Three Stories: I Didn’t Mean To

The first defense often deployed when we realize we’ve made a mistake, done something wrong, or committed a sin is “I didn’t mean to…” Common law recognizes that there is a difference between 1st-degree murder, when someone plans and shows intent to kill someone, and lesser forms of murder and manslaughter where the intent is not clear. However, guilt and punishment are attached to all. Saying “I didn’t mean to…” does not change the consequences of our actions. Instead, it supplies a way to escape or blunt the guilt we feel.

For example. Marie was minding her own business when she noticed the red and blue lights in her rearview mirror. Instinctively she lifted her foot from the gas pedal and glanced at the speedometer. “Oh dear,” she said to herself as she realized how far over the speed limit she was going. Once stopped on the shoulder the officer, a State Trooper, walks up and taps on the window. “I’m sorry officer I wasn’t meaning to speed. Could you let me go with a warning?” She pleads.  

Is Marie guilty of speeding? Should her unintentional but provable offense be ignored because she didn’t mean to speed? Can the officer prove her intent?  What if Marie is simply lying to get out of a ticket? We, of course, do the same thing, maybe not when pulled over for speeding, but what about the other times in our daily experience. It is very probable that we did not mean to offend or sin but the plain fact is that we did.

Consider these verses from Leviticus: “Or suppose you unknowingly touch something that is ceremonially unclean, such as the carcass of an unclean animal. When you realize what you have done, you must admit your defilement and your guilt. This is true whether it is a wild animal, a domestic animal, or an animal that scurries along the ground. Or suppose you unknowingly touch something that makes a person unclean. When you realize what you have done, you must admit your guilt. Or suppose you make a foolish vow of any kind, whether its purpose is for good or for bad. When you realize its foolishness, you must admit your guilt. When you become aware of your guilt in any of these ways, you must confess your sin.” (Leviticus 5:2–5, NLT) “Unclean” in these verses is not hygiene or physical cleanliness but violations of God’s law that needed to be dealt with before they could enter worship. The important point of these verses for our purposes is the last sentence – When you become aware of your guilt in any of these ways, you must confess your sin. The next verses in Leviticus describe the offering required at that time and the promise that we will be forgiven. Today our sin is cleansed and forgiven by the blood of Jesus.

We have a choice. We can either reject the idea that we have sinned because, after all, in our heart and mind we didn’t mean to. Here is the problem with that, our guilt remains. Marie is guilty of speeding regardless of whether she meant to or not. Her guilt is not dependant on her feelings or intent. The second choice is to admit our guilt and rely on God’s promise to forgive and cleanse. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9, NLT)  So, taking choice number one, we push guilt over in a corner and hide it under a blanket of “I didn’t mean to”. The guilt remains but we kind of feel better. The other way is to admit it and have the guilt washed from our lives by the blood of Christ.  

Dale Heinold
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