Guilt upon the conscience, like rust upon iron, both defiles and consumes it, gnawing and creeping into it, as that does which at last eats out the very heart and substance of the metal.” – Bishop Robert South
The American writer Edgar Allan Poe is perhaps best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre. Some literary scholars consider him to be the father of the detective fiction genre. He is also believed to have been one of the first well-known American writers to try earning a living through writing alone. So, how’d that work out for him? It didn’t. Poe suffered financial difficulty most of his short adult life and died in relative poverty in 1849 at the age of 40.
The Tell-Tale Heart is one of his better known short stories, first published in 1843. It is a fictional account of the gruesome murder of an old man whose dismembered body parts were hidden under the floorboards. The unidentified storyteller is also the killer. Clearly unbalanced, the murdering butcher is eventually driven to madness while attempting to convince the reader not of his innocence, but of his sanity. As the tale unfolds, the narrator grows increasingly uncomfortable, believing that he can hear the tell-tale heart of his victim beating from under the flooring. In the end, his wild imaginings serve as the evidence of his madness. Strange story? It is indeed. But for me, here’s the real takeaway: this bizarre little narrative serves to illustrate the inevitable result of a heart that is burdened by unassuaged guilt; it will haunt you.
All but the most profoundly depraved human beings have within them a tell-tale heart. We do not call it that, preferring the term conscience to describe the voice of our human spirit. Call it what you will, a tell-tale heart can throb with unrelenting reminders of our guilt, shame, shortcomings and failures.
I once heard the story of a man who believed that his bike had been stolen from outside of his church one Sunday morning. He goes to see his Pastor for assistance. “Come to the service next week and sit in the front row,” the Pastor tells him, “I will call you up to the platform and ask you to read out loud the Ten Commandments. When you get to ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ pause and stare intently at all of the people. Look for the one who fidgets uncomfortably and cannot look you in the eyes because of his guilty heart. That’s your thief.” And so, the man does as the Pastor advises. He comes to the next Sunday morning service and when called upon, he steps forward and reads the Ten Commandments out loud. After the service the minister is of course rather curious to learn if his suggestion has flushed out the guilty party. “Did it work?” he asks the parishioner. “Like a charm,” the man answers. “The moment I read the 7th commandment, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ I remembered where I left my bike.”
Okay, I know, some will say that’s a really bad joke. But, it is helpful in making a cogent point: 7-8 God’s laws are perfect. They protect us, make us wise, and give us joy and light. (Psalm 19:7-8 TLB) The Divine Spirit within us – like the symbolic tell-tale heart – reminds us when we have strayed from righteous pathways. Persistence in a life of stubborn disobedience to what our Creator alone has the right to declare as true or false, good or evil, will eventually find us out. In the meantime, living with a guilty conscience is no laughing matter.
She heard him speak, but did not recognize the problem in his voice – only later did she realize it was that thing he’d been concealing – known as guilt.” – Carla H. Krueger
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is widely known. The great architects of this planetary creation (God) visited a chaotic earth that was formless and empty, covered in water and surrounded by darkness. As “Project Genesis” unfolded upon the globe, a unique “utopian” ecosystem, The Garden at Eden, was created. Mankind was fashioned in the image and likeness of the Creator and given complete autonomy and dominion to rule the world. But something went terribly wrong.
It all began innocently enough. The Creator would make regular visits to Eden where he would chat with the first humans. In this garden like paradise, He was cultivating a race unique in all the earth, replete with every resource to be fruitful and multiply.
There was only one restriction – the forbidden fruit. The precursors of humanity were simply told that they were not to “consume” this one “gotchya” fruit. If they did, they would have to leave the Garden of Eden. Otherwise, they could stay in this idyllic state forever. The Creator was letting them choose their destiny through a test of obedience. No problem, they had little to no interest in said fruit anyway – at least initially.
Enter the antagonist – Satan – the more subtle of the beasts. He starts with the female. “Eve” he said, “why not try that forbidden fruit?” Eve resists, telling Satan that the Creator had told her and Adam not to do that or they would die. But Satan persisted. “That’s a lie!” the troublemaker hissed. “You’ll not die! God knows very well that the instant you partake of it you will become like Him, for your eyes will be opened you will be able to distinguish good from evil! Come on, the forbidden fruit is very good for you and it will make you very wise.” In the end, Eve chose to pursue what she knew was not allowed and so did Adam who gladly followed her down the path of perdition.
Now here’s the consequence: These human archetypes were decisively changed because of their failure to obey the Creator’s instructions. First, they became aware of their “nakedness”, and were embarrassed by it. Next, they strung leaves together to cover their private parts. In other words, innocence was lost and thus began mankind’s association with the tell-tale heart.
