I was stopped in my car at an intersection when I noticed the light turned green for cross traffic, and a vehicle responded to the green light and started to move. Then suddenly parallel to me, a large pickup pulling a trailer came barreling through the light on red. The cross-traffic car missed being hit broadside by a spit-second. It was one of those moments when you say to yourself, “Where are the cops when you need them?” Suddenly, I saw lights and heard a siren; a trooper had been sitting in the turning lane on the other side. Shortly up the road, I saw the pickup pulled over and the patrolman writing a citation. It will be an expensive one for speeding, running a red light, and perhaps reckless driving. That is how guilt works; it comes out of nowhere and gets our attention. It tells us that we are wrong. The purpose of guilt is to move us in the right direction. Hopefully, that driver stops running red lights.
Joseph’s ten brothers came to Egypt to buy grain during a famine. What were the chances of running into Joseph, the head administrator of all of Egypt’s business? God had designed the meeting. The Hebrew-speaking brothers did not recognize Joseph, but of course, Joseph recognized them. Joseph was at an advantage because he could understand them, but they had no clue who he was. He needed to test them to see if they were the same heartless men who had sold him into slavery. Were they still capable of such sinister acts?
Joseph listened to their words when they talked among themselves: “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.” Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood” (Gen 42:21-22). The brothers were dealing with guilt, but would the guilt lead them to repentance?
Joseph accused his brothers of being spies, and that opened up their history. They told him that they were twelve brothers, one is gone, and one is home with our father. Joseph put them in jail for three days. After that, he put Simeon in prison while releasing the rest to go home to their families. But if they ever wanted to free Simeon and get more food, they would have to bring back their youngest brother, Benjamin. That was the tricky part because they knew their father would refuse to send Benjamin.
When the brothers stopped for the night, they spotted the silver they had paid for the grain. They did not know that Joseph had returned their silver. Here is their reaction: Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?” (Gen 42:28). This is the first time they realize that God is behind what is happening to them.
The brothers were slowly being introduced to grace. Grace is forgiveness that refuses to hold grudges. Grace shows mercy and patience and lifts the little person while guilt pushes them down. How beautiful grace is and how ugly guilt is. Guilt, however, is useful if it leads us to repentance.
Guilt helps us acknowledge our wrongdoing and admit our sin. Then we begin to realize that our sin is against God, and we experience sorrow. All of this leads us to repentance and, ultimately, forgiveness. It’s all grace. When we acknowledge the wrong and own our mistakes, we experience relief. Respite from guilt comes through forgiveness. To live under guilt is no way to live, especially since grace is available for all of us.