The following will be a series on the subject of guilt based on the sentence in Frankl’s book The Will to Meaning: “They learned that it was a prerogative of man to become guilty – and his responsibility to overcome his guilt.” – p. 7
Before speaking about the prerogative of man to become guilty we first need to define guilt and establish why a person is capable of being guilty.
We’re not free to do whatever we want. We live within certain parameters set up by society and by nature.
The laws of a country establish certain laws. Societies also decide what will be the consequence for breaking the law and how they will implement the law. In nature we can also find laws and consequences for breaking the law.
Guilt can be defined very simply as “breaking the law.”
We are capable of becoming guilty because we are capable of doing something that will cross those boundaries that exist in nature or society. It’s possible to do it. We will suffer the consequences of doing it – and for absolutely everything we do there is a consequence, for good or for bad – but there is nothing physically stopping us from violating the law.
There are different types of consequences for breaking laws or rules.
a) One is an imposed consequence, such as a court order.
b) One is a natural consequence, such as dropping a ceramic jar from the top of a tall building such that the laws of gravity and the fragility of the object will cause it to break.
c) One is the ongoing chain reaction of harm caused by breaking the law and
d) One is the harm caused to the perpetrator him or herself either by suffering punishment, suffering natural consequences, harm caused to relationships and harm caused by the flawed person one becomes as a result of the behavior.
Let’s look again at the first category, called “imposed consequence.” In society we refer to this as punishment. There are a variety of attitudes towards the punishments that society imposes, depending on the severity of it and other factors. This is understandable because governments are not perfect. Some punishments, such as fines for traffic violations are more accepted by the public than others because people recognize the danger.
When people hear the word punishment in relation to religion they picture a punitive tyrant in the sky taking vengeance against those who do not heed His commands. I believe in a compassionate God, a God who does not wish to make us suffer, a God who wants to bless us with all good things. Yet in relation to God we have spiritual laws of the universe, just as a society has laws and nature has its laws. Punishment indicates a negative, detrimental consequence of an action in the spiritual realm.
If any law is cruel, I feel that nature is cruel. A friend of mine once mistakenly climbed a fence that had an old sign on it with Hebrew words he didn’t understand: “Warning: Mines – Do not enter” After having his feet blown off, can he now say “Okay, I learned my lesson. Now can I have my feet back?” But we don’t call nature cruel…This is the world we live in. There are rules. If we cross those rules there will be a consequence. Sometimes a bitter one. Similarly there are spiritual rules. We didn’t make up the rules. We have to learn them and learn to live with them.
Sometimes they are the rules of nature. Sometimes they are God’s spiritual laws of the universe. Sometimes they are laws of the country I’m living in. Sometimes they are the rules of human decency. Sometimes they are the implicit rules of a personal relationship that apply only to this relationship. Whatever kind of rules they are, if I do an act that breaks the rules I am guilty of breaking the rules and there will be a negative consequence for doing that.