That evening they heard the Creator arrive in the garden as usual; and they hid themselves among the trees. Can you hear their guilty tell-tale heart beating? Imagine the Supreme and all-knowing Being as he plays this little game: “Oh Adam, where are you? Why are you hiding?” Adam replies, “I heard you coming and didn’t want you to see me naked. So I hid.” To which the Creator replies, “Really, who told you were naked?” You’ve gotten into the forbidden fruit, haven’t you?” Adam admits, “Well, yes, but it’s all this woman’s fault and anyway, you gave her to me. She made me do it.” Talk about passing the buck. Needless to say, their tell-tale hearts had found them out.
The word Adam actually means man or mankind. So, humankind’s guilt rests upon the deliberate rejection of Divine instruction (truth) resulting in rebellious acts. It may seem a trivial matter or even fantasy to the unenlightened reader, but to the spiritual observer with eyes that can see, it can be understood as so calamitous an event that its effects have resonated through all civilizations to this day. The defiance of humanity personified in the garden not only altered the development of God’s creation, it also triggered the entrance of sickness, disease, human mortality and our exile here on spaceship earth. More important was the introduction of spiritual death to the human experience. This deadening of the human soul and subsequent perversion of human spiritual perception would open a Pandora’s Box (to borrow a symbol from ancient Greek mythology) releasing all forms of corruption.
Beginning with Adam’s loss of innocence and mankind’s consequential exile from the source of unending existence (the Tree of Life), people have turned to countless forms of palliatives to fill their inner emptiness. Some have preferred to inflate their own self-worth as they idolize the creature instead of revering the Creator. Others seek comfort through sensual pleasures, abusing intoxicating substances, perverting the beauty of sexual desire, and of course, venerating the many headed god of materialism. In an almost astonishing display of defiance, mankind has removed the Divine entity who made them from His rightful place in the human dispensation. The result has been and continues to manifest itself in the malignancy of human idolatry and depravity. How tragic and futile. Only returning the Creator to His rightful place in our lives can silence the pounding of a tell-tale heart.
I have come to the conclusion that none of us in our generation feels as guilty about sin as we should or as our forefathers did.” – Francis Schaeffer
Is there a remedy for this age old planetary madness arising from the tell-tale heart? I mentioned the symbolic Pandora’s Box a moment ago. Today the phrase “to open Pandora’s box” is usually interpreted as “an action that seems minor or insignificant, but that turns out to have detrimental and far-reaching negative consequences.” According to ancient Greek mythology, the “box” was actually a large jar given to Pandora at her creation. It was said to contain all the woes of the world. Presumably, she wasn’t supposed to open it. But, like Eve in the garden, curiosity got the best of her and she removed the lid. All the evils that plague humanity flew out. When she finally closed the jar, only one item of its content remained – ironically it was “HOPE.” Pandora managed to hold on to hope!
Please hear me; Pandora’s Box may be nothing more than a made-up fantasy from an ancient civilization; but there is nothing fictitious about genuine hope. In fact – if you have spiritual eyes to see – the one and only remedy for all of the madness well-maintained by the tell-tale heart is found in the “Blessed Hope” of our eventual rescue from this life of exile.
In the Bible’s Newer Testament, Paul, the great Apostolic Teacher had this to say as he wrote to a young preacher named Titus:
11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with great hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus (the Christ), will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. 15 You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them. You have the authority to correct them when necessary, so don’t let anyone disregard what you say. (Titus 2:11-15)
No matter how loud the beating of your tell-tale heart, there is a great HOPE offered to you this day. Not merely an “I’d like to think so” or “with any luck” kind of hope; rather, a definite assurance that you can find freedom from guilt, shame and blame.
The Liberator Jesus visited spaceship earth to offer salvation to all who were called according to His purpose. His message of freedom, redemption and life beyond the grave would become the “Blessed Hope” of the disheartened passengers here on spaceship earth. The ancient writings of scripture put it like this:
11-13 “But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of who Jesus was. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises to Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of (the liberator) Jesus dying that death, shedding that blood you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.” (Ephesians 2:11-13 MSG)
Are you getting this? You don’t have to live as an “outsider” any longer. There is a “Blessed Hope” that can become a transforming reality in your life. It can bring you joy and help with your navigation through the treacherous waters of trials and tribulations in this world. Oh, and it does wonders in silencing the guilt and condemnation of a tell-tale heart. Interested?
Let’s talk to the one who made us:
Almighty Creator God, I ask you to speak to the spirit of those who now have ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart ready to understand. Silence the pounding of their tell-tale heart as you show them the Liberator Jesus who is standing invisible in another dimension (the spirit world), and yet with arms wide open He is ready to welcome them. Many are called, but few are chosen. Help the chosen say YES, to the invitation from the Liberator Jesus to follow Him, and to put their faith in his rescue mission on spaceship earth. Thank you Divine Father. Amen.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie ®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656.