"I felt so guilty about being white and privileged," Patti Davis
said, talking about her youth. "I felt very guilty about it."
I think her reaction is common, but when I was her age (12, at
the time she felt this way), I was faced with the same information but had
a totally different reaction. I felt grateful. It would never have
occurred to me to feel guilty about something I couldnít help.
But what she said made me think long and hard about why people feel
guilty about being white and privileged, and how guilt affects our view of
the world and people around us. Pattiís reaction was that she would like
to turn herself and her whole family black (this is as a twelve year old
thinking, mind you). When I was twelve and my parents told me about all
the starving children in China or Africa, I thanked God that I was born
and bred in Arkansas in the USA. The last thing I would have wanted to be
was black and hungry.
Feeling guilty about being well off is easy to remedy, you know. A rich
man came to Jesus one day and asked what he should do to inherit the
Kingdom. Jesus told him to go, sell everything he had and give it to the
poor. Presto, being rich is remedied that easily. Unburdening oneself of
wealth is simple. Unburdening yourself of being white is not so easy.
But why should a person feel guilty about being white, black, Asian,
tall, short, male, or female? For that matter, why feel guilty about being
well off unless you stole it?
I present for your consideration two sets of feelings:
Which of these emotions is the most influential in your life? I may be
wrong, but I suspect this has a whole lot to do with your happiness. Let
me tell you a story.
Paul and Silas had come to the Greek city of Philippi and, there being
no synagogue there, they went out to a place where prayer was normally
made by the few Jewish women in this town. They stayed and worked with
these people, but there was a fly in the ointment. There was a young woman
there who was, as Luke puts it, "possessed with a spirit of divination."
She followed Paul everywhere he went crying out, "These men are the
servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation."
Paul finally had enough of this, and he turned to her and commanded the
spirit to come out of her. It came out promptly. All very good, except for
one thing. Her masters had made a lot of money off her fortune telling,
and their income had just been radically reduced. To make a long story
short, they had Paul and Silas arrested, stripped and beaten. Then they
slapped them in the dungeon and made their feet fast in stocks. You can
read the whole story in
Now how should Paul and Silas feel about this? Guilty? Resentful? Or
grateful? They had done nothing wrong, but that doesnít keep you from
feeling guilty, does it? We all know what it is like to feel guilty when
you havenít done anything. So how did they feel? We are left in no doubt.
About midnight, Paul and Silas prayed and began to sing praises to God.
All the prisoners heard them. They were probably singing out loud.
About that time there was an earthquake and the whole place was shake.
All the prison doors popped open and their stocks broke open releasing
them. The prison keeper was awakened by the quake, and when he checked, he
found the prison open. He was ready to take his own life, fearing that all
the prisoners were gone, when Paul called out and stopped him.
He called for a light, ran into the prison and fell trembling before
Paul and Silas. "What must I do to be saved," he asked. As a result, he
and his entire household were baptized.
This incident is worth your careful attention. They had been whipped
and were in a world of pain. They were bleeding and bruised, and they were
locked in stocks in a miserable position. So what was their response? They
sang praises to God in the middle of the night from the depths of the
I have an idea that there is something very encouraging and emboldening
about being punished for having served God faithfully. They were
grateful that they had been accounted worthy to serve God in the first
place. Now, they were not only worthy to serve, they were worthy to
suffer. (c.f. Acts 5:40-41)
A long time ago, when I was a very young minister, a series of
remarkable things happened to me. I found myself deeply troubled by what I
called at the time "wrong thoughts." It was a very disturbing thing. I
would be trying to pray and thoughts would enter my mind that had no
business being there. Mind you, I had spent four years in the Navy and I
had all the vocabulary that went with it. But it wasnít just that. It was
more. It was like an alien mind trying to take me where I didnít want to
I fought that battle and won, but that didnít end the story. About two
weeks after the end of the battle, I was out on visitation and a woman
told me that she had been fighting a terrible battle with....You guessed
it. She called it "wrong thoughts." I was able to encourage her in several
ways. One, she was not the only person who had to fight that battle. Two,
I was able to tell her how to deal with it. Three, I was able to tell her
that the battle could be won.
I went through this cycle with other problems about three or four times
before I finally woke up and realized what was going on. How could I
possibly understand people who were suffering when I had not suffered
myself. How could I tell people how to overcome something when I had not
overcome it myself.
Then one day, I found myself in trouble again, and I had an epiphany. I
realized that this trouble I was in was necessary for something that lay
in the future and that it was important that I overcome it. I had to win
for the sake of people I would yet come to know. Sure enough. It wasnít
all that far down the road that the same thing happened again.
And so, imperfectly, I have learned to be grateful for every scar on my
body. Years ago, while I was in the Navy, I had major surgery and I have a
huge scar across my left rib cage. I am grateful for that scar because I
know what it is like to lie in a hospital bed in total misery and pain,
with tubes coming out of my body, yearning for my next pain pill.
I came to realize that if I was going to be a minister, I had to be
trained, and only a part of the training is in the Bible. a lot of the
training is in life. I learned some of this from an incident in the life
of Paul. Paul said, "It is not expedient for me doubtless to
glory." And then he proceeded to tell a story from his own life about
great revelations from God that were accompanied by great infirmity. His
conclusion: Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in
infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses
for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2
It is not expedient for me to glory either, so I wonít bore you with
more examples. Suffice it to say that I learned the hard way that what
Paul said is true. When I am weak, then I am strong.
I think all this comes back to the difference between guilt and
gratitude. There is a segment of our society who are white and
privileged and they feel guilty about it. This is one thing for a 12 year
old girl, and another thing altogether for a mature adult. This segment of
our society is extremely influential. The reason this is a problem is that
these people donít know God, and therefore they canít be grateful
for who they are and what they have. They blame themselves for the
intractable social problems they see because they are unable to blame sin.
None of this would be such a big deal if they didnít project their own
guilt feelings onto the rest of us. They see us as a guilty society and
then they set out to solve manís problems without any help from God. And
they want to drag the rest of us along with them.
They are the secular privileged class in America, the class that
some people mistakenly call liberal. They arenít really liberal. They are
merely guilt ridden. They are guilt ridden because they are unable to
We should not let ourselves fall into that temptation. We should learn,
as James did, to be grateful, not guilty. He said that a man who wavers in
faith is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. That man
should not expect to receive anything from God. The person who wavers
probably thinks he doesnít deserve anything. He is guilty, not grateful.
(See James 1:2 ff.)
James continued to say, " Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that
he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower
of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a
burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth,
and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man
fade away in his ways."
Why should anyone feel guilty about being privileged? After all, it is
just a flower of the grass and it will soon be gone anyway. It is nothing
to be proud of or guilty for. James concludes his observations by telling
us we should be grateful. We shouldnít just sit around feeling guilty, we
should go to work.
That said, the going will not be easy. Jesus said "Blessed are they
which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and
shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice,
and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so
persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matthew
Now it is one thing to be grateful for a trial when it is over, and
when you can see with your own eyes the blessings wrought by it. It is
another thing altogether to be grateful for it while it is going on. Jesus
said elsewhere: "Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they
shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast
out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that
day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in
heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets." (Luke
This is not just for then. This is for now. Again and again in
the early chapters of Revelation, Jesus said that it was the overcomers,
the winners, who would be rewarded. And without obstacles, there is
nothing to overcome.
All those who receive these great rewards are winners. They are not
necessarily privileged. They are people who were tried in the fire and
won. You want to know what it means to overcome? Then you need to read the
stories of the people who did. (Hebrews
These people were not losers. They were not whiners. They were winners
They were not guilty. They were grateful.
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