Recent experience has reminded me that both C.S. Lewis and Elder Maxwell differentiated between two types of guilt.
The first type of guilt was good or inspired guilt. The second type of guilt was bad or diabolical guilt. The purpose of bad guilt is to deceive, to drag us down, and to slow us down (sometimes, unfortunately, bad guilt can slow a person down permanently, even culminating in self-destruction.)
Elder Maxwell articulated this difference especially for Mormons:
“We should distinguish more clearly between divine discontent and the devil’s dissonance, between dissatisfaction with self and disdain for self. We need the first and must shun the second, remembering that when conscience calls to us [,] it is not solely to scold but to beckon.” (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, 307)
Inspired guilt inspires us to repentance, prompting reliance on the Lord and on his Atonement. Inspired guilt is a signal of transcendence, alerting our conscience that a change must be made in us, for the better. The prompt of conscience is usually spiritually painful, to get our attention, analogous to the way physical pain might get us to our doctor.
Wrote Elder Maxwell:
“Our self-esteem need not be shattered by failure, if . . . love and support are there to assist is. In the home there can be praise which can balance off our failures. Self-contempt is of Satan [.] Since self-esteem controls ultimately our ability to love God, to love others, and to love life, nothing is more central than our need to build justifiable self-esteem.” (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, 306)
Part of the spiritual pain we are hurting from very often is also the emotional pain of a minor identity crisis, owing to the stress in behaving inconsistently with how we like to see ourselves.
II Nephi 9:46 describes the Judgment as, among other things, an identity crisis for the unrighteous, when “know[ing] their guilt” they are “constrained to exclaim: Holy, holy are thy judgments, O Lord God Almighty . . . . the devil hath obtained me.”
Lewis understood the Day of Judgment as a “concept which cannot by any conjuring be removed from the teaching of Our Lord.” (CS Lewis, “The Psalms” in Christian Reflections, 123)
Two Types of Guilt Examined
As active Mormons, it is our children who may be experiencing diabolical guilt the most intensely, and I’m not certain why.
Coming out of nowhere, and often just before the Lord is set to bless us, the destructive power of this guilt leaves one feeling isolated (in the wrong way, in contrast to a good way, as Lewis notes below), but the thought that we just want to be alone, or that we should “not be complaining” will only intensify our misery.
And if experiences such as these occur to someone we know during their high school, the mission field, college, or early marriage years, that acquaintance or family member may need our sense of humor or witness.
Bad guilt is caused by Satan himself, as the Book of Mormon clarifies at II Nephi 2:18. Bad guilt is a lie to create our misery and overcome Satan’s loneliness. He hates the misery he feels all the time (actually, that will feel “forever”).
Satan truly loves our misery: “because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind.” I’d expect that Satan isn’t very good company. Explains an early Christian source, Satan—the source states–has no sense of humor. Resist him, the scripture states, and he will flee.
Satan’s attack upon him is recorded by the Prophet Joseph in describing the intensely nihilistic feeling Joseph experienced just before receiving the First Vision. (Joseph Smith—History 1:15-17). In recounting his prayer, he describes two things in particular: the spirit-to-spirit nature of the experience (v. 16) and the fact he could not have endured the darkness alone for any length of time (v. 15).
While re-reading the book of James, the Holy Spirit blessed Joseph with confirmation of his intense trust in the Lord.
He was certain that God would not upbraid him in asking a question. This especially strong trust in the Lord was important because, after commencing to pray (v. 16), the Prophet Joseph prays more intently-“exerting all [his] powers to call upon God” for deliverance.
Which Joseph received “at the very moment when [he] was ready to sink into despair and destruction [.]”
A youthful generation, a Royal Generation now as young as the Prophet Joseph then was, all too often reports similar experiences of sinking into despair. I believe that diabolical guilt can be used against us to try and sink us into diabolical despair.
I Repent: A Personal Account
Both C.S. Lewis and Elder Maxwell point out that good guilt can be that divine discontent which discloses through conscience the fact there is something for us to repent off.
A personal experience occurred to me that exemplifies the point. In a foreign country, I had occasion to drop by the home of one of the Seventy. Immediately I felt the presence there of the Holy Ghost.
My timing was such that I arrived as the family was about to scatter for the day. Privileged to join in their family prayer to start the day, the experience of the presence of the Spirit continued and in this prayer, I received a clear and distinct impression to repent of a specific act which I didn’t previously recognize as sin.
“That Which is of God Inviteth and Enticeth to Do Good”
Good guilt can lead to peace of mind as a result of bona fide repentance; it often ends with a prayer attended by strong feelings of tranquility.
Sometimes, however, the Lord accepts our genuine repentance and we still feel guilty. This kind of guilt is bad or diabolical guilt, inspired by Satan. Lewis noted that diabolical guilt can overstay its non-welcome, even after repentance.
Guilt, even if once true guilt, after a complete repentance, slides into the lie of bad guilt even though it is unjustified.
Lewis recommends that whenever guilt lives on in us or our loved ones after repentance, it means we ought to ignore and forget it and teach our loved ones likewise. Bottom line: such diabolical guilt may be dismissed without further ado.
Now, we look at a slightly different situation. When we feel divine discontent as temple-worthy members, and we can’t match a felt call to repent to anything we’ve done, then what?
Upon prayer and introspection, the source of our sin may continue to remain invisible to our discernment. Lewis counseled checking for the possibility that, without knowing it, the “tick” of spiritual pride and envy may have, without invitation or notice, burrowed into us.
It is at this point that the Book of Mormon, which Lewis never knew, provides a diagnostic protocol: re-read the fifth chapter of Alma, a text for which interestingly there is no New Testament or Biblical parallel or analogue (the New Testament lacks the Book of Mormon’s focus on individual “back-sliders”).
Lewis noted about pride that, like cancer, pride did not present with pain in its early stages. Even still, sin requires our “[t]otal surrender,” because any sin is a “reality with which no treaty can be made.” (CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 228)
SLANDER: There Ought To Be A Law
I’ve struggled personally with the following two-step trap.
The first step is being deceived into sin by Satan.
The second step is then being deceived by Satan with a paralyzing guilt even after a bona fide repentance.
In the first step, Satan lies and, then, in the second step, with a noticeable lack of creativity, Satan lies again. The second step involves the larger lie, always, because Satan in effect is slandering the character of the Lord.
Satan’s name is his mission statement: the Slanderer. With but minor over-generalization, the word “Devil” as written in ancient Greek denotes “a slanderer.” As such it came to be applied in translation as a proper name, “the Slanderer,” for Satan.
The identification as the Slanderer is said to describe him well, according to the Cambridge Bible Dictionary, “for he leads men into sin by misrepresenting to them the character of God, by misdescribing . . . the character of God, by making us think Him hard and arbitrary in His dealings with us, whereas, in fact He is always perfect love. By undermining our belief in God’s love and goodness, he induces us to seek for happiness in ways which are not of God’s appointing [.]”
In the first visit to Joseph of the angel Moroni, after addressing young Joseph “by name,” Moroni informed Joseph that (i) God had a work for Joseph to do and then, without skipping a beat delivered I’m sure what must have been just really exciting news to a stunned Joseph, (ii) that Joseph’s “name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” (Joseph Smith—History at 1:33).
Moroni may have been simply stating here a fact about the Slanderer, and the fact that Satan would slander Joseph, a situation that is ongoing.
A Book of Mormon Christmas Prayer to Each of Us
“I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.” (Moroni 8:3)