The surprising truth about shame

Young sad mad sitting in regretOver the last couple weeks, I’ve seen several posts from people cautioning against shaming others. And while I agree that this is sometimes the situation, I also believe that our politically correct, feel-good, you-do-you society has confused and even conflated SHAMING and SHAME.

As a Christian, I believe it’s absolutely wrong to shame people for their thoughts, feelings, and actions. In this case, SHAMING becomes a weapon by which people seek to psychologically and emotionally shape others to their own views and ways of living. It is intentional. It is hurtful. And it is outside the nature and person of Jesus Christ. At no point in Scripture does Christ ever approach sinners with the intent to hurt or harm them.

SHAME, on the other hand, is a deep-seated feeling we experience when we know what is right and do what is wrong. Our first exposure to shame occurs in the very first book of the Bible. Adam and Eve experienced shame when they violated God’s explicit instructions and ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. They knew what was right and did what was wrong. In their shame, they sought to hide from God, which was an impossible task since He’s both omnipresent and omniscient.

Our society seems to have an inadequate or incomplete understanding of shame. That word has a strong negative connotation in today’s world. However, as a pastor and counselor, I’ve come to understand that shame is not meant to be a bad word. To the contrary, shame is a spiritual response to sin. I think of shame as a kind of built-in warning system that notifies our heart when there’s a misalignment, misapplication, or willful ignorance of truth. We must be careful to seek God’s truth, understand God’s truth, and apply God’s truth in our everyday lives.

It may surprise you that shame is actually intended to propel us toward holiness — God’s standard and desire for His children. Can people share Bible verses in person or online with the intent to shame others? Absolutely. I have no doubt that this happens often. And that is an improper use of Scripture that should bring feelings of shame to the one who posts with such self-righteous motives.

But shame’s purpose is to awaken our senses to the sin in our own lives — not the sin of others — and to move us toward repentance and congruence with God’s Word. So please post Scripture verses and point people to His design and amazing love. Just make sure you’re applying His truth to your own life first — and that your intent is to expose others to God’s love and the hope of redemption rather than to shame, belittle, or condemn them.

Of course, Satan likes to use shame to keep people enslaved. We look to escape our shame in any number of ways, including materialism, substance abuse and other addictions, even therapy. Those attempts may mask shame for a while, or they may deepen or compound it. But the only true remedy for shame is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He’s the one who took the punishment for all our sins and all our shame and died in our place. As the song says, “I owed a debt I could not pay, He paid a debt He did not owe.

It’s interesting that something as modernly mischaracterized as shame is ultimately meant to lead us to freedom — freedom from sin, freedom from self, and freedom to live in obedience and submission to a merciful and benevolent Father. In that sense, shame is a great gift. Now that’s not a perspective you hear very often, is it?

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