You might’ve recognised that from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. You’ve got to watch Judi Dench’s final scene as Lady Macbeth – search for it on YouTube! It is incredibly powerful.
Overwhelmed with guilt for helping to kill the king, she looks at her hands, rubs them, and cries out in distress, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? What? Will these hands ne’er be clean? Here’s the smell of the blood, still! All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” And then she lets out a chilling cry of anguish!
In the background, a doctor says, “The heart is sorely charged… this disease is beyond my practice.”
Well, Macbeth might be 16th century fiction, but it describes something that is very real for people in every age. Shame and guilt for things we have done and for who we are is something that brings great distress. Many of us long for cleansing on the inside, for this burden of guilt and shame to be taken away. And sadly, as with Lady Macbeth, it has driven all too many to suicide, when desperate for a cure, find that no physician can help.
Some might say that feelings of guilt are unhealthy, and that the cure is to get rid of such feelings. Of course, there are feelings of guilt and shame that are unhealthy. But, that does not mean that we should not feel guilty and ashamed for doing things that are truly wrong, especially things that are wrong in the sight of the Living and True. After all, people who feel no guilt, shame, remorse for the wrong they do, well… they tend to be dangerous, to say the least. And trying to suppress, shut out, ignore a Spirit-given conviction of sin can lead to serious physical, mental and emotional illness.
David tried this at some point in his life. In Psalm 32, he tells us:
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your Hand [a title for the Spirit] was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD” – and You forgave the guilt on my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to You while You may be found.
Jesus the Doctor, the only Doctor for our troubled souls, can still be found and He very graciously and gently invites us:
“Come now… though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of church like this, but church is like a doctor’s surgery. It’s not full of good, sorted-in-life people, but sick-at-heart people who look to Jesus for help. That always surprises a few people. So much so that they criticised Jesus for spending so much time caring for bad people. But Jesus replied:
“Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
If you’d like to find out more about Jesus and what it means to trust and follow Him, or if there’s anything at all that you’d like us to pray for or help you with, we’d love to do that. So please do get in touch. And why not come and join us as we meet together each Sunday at 11.00am? If that doesn’t work for you, we have other meetings throughout the week that we’d be happy to tell you more about.
By Reverend Leon Sim, St Paul’s Church Stonehouse