A lethal virus is infecting many believers today. It’s the pop-therapy that claims shame is bad. Shallow-shame is bad, but only deep-shame brings healing. Without it we are doomed.
J. I. Packer tells us, “Seek the grace to be ashamed” (Knowing God).
The gospels describe two different miraculous catches of fish. The first occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 5:4-8) and the second happens at the end (John 21:2-7). They are very similar:
- In both stories, professional fishermen fish all night.
- In both stories, the night of fishing is fruitless; not one fish is caught.
- In both stories, an amateur gives them specific directions how to fish.
- In both stories, the fishermen catch so many fish that their boats are sinking.
But there is one, huge difference. After the first miracle, Peter exclaims, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” After the second, Peter throws himself into the sea and swims an Olympic-record-breaking freestyle to get to Jesus.
In the first miracle, Peter experiences shallow-shame and he runs from Jesus. In the second, Peter experiences a shame that is deep and he races to Jesus.
What’s the big deal about shame?
Shame is a feeling that attacks the core of our spirit. Guilt is the thought “I DID something bad.” Shame is the belief “I AM something bad.” Guilt attacks a part of us (an action); shame assaults us for our very existence:
- Shame is the intensely painful feeling … of believing we are [deeply] flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance. (Brene Brown)
- Shame … is that sense of unease with yourself at the heart of your being (David Atkinson)
Shame batters us at the very core of who we are deep down inside. We feel useless, worthless, and empty. Satan uses it to condemn us. And we hate it.
What is the result of shallow-shame?
Shallow-shame creates an intense concentration on ourselves. We feel our flawed nature and we frantically try to fix it. Tim Keller asks, “What is the opposite of Righteousness? Evil? No, the opposite of righteousness is shame, and we desperately try to cover it” (Faces of Sin #6).
Our frantic efforts to cover shame produce desperate attempts at perfection. We “hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving” (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection).
Shallow-shame breeds self-focus; but self-focus is the root-cause of every problem in the world. Oppression, betrayal, and greed are all given birth by self-centeredness.
So what are we to do with shame?
Modern therapists suggest we dump our shame and simply embrace our worthiness. Brene Brown writes, “The greatest challenge for most of us is believing that we are worthy now, right this minute. As is.”
But isn’t this just self-hypnosis? It’s The Little Engine That Could, huffing and puffing, “I think I’m worthy, I think I’m worthy.” It’s smoke and mirror therapy.
Scripture and Mark Twain both (amazingly) disagree with this advice. Twain says, “Man is the only animal that blushes. And the only animal that needs to.” Scripture says,
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were neither ashamed nor even knew how to blush. Therefore they shall fall (Jeremiah 6:15).
If shame leads to hustling for worthiness, the worldly solution is simply to claim our worthiness. But scripture rebukes us for our lack of shame or our inability to blush.
God’s answer to shallow-shame is deep-shame
The first time Jesus creates the miracle of the great catch of fish, Peter rightly senses his own unworthiness. He says, “Depart from me because I am a sinful man.” He is saying, “Leave me alone until I hustle for my own self-worth.”
What’s different in Peter between the first and second catch? Peter finally experiences deep-shame. He had just denied Jesus three times. He is not the brave man he self-proclaimed. He’s a coward. And that deep-shame finally drove him to God’s grace.
Deep-shame is different than shallow-shame; it drives us to God because we finally find no other basis but his love. We finally see that we can’t fix ourselves and we can’t claim ourselves worthy, even when we huff and puff, “I think I’m worthy.”
Satan uses shame to condemn us. God uses it to invite us. God is greater than our shame. Peter lets his deep-shame push him to God solely based on God’s grace.
Godly grief and deep-shame
The apostle Paul explains the difference between shallow-shame and deep-shame:
Godly-grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly-grief produces death (2 Cor. 7:10).
Worldly-grief at shallow-shame leads to self-claimed worth. Peter claimed, “Those other disciples may deny you but I never will.” Then his self-proclaimed worthiness failed.
Godly-grief (at deep-shame) leads to deep repentance and a life without regret.
Shame isn’t the problem, it’s what we do with shame. We can be angry and still sin not; we can also be deeply ashamed and still despair not. In fact, we can finally find life.
Every human longs for love and worth. For deep, enduring love and worth we need something stronger than self-hypnosis. The solution is grace. Grace says God loves us just because he loves us. It doesn’t depend on what we do or what we claim.
That’s why Paul can write, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus.” Nothing, not even shame. In fact, deep-shame drives us to grace.
Let’s seek the grace to be ashamed and simply yield to grace; no striving, no hypnosis. He loves us because he loves us. That can never be removed.
We have a worth that can never be taken, and we have a life with no regret ever again.