Shame is a universal experience.
The first thing Adam and Eve experienced after sampling the forbidden fruit? Naked and ashamed (not to be confused with the incredibly stupid television show “Naked and Afraid”). They were very suddenly and very keenly aware of the penetrating gaze of the God who terrifies the angels into covering their eyes. And so in a desperate, laughingly pathetic attempt to cover their shame, they crafted organically sourced fig leaf clothes for themselves. In addition to being a terrible ingredient for cookies, figs make lousy underpants.
Since then, every human has been on a furious quest to cover over the deep and profound sense of shame they feel. Every person spends their days trying to solve the shame problem. To extinguish or eliminate or bury the shame that haunts them during the quiet hours of the night.
For many years, at least here in the United States, the solution to shame was a shiny veneer of morality. People went to church, became Boy Scout leaders, went into the priesthood, fought in wars, stayed at home with their children, and lived outwardly respectable lives. Of course, we all know how that turned out. Many “respectable” people turned out to be pedophiles or collectors of mistresses or best friends with Jack Daniels.
Now things are swinging the other way. No one tries to hide anything. Everyone is out and proud. Are you a man who likes men? A woman who wants to be a man? A man who wants to be a goat? A person with no identifiable gender at all? It’s all okay. There’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. Every desire is legitimate and every lifestyle is acceptable. If you desire, you can do (as long as you don’t hurt anyone). No shame, people. No shame.
None of this should be surprising in the least. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true and thorough way to deal with shame. It is the only way to heal shame at a deep, fundamental, soul level. The only way to stand before God without feeling naked and ashamed is to be clothed in the gospel.
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If you don’t have the gospel, you resort to other, lesser solutions to temporarily medicate shame. You paper over your shameful thoughts and deeds with morality. You fully embrace every bit of shame and then tell yourself that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Or you drink or eat or Netflix away your feelings of shame. None of this works, but people don’t know what other options they have.
It seems to me that, as Christians, we should have two responses to our “no shame” culture.
First, we should be transparent about just how sinful, broken, and generally jacked up we are. We all know that we’re all irreparably screwed up. There’s no sense in pretending that we’re somehow better or more moral, no sense in acting like we’ve got our act together. That’s hypocritical and no one believes us anyways. The gospel is good news because it allows us to come into the presence of God without shame. If we pretend we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, then we diminish the brilliance of the gospel.
Second, we should gently yet firmly hold forth the gospel as the only true solution for shame. No one can eliminate shame from their life, no matter how hard they run from it or embrace it. The conscience is too powerful and the constant gaze of God is too bright. Everyone is ashamed, even if they won’t admit it. Everyone needs the soothing salve of the gospel.
Charles Spurgeon said:
See how red is your guilt, mark the scarlet stain. If you were to wash your soul in the Atlantic Ocean, you might incarnadine every wave that washes all its shores, and yet the crimson spots of your transgression would still remain. But plunge into the “fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins,” and in an instant you are whiter than snow. Every speck, spot, and stain of sin is gone, and gone forever.
Let’s invite people to lose their shame in the fountain filled with blood.