“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered (Romans 4:7).”
Oskar Groening finds himself in some legal trouble for crimes he committed more than 70 years ago. Groening, 93, was a former Nazi SS guard at Auschwitz death camp and was responsible for collecting the money and valuables from Jewish victims before they were murdered in the Holocaust. He stands accused of complicity in the deaths of 300,000 men, women, and children killed there during the time he served. Groening admits, “It is without question that I am morally complicit in the murder of millions of Jews through my activities at Auschwitz. Before the victims, I also admit to this moral guilt here, with regret and humility.” For 70 years his crimes have not met with justice. But justice can be meted out against a 93 year old man? Life imprisonment wouldn’t be much of a sentence, and even the death penalty doesn’t seem just given his age. But there is also a larger question that hasn’t been addressed for 70 years – what about his guilt? Even if he could be brought to justice his guilt remains.
Groening is not alone in this. We too have done irreversible harm to others, no not actually complicit in their deaths but with our words have acted to commit character assassination (2 Corinthians 12:20). Ultimately, we all bear our own guilt before God (Romans 3:23). What can be done about our guilt? All the good works in the world can’t undo the harm we have already committed. Only God can remove our guilt from us.
Under the Law of Moses there was an interesting practice involving a scapegoat. The High Priest would lay both hands on its head, transferring all of the people’s sins to the animal, and then release the scapegoat into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:21). It was a picture of heaping all of our guilt on this one animal and having it carry our sins away from us as it departed, never to be seen again.
An interesting case study from the Old Testament is that of King Manasseh, who ruled in Judah for 55 years. He was so wicked that he murdered innocents, commanded idolatry and sacrificed his children in fire (2 Kings 21:1-9). Consider, however, when Manasseh humbled himself and prayed for God’s mercies, the Lord heard him and delivered him (2 Chronicles 33:12-13, 19). Manasseh worked to undo the harm he had committed in forcing idolatry on the people (2 Chronicles 33:15-16) but his son and successor Amon returned the nation to its sinful course (2 Kings 21:19-22). But God took away Manasseh’s guilt (2 Chronicles 33:19).
We may esteem our guilt before God light in comparison but we are fully guilty and powerless before our Holy God (Ezra 9:15). So what can be done about our guilt? God has already acted by sending Jesus to bear our sins in His body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). We must repent and baptized (Acts 2:38) and have those sins washed away (Acts 22:16) and confess them to remain spotless (1 John 1:9).
Having done this we remain faithful and God removes our guilt so far that we never see it again. The Psalmist said, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).” Think of it: whether you travel north or south, at some point you cross a pole and reverse direction. Not so east and west. When we repent and change directions sins are never before us again just like that scapegoat. He casts all of our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Now perhaps one could commission a great expedition to scour the sea floor to find them again but why would you want to? God has dumped them out never to resurface. And while often we are unable to forget our guilt, God will never bring it up again. He told the prophet that once He forgives iniquity He will no longer remember it (Jeremiah 31:34). Every one of us has guilt. Jesus offers to remove it from us forever. Are you guilt free today?
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).”