In recent times, disgraceful secrets have been uncovered which have sent tidal waves of shock across the globe. Usually, behind these exposés lurks a suicide waiting to happen. This is because shame is a difficult emotion for human beings to handle. Whether or not you believe that the late financier, Jeffrey Epstein, was guilty of the federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy, he has reportedly died from self-inflicted injuries in his jail cell [https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-the-latest-jeffrey-epstein-news-from-finances-to-legal-2019-8?r=US&IR=T]. It is worthy of mention that his apparent suicide has given rise to suspicions of foul play, but for the purposes of this article, it will be taken for granted that he did indeed succumb to suicide. Although he pleaded not guilty, and these charges have been formally dismissed in the wake of his death, if he was indeed guilty, then in all probability he carried his guilty conscience to the grave.
We are all guilty of wrongdoing. Before a holy God, we all stand condemned, and but for the grace of God, we would all be justly worthy of death. God is pure and sinless and is offended by the ‘smallest’ of sins just as a pure white canvass is forever tarnished by even the tiniest particle of black. Very often we cannot see our sins for what they are because we think they are too tiny to be noticed or to incur any consequence. Indeed, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NKJV) However, God sees our hearts through a microscopic lense, and each time we sin, the black mark on the canvass gets bigger and bigger. Mercifully, although “The payment for sin is death… God gives us the free gift of life forever in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NCV) Jesus Christ is the only effective stain remover!
We live in a society where certain acts of wrongdoing are castigated more than others; some cause the hairs on peoples’ skin to stand to attention whilst others barely raise an eyebrow. We are left speechless when we read the list of ‘bad behaviours’ in Galatians 5:19-21 because there are on the whole what we would regard as ‘garden variety’ sins such as jealousies, envy and drunkenness ensconced with murder and adultery. Yet we are clearly told that “those who practise such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In our post-modern, western societies, the influence of moral relativity has meant that acts of wrongdoing which were once regarded as such, are now deemed to be within the parameters of individual choice. We have fudged the line between good and evil.
Yet, when we commit wrongdoing, it is not enough to dismiss it as petty or to pretend it never happened, because our consciences (that part of us we often wish we didn’t have but which God designed to be the spiritual alarm system when we are going astray) will keep reminding us that we have overstepped the boundaries.
There are those who decide to end their lives because they can no longer bear their own guilt and the disapproval of society. Their action may result from a desire to avoid:
- confession of guilt,
- social stigma and alienation.
Regrettably they are avoiding the very thing which could bring healing to themselves, their victims and society at large. It’s too easy to point fingers, and say that Epstein should have thought about the implications of what he was doing before he did it. But, if all those who experience a compromised conscience, decided to end their lives, there would hardly be anyone left on the earth. There is always scope for forgiveness, redemption and another chance if we are sincere in our desire to repent.
Although Jesus has paved the way for forgiveness, we have our part to play. We must take responsibility for our wrong-doing and acknowledge it. This not only ushers us into the presence of God and makes His grace available to us, but it facilitates the healing of the victims. They need to know that the person who caused them such harm is aware of the harm they have caused. Without this confession, they may carry the guilt or a sense of having deserved the act.
Yet many do not even acknowledge God or humble themselves enough to seek His forgiveness for their sins. In similar fashion, those who have been wronged rarely hear any words of acknowledgement or apology from their wrongdoers. This can leave them with a sense that their pain and suffering has never been validated. Epstein’s alleged victims still have the possibility for legal redress by filing a civil suit against his estate. But even this may not bring them the psychological and physical healing they seek. One claimant issued the anonymous statement, “Jeffrey Epstein stole my innocence. He gave me a life sentence of guilt and shame. I do not consider myself a victim – I see myself a survivor.” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0Xbs8rFdqc] It is often the case that wounds sustained in childhood leave the deepest scars, and often take the longest to heal. But as a wise person once said, the longest journey begins with the first step. Being willing to embark on this journey could mean the difference between life and death, whether you are the perpetrator or the person harmed.
Don’t be the judge, jury and executioner in your own head! God is more merciful than we might think. With the experience of forgiveness and redemption comes the opportunity to not just survive but thrive.