I have a friend who is not particularly religious. He is a good person. He values honesty, integrity and loyalty. He does not use foul language or have any of the traditional sinful vices. He doesn't drink, smoke, gamble or use drugs. He has no need for religion or God. He thinks that he is an atheist, but I am not sure. It is not that he rejects God, it is just that he doesn't see a need for God.
Recently he came to me overcome with guilt. I will not go into details about his "sin," it is sufficient to say that he felt bad for what he had done. I am not sure that he would call it sin, but to the average religious person, to nearly all Christians, it would be considered sin.
This is a great place for him to consider re-evaluating his views on God, faith, religion and sin. There is no question that he is suffering from a guilty conscience. But why? If there is no God, why feel bad about violating God's rules? Why should anyone ever feel guilty for anything. The plain and simple answer is that we know we sin. We know that we mess up. There is a standard of behavior that is built into us and when we do not live up to it God sends us a warning message. That message comes in the form of a guilty conscience.
First of all, guilt comes because we have done something wrong. We can only do wrong if we are aware that some things are right. That is, if there are no values in life, no good, no bad, no beauty, there is no need for guilt.
Guilt is the result of doing something that is bad, or not doing something that we should do, that we know to be good. Our guilt, the bad feelings that we get when we are in violation of anything good, is a gift from God. This is foundational to the views of most Christians and nearly all religious people around the world. If there are no absolute values, there is no guilt. Therefore, the presence of guilt seems to imply that there is a definite standard for right and wrong.
I do not believe that right and wrong are arbitrary designations based on what is popular or positive. Right comes from God. Wrong does not. We can agree on what is right because we all come from the same place- morally at least. We all know that murder is bad and that caring for your children is good. We know this because a higher power- God- instilled those values in us.
Guilt comes because we have violated God's order. Guilt is not a human invention and it is not administered by humans. God dispenses guilt to those who need it.
So, I say to my friend who is suffering today, embrace your guilt. It is a gift from God. Evaluate where you have gone wrong. Find out how to make it right. Change your life to avoid those mistakes in the future. And thank God for setting you on the right path.