Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Guilt + Shame

What do you think about guilt? How about shame? Generally things to be avoided, right? Sometimes guilt and shame are irrational emotional responses to situations, and we would do well to move on. Many folks live with an oppressive sense of guilt and shame because of horrible sins committed against them. But what about when those sins are our own? Are guilt and shame bad in that instance?

Jeremiah wrote this in response to the sin of Israel:
Let us lie down in our shame,
and let our disgrace cover us.
We have sinned against the Lord our God,
both we and our ancestors;
from our youth till this day
we have not obeyed the Lord our God.
Jeremiah is calling his fellow Hebrews to press into their guilt, not to run away from it. "Let your disgrace cover you like a blanket," he cries out in the streets, "and lay down in your bed of shame."

What about us? Do we need to press into our guilt? "But we have Jesus! And the cross!" True, but forgiveness is not a replacement for guilt; rather, forgiveness is found on the other side of it. We must press through our guilt--lie down and let our shame cover us like a blanket--in order to find the deep, healing forgiveness of the cross.

So often I just want to ignore my sin and step casually into forgiveness. This is like asking for the cross without the pain. A cross with no suffering is just two pieces of wood.

Forgiveness only comes to those who truly repent, and true repentance only comes by pressing into our guilt--by owning our sin. You can't give away something that you don't own. Only when you own your sin can you give it away to Jesus. Sure, pressing into your guilt may make you sad, but it is godly sorrow, after all, that leads to repentance.

Guilt and shame are not things to be avoided when they are a result of our sin. Instead, they are to be embraced, to be pressed into, in order to for healing to take place. There is no forgiveness without repentance, and there is no healing without forgiveness. When you're looking for light in the dark night, you can chase the sun by going west, and live forever in a half-light. Or you can go east, pressing through the darkness, and meet the sun as it rises.

2 comments:

4thpoint said...

We had a conversation about this very thing Sunday evening in a Bible study about the Holy Spirit. The material we used asserted: "...When we wander from God, the Spirit makes us feel guilty (John 16:7-8)." I said, "Guilty? One of the things the Holy Spirit is supposed to do is make me feel guilty?!" The answer is "Yes" as it's guilt that drives us to forgiveness as you effectively write.

It would be interesting to tease out the differences between guilt and shame. I haven't read it, but maybe the late Lewis Smedes' book _Shame and Grace_ sheds light on this. Have you heard of it/read it? ~Stan

andy said...

Stan, I haven't read it, nor anything else by Smedes. The differences between guilt and shame? Interesting indeed...though tough to put into words.