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Satan’s condemnation comes in many forms. Survivor guilt is one of them. In this mentality, we find ourselves intensely focused on the past, we find ourselves wishing we could change things that we cannot, and we find ourselves feeling responsible for things which were not our fault. Lastly, we find ourselves feeling bad for being alive. This poisonous cocktail comes straight from the enemies of God and it is designed to keep you spiritually beat down and mentally miserable. In this post, we’ll identify the false beliefs that are fueling your intense feelings of guilt and teach you some critical truths about why you are still alive on this planet.
LIE #1: YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO DIE.
God is the only One who controls how long people live on this planet, when they die, and how they die. God is not like a gambler who rolls dice at random and sighs when he doesn’t get the numbers he hoped for. God ALWAYS gets His way. Every move He makes is intentional. His timing is exact. His methods are perfect. There are no random deaths in God’s universe. There are no accidents, coincidences, or unfortunate mistakes. Luck is a concept that Satan invented to distract us from the fact that everything God does to us and around us is intentional and achieving some positive purpose from His perspective.
Before you were born, God decided how long your life would be and when and how you would die. You’re still alive because you’re supposed to be. When God wants you dead, you’ll be dead. No one stops God from doing what He wants to do. Humans are like tiny specks of dust compared to Him. Do the dust particles in your house prevent you from going about your daily business? Do they intimidate you from getting out of bed in the morning? Do they block you from going out your front door? Not hardly. We humans have as much ability to get in God’s way as a floating particle of dust has to get in yours. We never stop His show. When He wants a car to smash into a tree, no amount of careful driving is going to prevent that collision from happening. When He wants a plane to crash into the ground, no amount of pre-flight safety checks will stop the craft from plummeting. When God wants someone to survive a terrible accident, no amount of injuries can kill them. When He wants someone else to die, no amount of medical intervention will save them. Life is NOT in our hands. Our measure of responsibility in each situation is defined by the Holy Spirit. When He prompts us to do something, we need to do it. If He tells us to try and save someone from a burning building, then we pray for courage and go for it. But if He tells us to stay out of the way, then we stay out of the way. We do not save lives. God saves lives. We simply follow His instructions.
Let’s consider your specific situation. Why are you still alive while others are dead? Perhaps it was a case of timing—you broke your normal routine and as a result, you just missed being killed. Or perhaps someone went into a situation as your temporary replacement and that was the moment tragedy struck. Or perhaps it was a freak case of physics—a bullet just missed your critical organs while your buddies were gunned down around you. Or maybe you were a captive under terrible conditions and for some reason the sadistic creeps who were holding you decided to let you live. Whatever the earthly circumstances were, you need to realize that God is the One who really directed the whole affair. God controls the paths of bullets, He invents excuses for you to change your regular routine, and He can restrain even the most determined killer. You didn’t “survive”, you were intentionally kept alive by God. You’re on this planet because He wants you here. He isn’t done working with you yet. There is still spiritual progress to be made. Reject this warped worldview which says an almighty God isn’t in complete control of His Creation. The real God is not some limited superhuman who gets overwhelmed by the complexity of trying to coordinate billions of lives at once. The real God is a nonhuman Being of infinite resources who created this entire universe simply because He wanted to. God never gets overwhelmed. He is never surprised by how the future unfolds because He defines the future and He defined you. You only exist because He created you out of nothing. He created you to be in relationship with Him. God is huge, you are a dot, but He loves you very much. He designed you to experience true satisfaction only when you are living in reverential alignment with His will and desiring for Him to have His total way in your life. Satan wants to distract you from developing your relationship with God by keeping you obsessed with the past. You can’t change the past. You can only decide how you’re going to live right now.
LIE #2: YOU OWE A DEBT TO THE DEAD.
Maybe the only reason you’re alive is because someone acted heroically on your behalf. Maybe your fellow soldier ran into the line of fire and took a fatal bullet for you. Maybe someone snatched you out of the path of harm only to die themselves in the process. Maybe someone died trying to put out a fire while you hung back in cowardly fear. Whatever the reason, perhaps you feel that you now owe a debt to the dead. No, you don’t. This is another major deception that Satan is trying to shove on you to get you spiritually off course. Living for the dead is an extremely unhealthy thing to do. Your life belongs to God, not to dead people. When it comes to how you spend the rest of your life, you should only be consulting the One who gave that life to you: God. He definitely has opinions about how He wants you to spend the rest of your time on earth. He wants you to live focused on Him, not on other humans.
God created you for Himself. He gave you the capacity and desire to fellowship with other people, but those other people are not the ones you’ll be judged by in eternity. They didn’t give you your life, and they don’t have any say over how you spend it. God gave you your life and after you die, He will very much hold you accountable for how you spent it. But happily, God is very easy to please. He is also very kind and He cares about your wellbeing. Other people care about themselves more than you. They want you to do things that please them, whether those things are good for you or not. God wants you to do things that will please Him, but everything He asks you to do is also for YOUR spiritual best. You were designed to thrive and experience deep soul peace and fulfillment only when pleasing God is the most important thing to you. If you try to please dead people, you are guaranteed to be miserable, which is why Satan really wants you to go there.
