I took a break from blogging about six months ago to get some material written for our church start and give more attention to transitions in our home. But I didn’t stop thinking about stuff. So, the next three post are topics that I have spent significant time thinking about during the last six months. I thought I’d share my thoughts about them with you. First up: shame. Sounds riveting, right? Actually, it is one of the more important spiritual issues of today and the reason people are leaving the church in droves. Shame is the “quiet motivator” in our churches for everything from good behavior to political positions to social issues. The worth we assign to ourselves and to each other determines how we treat others. We just don’t see it unless someone exposes it.
Shame is a sense of worthlessness or inferiority that plagues all of us at some level. Those who live with chronic shame feel inadequate, unwanted, rejected and often engage in self-contempt through negative talk. They never feel “good enough” for anyone. It’s also our own sense of shame that causes us to turn on others or engage in addictive behavior. It’s a horrible cycle – one that I have struggled with at times in my own life. Maybe you have as well.
The Bible has some really important things to say about shame and our relationship to it. It starts in the book of Genesis (2:25, 3:7). In chapter 2, we find humans comfortable with who they are. They are open, vulnerable, and sincere in their relationship with each other and with God. But by chapter 3, we find them hiding from God. Now, at that point, they we guilty of sin…but God did not shame them for their decision. They internalized their guilt as worthlessness and hid from God. Kinda like we still do today.
Guilty? Sure. But worthless? Hardly. Most people still can’t tell the difference.
Sadly, for many, their experience with religion has heightened their sense of shame. Their worthlessness is bantered around in sermons and liturgy every week that invite them to grovel before God’s feet. What’s worse, the church often “talks dirty” to get the attention of the shamed, rejected, and unwanted. But the church never addresses the deep inferiority people feel by giving them the acceptance they truly need. People need more than pardon. They need healing.
It’s important for people to know they are forgiven. Hebrews 10:22 says we are not only forgiven but cleaned from a “guilty conscience.” But something even deeper happened on the cross – God healed our shame. Luke 18:32 says that Jesus was specifically treated “shamefully” when he was crucified. In that moment of abandonment, Jesus carried the deepest and most pervasive emotional scar that any human can carry: shame.
At the cross, God said to every person that would listen, “I want you. I’ve always wanted you. You are unconditionally loved and accepted by me.” God’s heart breaks for his abused and shamed children. They are made in the image of God but they refuse to believe it. Shamed people don’t need a more acute sense of their own sin. Instead, they need a sense of just how loved and accepted they are by their Creator.
Though God gives us final value and esteem, each of us can choose to be agents of grace to those around us. We can give others small amounts of value in each conversation and act of kindness we display. You have the chance to help heal another person’s inadequacy, inferiority, and rejection. To help heal their shame. Or, better yet, we can embrace what God really thinks about us and allow him to heal our shame, worthlessness and rejection. After all, those are our feelings, not God’s.