solutions to those places where they struggle with guilt and pain, but also answers to these important issues related to life and death.

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