Dead people are unaware of your activities on earth. They are either enjoying Heaven or roasting in Hell, depending on whether or not they submitted to Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Be clear on this: human heroics don’t get any points in eternity when we die without submitting to Jesus. Many of history’s greatest heroes are currently in Hell because in their hearts, they refused to accept that they were sinners in need of a Savior. Good deeds carry no weight with God—He is interested in our hearts. We please Him only when our hearts sincerely desire for Him to have His way in our lives.
LIE #3: YOU COULD HAVE PREVENTED THE DEAD FROM DYING.
Maybe if you had done more, thought quicker, acted faster, or been braver, you could have prevented the dead from dying. This is another lie from Satan. Remember who controls life and death on this planet: God. No one dies early, and no one dies late. Everyone dies exactly when they’re supposed to, and exactly how God wants them to. There is no way that you could have stopped God from killing someone that He wanted dead. Even if you tried to, He would block you. God uses fear to block us. If you were a sniveling coward who ran for cover in the ultimate act of self-centeredness, you were only demonstrating what humans are without God’s supernatural empowerment. Unless God performs a miracle in the moment, it is NORMAL for humans to act like cowards. This is a disappointing truth that our pride hates to face. You are not some lowlife because you ran away. God has given you a very strong sense of self-preservation. It is guaranteed that under pressure, your self-centered nature will become very amplified. If it doesn’t, only God can take the glory.
Maybe you felt like God was telling you to do something at the time, but you didn’t and it was your disobedience that really killed those people. No, it wasn’t. Who controls life and death on this planet? God does. If He prompted you to do something, and you didn’t do it, that situation is easily remedied by you acknowledging where you went wrong and wanting God to have His total way with you in the future. Be clear on this: the Holy Spirit does NOT harp on your past failures. That is what Satan does. God knows that you can’t go back in time and change things that you did. If He points out some error you made in the past, it is to give you helpful instruction for the future. It is NOT to pound you into the ground with shame or communicate His disgust with you. God does not expect frail, cowardly human beings to act other than frail and cowardly. He already knew you wouldn’t do what He was telling you to do before He even spoke to you, and He had already arranged His plans accordingly. God is never slowed down by our disobedience. He doesn’t not get His will done because some human fell apart at the critical moment. You cannot get in God’s way. He isn’t going to let someone die ahead of schedule because you couldn’t scrape up enough courage in the moment. It isn’t your job to come up with Divine qualities. You can only work with what God gives you. If you know that you sincerely care about God having His way in your life, then don’t take responsibility for the fact that He didn’t supply the courage you needed in the moment. Instead, remember that God judges us by our hearts. He knows whether you care about obeying Him or not. If you do, then He is pleased, regardless of how many times you’re unable to follow through with perfect behavior.
LIE #4: YOU ARE LESS WORTHY THAN THE PEOPLE WHO DIED.
Now here’s a real pip. Satan loves to warp your view of the dead. He wants you to dip them in a gold sheen of moral purity and set them up on some pedestal in your mind. Then he wants you to spend your life feeling like an unworthy worm by comparison. This is all complete rot.
What does God say about the dead? He says they were all unworthy sinners in need of a Savior. People aren’t born intrinsically good. They are born as selfish little monsters who detest having to take orders from anyone. We don’t always see them this way because some have gentle temperaments and kind ways. But when humans treat each other nicely down here, they are always giving to get. We love only as long as it benefits us to do so. We’re willing to sacrifice only when we’ve determined that our investment will profit us in the long-term. This is human nature in the raw. When we see Christlike qualities in other people, it is only because Christ is involved. Through both the saved and the unsaved, God gives us glimpses of His holy perfection. But without Him, we’re all depraved sinners who care only about ourselves. The people who died were not better than you, they were just like you. They started off with the same raw material, and if they ended up acting better than you, then it is only God who deserves the glory. It is God who defines our worthiness, and He has set the same value on them as He has on you. You are so valuable to God that He sent His only Son to die in your place. No one can top that. No one can claim to be more worthy than you are. Perhaps the world would rate the people who died as better than you, but the world’s grading system isn’t worth a hill of beans. God is the only Judge whose opinion carries eternal weight. He has put the highest possible value on you, and nothing Satan says can change that.
LIE #5: YOU ARE DEFINED BY YOUR PAST.
You experienced an event in which one or more people died. It felt personal because it was personal: God could have had you skip the whole thing. But instead, He wanted you to have this close brush with death so that you could see just how meaningful it is that you are still alive. You’re here because God WANTS you here. He wants you to exist. He wants you to be. You are not a summary of past experiences, you are a soul that God intentionally created. The point of your existence is to be in a personal relationship with the Ones who created you: Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Satan wants you to feel bad about being alive, but your Creators want you to be excited about the idea that They are so personally interested in you and so intimately involved in every experience you have. Your life is not a series of random coincidences, but a purposeful sequence of precisely timed events which are all designed to draw you closer to your Creators. You are not defined by your past, but you are defining your future by how you are responding to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in your life. He is calling you to focus on Him. Let Him use your past to guide you into the glorious future He wants you to have.
What it Means to be Aligned with God
Identifying False Conviction: Three Easy Tests
Dealing with Death: Eight Lies that Keep Us Stuck in the Past
Overcoming the Guilt of Failing to Protect