The simple facts of guilt and joy

Since I acknowledged the fact of God, I have considered what other important facts should be acknowledged, which is the most simple, and how these facts fit together.

Guilt is a simple fact.  Guilt should be obvious to everyone – every sane person gets it. Justice also seems a simple fact- some people should accept guilt and feel it. Logic and honesty also require that I acknowledge that I should accept guilt and rightfully feel guilty.   In fact, everybody should feel guilty.  This fact showed itself in a most visceral way in a small Polish town while staring at room filled with human hair.  Guilt is the case for us all, justice and honesty require it.

The fact of guilt is very simple and sturdy. It remains even after we have been completely distracted from it. Also clear is the fact that virtue permeates every aspect of life and excellence is never perfection.  No matter what the sacrifice, justice and logic continue to point to out the fact guilt in the honest mind – especially in light of the bloody cost of the most common sorts of imperfection and vice.

Virtue is also a fact – there are ways of being that people should never be required to feel guilty for. These ways should be championed and fostered in children.  It is a fact that children should be taught to make a stand for virtue and to suffer wrong rather to sacrifice it.  Life is better with virtue.

It also seems that virtue also seems to dissolve feelings of guilt, or at least relieve the intensity of the feeling.  Some who have the knack for acting with virtuous attitudes can avoid almost any feeling of guilt, even when they engage in unspeakable atrocity.  (e.g. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori)  It’s a simple fact: justice requires guilt, but virtuous feeling alleviates guilt. Of course, when virtue demands performance and sacrifice, guilt shows up when we don’t tender performance and sacrifice. Perfection is required in order to eliminate guilt.

There is one very powerful fact that seems relieve guilt better than virtue: Love. Love doesn’t follow rules like virtue, it’s well outside the rules of justice. It often acts inexplicably, like magic. But love’s power to direct a person virtue and action even when virtue and justice does not require it does not relieve all guilt and bring stable joy. It always demands more love.  With love, amazing joy comes in glimpses and these feelings are only worth anything when virtue shows up with love.

Joy also is a fact. People seem to find joy in all kinds of things: virtue, work, leisure, sensory pleasure, drugs, intellectual contemplation, relationships, fame.  But after the joyful attitude ends with the activity, the weird facts of logic reassert the very simple and pervasive fact of guilt: it’s shadow lies behind every action, every thought, every impulse. Virtue and love (among other things) can distract us from guilt, but justice and honesty continue to reassert guilt as a fact.

It is also a strange fact that joy is rarely found in tandem with guilt.  For some reason – likely rooted in our DNA and culture – the feeling of guilt does not sit well with joy.  For some, any guilt robs the mind of unspeakable joy, especially when the mind honestly recognizes the impossible demands of virtue and love.  For some left without a path to consistent virtue or love, life is pain peppered with fleeting joy, or even completely joyless.

But there is a weird sort of joy.   That joy that shows up even while honestly contemplating the hard facts of guilt is also a well-established fact. There are plenty of cases where the attitude of guilt changes immediately and powerfully into the attitude of joy by adopting a certain attitude — often merely by acknowledging the fact that guilt can turn to joy.  For some, tears of sadness caused by guilt actually do turn to tears of joy.

This sort of joy happens even when people should feel guilty, even when they are not virtuous or loving, even when they are in agonizing pain, hanging mangled on a cross.  Justice, virtue, and guilt all seem irrelevant to the fact of this joy.  This seems to happen especially when people are brutally honest and acknowledge that justice, virtue, guilt, pain, and death are pervasive and undeniable facts.

This sort of joy is an unspeakable mystery for it to drastically undermine these simple facts of life. Given the nature of guilt we have no good words to explain this feeling of joy because it would not to depend on any of our attitudes toward words like: love, happiness, goodness, righteousness, kindness, propriety, virtue, guilt, justice etc..   Perhaps it could be described as “salvation” or “redemption”, but even these seem mixed up in virtue and love, and begin to engender guilt by their association. Maybe a more unique word is necessary.

How is it possible that such unspeakable joy is a fact, even in the honest mind who acknowledges its vices and has never known the magic of unconditional love? Even in cases where the fact of guilt is blaring and inescapable?  What if there was honest joy even when there is honestly not enough love or virtue to distract the mind from guilt?  A sort of joy that somehow rightfully defied nature, feeling, thought, instinct, or description.

