Shelve Your Shock

You know what the hardest response to see and hear is when I tell someone something personal or sensitive is? It’s not anger. I can see that coming a mile away and change course. It’s not judgment; those people are easy to ignore. It’s not even apathy, though that can sting, because apathy leads to nothing.

The most painful response is shock.

I tell someone a story of some really bad decisions I made in the past and they gasp and say “are you serious?” I explain a sin I’m struggling with and they stare at me, mouth agape. I’m honest about how hard marriage is and the bumpy road my wife and I are going down and they lean back and blow hard through pursed lips in that overwhelmed way. These are the responses I fear most. They are the ones that make me feel like and idiot, a six-inch tall moron.

Shock feels like judgment even if it’s not intended to. It seems to express a lack of empathy; the listener simply can’t understand me otherwise he wouldn’t respond like I said I had a third arm under my shirt.

In church circles this is especially true. Many church people grew up sheltered from real ugliness. For many, the moralistic and legalistic upbringing made many sins seems both distant and unthinkable (not all bad). They are out of touch with the difficulties so many people face. Many Christians have the prevailing attitude toward a lengthy list of sins of “I could never do that.” Well, that attitude splatters all over someone who shares their story of sin, mistakes, pain, crime, sex, substance abuse, divorce, infidelity, or whatever. The Christian’s subtle surprise or overt shock speaks volumes of judgment.

The remedy to “I could never do that” is twofold. First, we need to remember that one sin is not more damning than another. The hierarchy of sins we have in our minds has more to do with perceived societal damage caused than anything else. Your self-righteousness needs a savior just as much as someone else’s fornication. Second, we need to be honest about our own propensity for sin. It’s not that we would never do certain sins; it’s often that we’ve never been given the chance. We use the phrase “but for the grace of God there go I,” and much of that grace is the circumstances God gave us as protected church folk.

I could have had that affair. I could have cheated or stolen my way out of a job. I could have become an alcoholic or drug abuser. I could have been such a rotten husband that I drove my wife to divorce me. I am more than capable. So is everyone. If you deny it you need to repent for lying to yourself and everyone else.

If we recognize our own sin and our potential for sin the playing field is leveled. More importantly, we stop being shocked when someone admits to something horrible. Of course they did it. They are human, in the line of Adam, the moron who ate the fruit and started this mess. And you and I would have or could have done the same in their place or his. So shelve your shock and realize you are just like the person sharing.

photo credit: Erik K Veland via photopin cc

One comment

  • Jer 6–
    13 “From the least to the greatest,
    all are greedy for gain;
    prophets and priests alike,
    all practice deceit.
    14 They dress the wound of my people
    as though it were not serious.
    ‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
    when there is no peace.
    15 Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
    No, they have no shame at all;
    they do not even know how to blush.
    So they will fall among the fallen;
    they will be brought down when I punish them,”
    says the Lord.

    Jer 8–
    “‘How can you say, “We are wise,
    for we have the law of the Lord,”
    when actually the lying pen of the scribes
    has handled it falsely?
    9 The wise will be put to shame;
    they will be dismayed and trapped.
    Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,
    what kind of wisdom do they have?
    10 Therefore I will give their wives to other men
    and their fields to new owners.
    From the least to the greatest,
    all are greedy for gain;
    prophets and priests alike,
    all practice deceit.
    11 They dress the wound of my people
    as though it were not serious.
    “Peace, peace,” they say,
    when there is no peace.
    12 Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
    No, they have no shame at all;
    they do not even know how to blush.
    So they will fall among the fallen;
    they will be brought down when they are punished,
    says the Lord.

    I Cor 5–
    1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?
    . . . . .
    11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

    I Cor 6–
    7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

    Gal 5–
    19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    Eph 5–
    3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.

    8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light

    I Tim 5–
    8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

    If Christians are anywhere still sensitive enough to moral evil that we are not indifferent to it and are still able to be shocked by it, that may actually be a good thing, and not necessarily prideful. Wherever God’s “friends” and his enemies continue to defy Him alike, and are equally benign toward sin and even criminal sin, we must ask if the Holy Spirit is in us. We must ask if the promise of God to conform his people to the image of Christ is a promise for us as well as others.

    With genuine repentance, we are utterly appalled by our own sin, and we understand why others are also appalled by it with us. We understand that they should join us in a sense of horror and antipathy for evil. Our relief is not in pretending that sin is not so bad, but in seeing its utter badness and loathsomeness covered by the Blood of Christ shed for the sins of those who are turning from sin.

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