I got this question during Sunday school last week, recalling my previous post on the subject to mind. The question didn't surprise me, because this idea that all guilt is wrong is so ingrained in our culture today. I answered with an analogy.
Guilt, like pain, is unpleasant. If we are in great pain, we understandably want it to go away. We want relief quick! But pain also alerts us to some medical malady. If by treating the pain we mask the malady and leave it untreated, the results can be catastrophic. For this reason, those who suffer from leprosy and lose their nerve endings learn to very carefully monitor their extremities. Because they may not feel the pain of a simple cut, infection can set in before they realize they've been injured.
Guilt plays a similar role with respect to sin. Its primary function is to alert us to a deeper problem. David needed to feel the guilt of his sin with Bethsheba. Denying it merely prolonged his rebellion. In the end, God used Nathan to apply the scalpel to David's conscience, revealing David's guilt and enabling him to repent.
Of course, our culture flatly rejects the concept of rebuke (see this post for more on that), because rebuke implies guilt, and guilt is bad!
Now, is it possible to experience false or extreme guilt? Sure, in the same way it's possible to suffer from hypochondria or health anxiety. But on the whole, guilt gets a bad rap. The biblical answer to guilt is not to treat the symptom, but to go after its root cause through confession, repentance, and then--like David--to experience the cleansing grace of God.
I plead guilty, Your Honor, and throw myself on the mercy of the court!
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.