Guilt Stories

The Sundial

Conscience is like a sundial. When the sun shines upon a sundial it points us to the right time. In the same way our consciences point us in the right direction in life. However, it’s important to remember that the sundial works only when the sun is shining upon it. When the moonlight shines on the dial it points to the wrong time. When a torch is shone upon the sundial it again points us to the wrong time. In these instances the sundial is unreliable. In the same way our consciences are sometimes unreliable because the “light” shining upon them is not the voice of God, but the voices of our families or our culture or even Satan. In these instances we’ll feel false guilt over things that should not make us feel guilty, or no guilt over things that should!  The key for the Christian is to have their conscience continually illuminated by God’s Spirit.

Source: reported in John White, The Fight


The Zojogi Temple in Tokyo, Japan, contains a garden in memory of unborn children, whether aborted, miscarried or stillborn. The memorial is both unique and touching. Grieving parents are given a small statuette that they dress and decorate. There are more than 20,000 lined up in the Garden.

In addition to the statues, families can celebrate a memorial ceremony called “mizuko kuyo”. This is designed to ensure safe and rapid passage to its ancestors.

Wooden plaques lining the walls contain messages from parents to the unborn. One of the most poignant reads:

“You are our baby, I will never forget you. From the bottom of my heart, I ask forgiveness forever and ever.”

Source: reported in Catherine Hammond, Stories to Hold An Audience and wikipedia

The Mongolian Peasant Principle

I wonder if you’ve heard of the Mongolian peasant principle? It was developed during the time when Joseph Stalin ruled Russia. Mr Stalin was not a very nice person – he made a habit of sending his opponents off to prison. But before packing them off to the gulag he made them confess to crimes they’d never committed.

It’s rumoured that Stalin had a psychologist working for him who could get a person to confess to just about any crime, regardless of whether they’d actually committed it or not. The psychologist said that the secret of his success was the Mongolian peasant principle.

It works like this. Imagine a poor, shabby and “unimportant” man is brought into a large office that obviously belongs to an important person. Everything in the office smacks of authority: the dark mahogany walls; the huge oak desk; the high leather chair; the grey-haired general with rows of medals on his chest sitting there proudly and powerfully.

The general speaks to the shabby, uncomfortable visitor. “I have a million roubles in my desk drawer. Here, take a look, they’re all yours.”

“All mine?” says the shabby, uncomfortable visitor

“Yes, all yours, on one condition.”

“What condition?”

“You must press this small red button on my desk” says the general.

“What happens when I press the button?”

“An old man in Mongolia drops dead.”

“He dies?!”

“Yes. He dies at once, without any pain.”

“But why, what did he do?”

“That’s none of your business. Trust me. It is good for the people. All you need to know is that the moment you press the button, the peasant dies. And you get a million roubles”

The poor, shabby, unimportant, uncomfortable man sits silent for a long moment. Then he slowly reaches forward and pushes the red button. He takes the money and goes home. But for the rest of his life he’s haunted by the memory of what he did. He can’t bring himself to spend a cent his ill gotten gain. He’s tormented day and night, until finally, 5 years later, he commits suicide. The million roubles are found stuffed in a sack under his bed; the State takes them back on the day of his funeral.

“You see” Stalin’s psychologist says, “everybody has a Mongolian peasant in his life. Everyone has done something for which they feel deep shame. I hunt around in their memory until I find it. Then once I’ve found the peasant I dangle him in front of their eyes until the person is writhing in shame for being such a wretched human being. He will confess to anything to atone for his shame.”
Source: reported in Lewis Smedes, Shame and Grace

Simon Wiesenthel & The SS Officer

Simon Wiesenthal was a young  Jewish man working in a Polish architectural office when Hitler’s Nazis invaded his homeland. From 1941 until the end of the war in 1945 he was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. he survived, but 89 of his relatives did not.

After the war he wrote a book called The Sunflower. The Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. In that book he relates an odd but haunting experience. At one stage Wiesenthal and some fellow prisoners were given the job of removing garbage from a hospital for wounded German soldiers. As they did so they would pass the a cemetery housing German soldiers who had died. The graves were covered with sunflowers, something Wiesenthal envied knowing he would probably be buried in a mass grave under a pile of other Jewish corpses.

One day a nurse approached him as he was on garbage detail at the hospital. She asked him to follow her, and led him into a hospital room containing a wounded soldier.  He came across a man whose face was covered in bandages, with openings cut for mouth, nose, and ears. he was dying.