What if it was a fact that this joy happened by merely acknowledging that this sort of joy is a simple fact.  A fact far more simple the pervasive complexities of justice, virtue, and guilt.  What if it was this simple, unspeakable, fact that Jesus was pointing to?

Could salvation be that simple? 

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14 thoughts on “The simple facts of guilt and joy

  1. I am pointing to sentiments, feelings, and attitudes that we associate with guilt, virtue, and joy. I am avoiding any sort of platonic or dictionary definition.

  2. Jared, I am not sure, then, a fruitful discussion is possible. Guilt is so open, as people feel guilty for a variety of things and not a variety of things. We all have a varying degree of what we are comfortable with. Virtue can be a number of things as well, given that one can find virtue in killing a baby who would grow up poor and take resources from the healthy. Joy is fleeting, and while someone may find joy in Christmas carols, others may despise them.

    The feeling we get from acknowledging God is not necessarily joyous, even. God reveals himself in so many ways. There is always comfort there, but that comfort can be anything but joyous.

    Are we to rejoice always in God? Yes! But this rejoicing is a matter of acknowledgment, ie that God is good and in control, not necessarily joy as an emotion.

    Guilt, virtue, and joy are not facts if we cannot put them into definitions. They then cannot be shared or verified, and I don’t believe any such discussion of them is fruitful without definitions.

  3. I agree, it is all very complicated to think about. I think what I am talking about is best understood by referring to feelings. Everybody feels guilt, even though they might feel guilt for reasons that can’t be explained very well to another person. Same with joy. The definitions of virtue change from person to person. But, within any particular mind, there is a fairly stable picture of virtue, guilt, and joy that can be refreshed using a dictionary defintion.

    If somebody asked me what joy felt like I would have to find some story in their life where most people feel joy and point to that. Even then, I might not be able to point to the feeling I have.

  4. Guilt, virtue, and joy are not facts if we cannot put them into definitions. They then cannot be shared or verified, and I don’t believe any such discussion of them is fruitful without definitions.

    There is no way to verify whether a person feels guilt. If they don’t ever feel guilt, there is no way to talk to them about what I am talking about.

    I think what I am saying makes sense with any reasonable definition you insert for guilt, virtue, or joy.

  5. “Perfection is required in order to eliminate guilt.”

    I can agree with this, but i’ll have to think about love relieving guilt.

  6. OK, assuming for the sake of argument that everyone feels guilt, sees virtue, and experiences joy, guilt then is feeling remorse for something they feel they shouldn’t have done. Virtue would then be that which they see as good and positive. Joy is an elevated feeling that lifts their mood and spirit.

    What you define as the weird sort of joy is hard to define, though, because not everyone experiences it. I would argue that, if we assume it is indeed a fact, that God is that joy. God, manifest in three persons, all co-equal, co-eternal, and co-powerful, existing separately but in the very same entity, is joy.

    You posted earlier about truth. God is truth. God is joy. Acceptance of this truth is joyful, but it is not fully accepted in the world around us. And the feelings are not always uplifting, as God uses guilt to work in our lives. Only He is virtuous, at that. Nothing else compares. But there is comfort there, something more akin to contentment than joy.

    God, I think, brings less joy than contentment. Certainly, there is joy in God, as God is joy, but the feeling he brings forth in us, I think, is better described as contentment, which is an acceptance and comfort in our present circumstances.

  7. When we rest in God, yes. God is our protector and though he may not always put us in joyful situations, we should rest comfortably knowing He has our back no matter the situation.

    But this is where definitions become vitally important. Is what I suggest is contentment joy to you?

  8. Everything else is stained by man’s involvement, so arguably the only thing virtuous is God Himself. Again, this is why I think definitions are vital.

  9. Christianity is not about bringing someone, or someone moving from vice…to virtue.

    It is about moving from virtue…to grace.

    A result of that movement is joy. In the realization that one is not up to it…not even by being virtuous. But that Christ Jesus was up to it…for them.

  10. Pingback: Guilty Pleasures | Find Me A Cure

  11. Pingback: Do You Let Others Make You Feel Bad When You Have Done Nothing Wrong? | My Everyday Psychology

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