Shame is an emotion we experience when we have done something wrong or embarrassing. It's a self-perpetuating painful and distressing internal feeling that can take us deeper and deeper into an emotional dark hole, even depression.
"Spiritual Shame" is a phrase I've coined to represent the feeling deep inside us when we think less of ourselves because we have done something that has negatively affected our relationship with God. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we want to hide and not face God. The result? We allow ourselves to not only go deeper into an emotional and spiritual dark place, but also further away from God.
This is when God enters the picture and tells us there's no shame in "spiritual pain," only a need to turn to him and listen to his voice, assuring us we are still loved.
Shame Born in the Garden
In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge despite God’s command not to do so. They disobeyed and disappointed the only friend in the world they had, their creator.
When they heard God walking in the garden, they hid among the trees in the garden. They couldn’t look their friend, their creator, in the eyes. They had shame, and the rest is history as each of us pays the price for their disobedience and prideful act.
This biblical account illustrates how we feel after doing something wrong or embarrassing, and how destructive shame can be. Can you imagine how they felt inside? Can you fathom the depths of their shame after disobeying their only friend in the world, with whom they had walked daily?
The Dividing Wall Is Torn Down
When we sin actively or by way of omission, not doing something we should have done, our whole perspective about how God loves us and how this affects our daily life changes. It’s as though a wall has been erected between us and God. Have you ever felt this way? I have.
The Bible assures us that even though this is a well-deserved emotion because of what we have done or not done, there is no shame in feeling this way. In fact, it's an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God even more, because Jesus broke down this wall when he went to the Cross.
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility," (Ephesians 2:13-14)
Shame Can be Silenced
Shame tells us we’re no good, inferior, and unworthy of respect. When we listen to it, we start down the proverbial rabbit’s hole. If we continue to listen, our feelings can run the gamut of anger, despair, and even depression.
There is a more powerful voice, the voice of the Lord our God, the same voice that confronted, cursed, and banished Adam and Eve. However, while still capable of judgement, that voice now speaks to us with mercy and forgiveness.
Once we face and expose what has caused us shame, confess our sins, and accept his forgiveness, shame is neutralized. Even if our actions are not sins, but embarrassing actions we regret, the Lord is there to help us recognize our imperfection and move on with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Shame can play a role in convicting us of ways we fall short of our expectations, those of others, and God’s. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, and being in God’s Word to claim his promises and his truth, we can face feelings telling us we are unworthy of God’s love and friendship of those around us.
In God’s Words
Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. (Isaiah 54:4)
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians)
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)
In the Words of Others
“Shame arises from the fear of men, conscience from the fear of God.” Samuel Johnson
“Shame is a soul-eating emotion.” C. J. Jung
“God never leads the soul through guilt, shame, or fear, but attracts the soul through love.” Richard Rohr
In Your Words
Recall a time when you felt shame or shamed by others. What feelings did you experience at the time?
In what ways did the feelings impact your life? In what ways did your reactions to shame impact others?
Has the Lord been involved in your experience of shame? If he was, describe your feelings at the time?
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