The man started to speak. “My name is Karl…I joined the SS as a volunteer. I must tell you something dreadful…. Something inhuman. It happened a year ago… Yes it is a year since the crime I committed. I have to talk to someone about it, perhaps that will help.”

He grabbed Wiesenthal by the hand, holding him tightly so he could not get away. “I must tell you of this horrible deed – tell you because…you are a Jew.” Karl told of atrocities too savage to repeat. Of hatred and rage directed against Jews. Then he turned to Simon Wiesenthal and said “In the last hours of my life you are with me. I do not know who you are. I know only that you are a Jew and that is enough. I know what I have told you is terrible. In the long nights while I have been waiting for death, time and again I have longed to talk to a Jew and beg forgiveness from him. I know what I am asking is almost too much for you, but without your answer I cannot die in peace…I beg for forgiveness…”

Simon Wiesenthal, an architect in his early twenties, now a prisoner, stared out the window at the sunlit courtyard. He watched a bluebottle fly buzzing the man’s body.

“At last I made up my mind” Wiesenthal says in The Sunflower. “And without a word I left the room”.

Source: Reported in Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower

Luther Discovers Grace

In 1505 21 year old Martin Luther walking toward village of Stotternheim when sky became overcast. Raging storm blew up and a bolt of lightning lit the sky with a flash, knocking Martin to the ground. “St Anne help me!” he cried “I will become a monk.” Martin had grown up in a medieval culture filled with talk of devils and demons and angels and heaven and hell and the great judgement day. Culture of great fear. He thought the lightning had been launched at him by God as a message, a glimpse of the terror of Judgement Day. Martin knew he needed to preserve his soul and the best way to do that was to become a monk. So off to the monastery he went to seek God’s grace and mercy. At the end of his first year he was made a priest and invited to celebrate his first mass. Martin’s family came for the occasion, the chapel was filled, the psalms were sung. Then Martin took his place behind the altar and began. But just moments in he was struck by sheer terror – here he was, in his own words, “a miserable and little pygmy…dust and ashes and full of sin” daring to speak to the living, eternal and fearsome God.

Martin got through the mass and kept going as a monk, but those experiences capture his terrible internal burdens. He got to the point where he was convinced that God was so pure and holy no-one could ever hope to be saved. All would be abandoned to the torments of hell. “More than once (I) was driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”

And then in 1513, 8 years after that thunderstorm, 7 years after that terrible mass, Luther had a third great religious experience. He was lecturing on the book of Psalms at the University of Wittenburg, then in 1515 on Romans, then in 1516 on Galatians. It was during those studies Luther discovered a life transforming insight from the gospel – that God’s requirement for us is not perfection but faith. “My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him…Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith…whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love”

Source: Reported in Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther

Phantom Pain

One of the tragic occurrences in life is that people lose limbs. But their loss can be made even more severe if they develop phantom limb pain. Phantom limb pain occurs when the patient’s brain acts as though the limb still exists. The amputee may have the perception of an itch on the lost limb even though there is no limb to scratch; may feel toes curling; and may even feel tremendous pain in their non existent limb.

Dr Paul Brand tells of one of his patients, a Mr Barwick, who had a serious and painful circulation problem in his leg. The doctors recommended amputation but Mr Barwick refused. Finally the pain became too intense and Mr Barwick agreed to the operation.

In the lead up to the operation Mr Barwick grew to hate that leg of his, so much so that he asked the doctor to preserve it for him in a pickling jar. He planned to place it on his mantelpiece and then sit in his armchair and taunt it saying, “Hah! You can’t hurt me anymore!””

The doctor followed Mr Barwick instructions but sadly it was the leg that got the last laugh. You see Mr Barwick developed a severe case of phantom limb pain. He had hated the leg with such intensity that the pain of the wound lodged permanently in his brain.

Dr Brand suggests that “phantom limb pain provides a wonderful insight into the phenomenon of false guilt. Christians can be obsessed by the memory of some sin committed years ago. It never leaves them, crippling their ministry, their devotional life, their relationships with others. They live in fear that someone will discover their past. They work overtime trying to prove to God that they’re truly repentant. They become as pitiful as poor Mr Barwick, shaking his fist in fury at the pickled leg on the mantle.”

Source: Adapted from Dr Paul Brand & Philip Yancey, Leadership Magazine (Summer 1984)