From the Director’s Chair: Good Guilt

We are wired to maximize good feelings and minimize the bad ones.  Guilt is a case in point.  But guilt can be a good thing — if what it does is draw us into deeper communion with God.  Psalm 32 provides an excellent sketch of the experience:

1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin is covered.

2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,

and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength was dried up* as by the heat of summer.

Selah

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not hide my iniquity;

I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,

and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Selah

6 Therefore let all who are faithful

offer prayer to you;

at a time of distress,* the rush of mighty waters

shall not reach them.

7 You are a hiding-place for me;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

Selah

Good guilt is emotionally unpleasant.  The Psalmist doesn’t describe it “head on,” but the emotions are here in vivid imagery: “my body wasted away through my groaning all day long…your hand was heavy upon me…my strength was dried up.”

Good guilt isn’t just about what we feel.  It is about:

  • the misuse of the freedom we have been given,
  • the violation of what we know to be the will of God
  • and about the need for confession and the amendment of life (i.e., repentance)

It has an objective character that isn’t just about the emotions we experience, but about the “fact” of the distance between the lives we live, and God’s will for us.  That’s an important corrective in a culture where we are wired to maximize good feelings and minimize the bad ones.

The goal of the spiritual life is intimacy with God. And when we live in intimacy with God, we learn that God loves us better than we love ourselves and we are meant for glory.  Good guilt alerts us to the fact that our choices have put that intimacy at risk — or, put another way, the lives we are living lead to a counterfeit glory that will rob us of the genuine article.

God is not “laying a guilt on us.”

It is not the nature of God to traffic in guilt.

Guilt isn’t even God’s doing, it’s ours.

And it isn’t a place where God wants us to live perpetually.

It is temporary.

It is meant to alert us to danger.

And with confession and amendment of life, it gives way to freedom and peace.

That’s a good thing.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.


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