It is hard to imagine a more powerfully negative human emotion.
This feeling of vulnerability and embarrassment . . .
Wanting to hide but feeling exposed. . .
Shame is personal. It causes isolation, loneliness, and at times, even death. Sometimes it is self-generated, sometimes it results from what someone else does to us. No matter the cause, the pressing question is, “Is there any way to cover this? Will this feeling last forever?”
What is the Christian response to shame? Is there any hope in the Christian message? The short answer to this question is: “Yes. There is hope for those who are living in shame.”
I think it is important to recognize that shame, as a consequence of sin, is neglected in many of our gospel presentations. The most common description of God’s plan for our salvation in forensic terms. By this, I mean that we acknowledge that we are guilty of breaking God’s law. We have a debt that we cannot pay, so Jesus died in our place as the sacrifice necessary for our forgiveness.
This is a valid description of the Christian message. There is indeed sin-debt that all have incurred. We stand before God as guilty sinners in need of forgiveness. This presentation addresses the guilt and the legal (forensic) requirements of the law.
However, for many, the struggle with sin cannot be reduced to guilt and forgiveness. For so many, the burden of sin is shame, and the real need is a covering. Sin has stripped us of our dignity and has exposed our weaknesses. These must be restored so we can live in healthy relationship with God and with others.
The Great news is, the gospel addresses both our guilt and need for forgiveness AND it addresses shame and restoration of dignity.
In what follows, I want to provide a brief answer to the question, “Where is the hope in the Christian message for those struggling with shame?”
1. Shame is the Original Consequence of Sin.
In the third chapter of the Bible, in Genesis 3, we find the story of the original sin. Adam and Eve ignore God’s command. They are guilty of breaking God’s law. Their first emotion is shame. They knew they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:7)
When they heard God walking in the garden, they were afraid and ashamed. The Bible tells us that they hid themselves.
You see, this feeling you have to hide because of your shame is not unique to you. It is a consequence of living in this broken world.
Unfortunately, some of us are forced to endure shame because of the sin of others. Some of our shame is a result of abuse, neglect, dishonesty, etc. You may not be guilty of the original sin, but its consequences cause shame for you.
2. God Acknowledges this Consequence and Covers the Shame
The good news of the Bible is that you are not alone in your shame. God has not forgotten you.
For some, that is a terrifying thought: “Wait a minute, I am ashamed in front of God too.”
I understand. That is normal. In fact, that is precisely what happened after the first sin. Adam and Eve were so embarrassed and so afraid they did not want to face God.
But it is right here, at the moment of our shame, that the Christian story becomes “good news.” Watch this. . . You might want to look at Genesis 3 in your Bible to follow along:
1. God came to find them
Never miss the fact that God came looking for Adam and Eve. If all he wanted to do was punish them, he could have done that from a distance. Instead, in his grace, God came to them.
2. God helped them face their fears
In their original dialogue, each person blamed someone else for their sin. Like us, when we are caught, we want to pass the responsibility to someone else. But God made them face their fears. Each was guilty. Each was responsible.
3. God promised them hope
In the very middle of the confrontation, God makes a fantastic promise:
I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)
In the third chapter of our Bible, we find the promise of the savior. A son will be born of a woman, and through his injury, he will crush the head of evil.
HA — that is Jesus.
At the lowest point of humanity, our gracious God promises hope to the shame-filled.
4. God covered their shame
Adam and Even tried to deal with their shame by hiding behind leaves. They knew there was a problem, but their solution was temporary. Just how long can leaves cover. They will curl up and die. But God, in his rich mercy, did not leave Adam and Eve vulnerable and afraid. God, personally, addressed their most pressing felt need. He covered their shame.
The good news of the gospel is that God does for us the very thing we need, but cannot do for ourselves. He sent a savior to restore our honor and forgive our sins.
3. The Christian Hope for those who are shame-filled
It is true that the gospel addresses the penalty of our sin. The Bible is quite clear that all have sinned and we face the judgment. Jesus died in our place and absorbed this penalty.
It is equally valid that Christianity has a message for those who struggle in the face of shame. Maybe you are addicted to pornography and feel too embarrassed to pray or pursue deep relationships with others. Perhaps you are carrying the scars (internal or external) for bad choices you made. Some are the victims of violence or abuse — this makes us ashamed.
Whether it is a shame from your own actions or the actions of others, bring it to God. He embraces the shame-filled and covers your shame with love demonstrated in Christ.
If you are struggling with shame caused by pornography or sexual sin, I have written a book that provides hope and a pathway to freedom. You can find it here - Bondage and Freedom: Escaping the Trap of Pornography
I am currently working on a book that shows how much God loves sinners and welcoms them home. The book should be out between Thanksgiving & Christmas 2018. You can get a sneak preview -- a teaser chapter -- here BOOK TEASER