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Asking the Clergy: How do you counsel people to overcome feelings of sinfulness?

The Rev. Randolph Jon Geminder of Saint Mary's

The Rev. Randolph Jon Geminder of Saint Mary's Episcopal Church, the Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard of the Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches, and Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen of Chabad at Stony Brook. Credit: Randolph Jon Geminder; African Methodist Episcopal Churches; Chanie Cohen

Many religions have a concept of sin as an inherent part of the human condition. This week’s clergy discuss how they help congregants deal with guilt feelings associated with thoughts, words and actions some consider sinful.

The Rev. Randolph Jon Geminder

Rector, Saint Mary's Episcopal Church, Amityville

One development in the church has been the appreciation for what we call formation. Formation addresses that, both in the past and in the ongoing days of life, we are being formed by various influences — some good, some bad — all contributing to the person we have become and are becoming.

One such moment for me occurred in my teens, when my parish priest wisely counseled me that we come to church not to be judged, but forgiven. That simple dictum remains the foundation of my approach to dealing with the people of God as a priest. Even in our so-called age of entitlement, most folks are good at heart. Sadly, many beat themselves up internally, convinced of their utter unworthiness in the sight of God, perhaps even entertaining the heart-breaking feeling that they are beyond His mercy.

Our faith boldly embraces the truth that He came here to be as one of us, and therefore knows us better than we know ourselves. As I counsel my people about feelings of sinfulness, I remind them that sin is the great divider — between us and God, and between each other as well. The good news is that He is endlessly merciful, and His love will eradicate any and all sin, as long as we truly admit our fault, and with His help try our level best to do better. Perhaps this scriptural verse from St. Mark's Gospel says it best, chronicling the response of a loving father who brought his severely ill boy to Jesus for healing: "I believe O Lord, help thou my unbelief." (Mark 9:24)

The Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard

Presiding elder (retired), Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24) Sin, which started in the Garden of Eden, has done harm to the human race. Because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, our sin begins with us and our emotions, spiritually, physically and mentally.

So, we are the ones who individually have to take responsibility for the sins that we commit. To begin with, we have to recognize what sin we have committed that has caused feelings of anger, distress and sadness. A spiritual counselor must let them know that they are the ones who need to reveal their sinfulness to the world, so that the spirit can deal with it. Each person is responsible to say to him/herself, “I have sinned,” and ask for God’s forgiveness. We are all able to ask for and expect God’s forgiveness because of Jesus Christ's death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. Jesus was the only one sent into the world to deal with the sins of humans and to offer a promising and eternally lasting solution for our salvation.

Sin will be there, but we must counsel people to receive the saving power of Jesus Christ and believe in him as our Lord and Savior.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen

Chabad at Stony Brook

Guilt is a complex emotion. If we are never guilty, we will be indifferent, apathetic and resistant to any improvement. The more remorse we have for our transgressions, the deeper our resolve to improve will be. But guilt in its extreme can be very destructive and debilitating, preventing us from moving forward, leaving us with depression, shame and despair. It can damage our feelings of self-worth, convincing us that we are intrinsically evil.

The test to know if our feelings of guilt are beneficial or destructive is to ask a simple question: Who is in control? Are we in control of our guilt or does it control us? As soon as we are committed to change, we need to dismiss guilt and move on with confidence and strength. We move forward with the conviction and belief that God always welcomes our positive deeds no matter how we may have failed in the past. We recognize that our soul has infinite good that can always be accessed to reconnect and rectify that which needs fixing. Guilt should only be a temporary guest to get us started. Get in control and learn how to use guilt as an effective tool for personal growth.

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