Blaming ourselves for another’s misfortune is usually harmful. Major Henry Rathbone sat with President and Mrs. Lincoln in the President’s box at Ford’s Theater Friday, April 14, 1865. Beside him sat his stepsister-fiancee Clara Harris.
When a shot hurled bluish air into the box, Rathbone stood and confronted the assailant, who slashed him with a knife from elbow to shoulder. Bowled over by the blow, he staggered to his feet and reached for Booth, knocking him off balance as he leaped below. Rathbone collapsed from loss of blood while he and Clara waited with Mrs. Lincoln at the Peterson house. Clara, her dress soaked with Rathbone’s blood, stuffed a hanky into the wound.
They wed in 1867 and had three children. Rathbone couldn’t stop blaming himself for Lincoln’s death. He mentally degenerated, suffering increasingly from fears, delusions, ailments and headaches. He resigned his Army commission in 1870 and toured European spas fruitlessly seeking cures. He grew increasingly paranoid and defensive through the years. Early on Christmas Eve, 1883, he walked fully dressed into his wife’s bedroom and asked to speak with the children. When she hesitated due to the early hour, he pulled a gun and shot her, then stabbed himself six times with a knife. Committed to an insane asylum, he lived in delusional fear, seeing dust and gas spat from the walls. He died in the asylum 1911. American Heritage, 2-3, 1994, p. 110-111
Unjustified guilt can drive us into madness, illness and, to this day, into anti-social behavior that attacks and destroys our most important interpersonal relationships.
However, and the constant exception, guilt is good when we blame only ourselves for our sins. Guilt from disobeying God’s laws and God himself is as natural to us as wind to Antarctica. Every responsible person is spiritually dirty enough to be Illinois real estate. However, seeking God’s forgiveness is also necessary.
He will forgive any guilt we confess I John 1:9. But we must accept it as SIN. If we justify its existence as RIGHT simply because we want to live that way, forgiveness and peace of mind flee. The Creator of morality also defines it, a right he keeps to himself. God’s word will always be in every age, whatever culture demands, the judge of virtue and sin, right and wrong.
Don’t accept blame for another’s misfortune unless your behavior caused it. Always accept blame for your personal sins, and seek God’s forgiveness either way.