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.
“Satan uses shame to condemn us. God uses it to invite us.” This is the beautiful truth that reveals the heart of our great God. Thank you for reminding me of the gift of shame; it’s a gift because it can lead me to the only One who can absolve me and at the same time make me more than I was before.
Thanks for commenting. Is the gospel of grace … amazing? It takes the worst of the world and turns it upside down. It makes the worst into the very best.
Like the resurrection.
The Word differentiates 2 kinds of sorrow; worldly and Godly. I agree with your analysis, but I believe one of the greatest examples of Godly sorrow in the Word is when David (through Nathan’s little story) knew he had been totally found out. His response was absolute repentance (Godly sorrow leads to repentance) and after humbling himself, rising to remain as king, and leading God’s people in God’s way. David also suffered the negative consequences of his actions. Forgiveness did NOT eliminate the consequences. However, after experiencing Godly sorrow relating to his sin, David became known as a man after God’s own heart.
Terrific example. Yes, when Nathan says, “You are the man,” it is a power moment. David is ashamed, and the question is, “What will he do with that shame?”
Shame is simply an emotion, like mad, glad, sad, scared, ashamed. The problem isn’t our emotions; it’s what we do with them.
As you point out, David takes his shame to God and writes one of the greatest poems in the world (Psalm 51).
Thanks, Sam. This really hits me where I’m at. Your insights are very helpful!
As long as they drive you to grace.
Sam you have just beautifully described why those who think you can take grace too far, or accuse you and I and others of teaching cheap or easy grace are still in the world’s economy, logic and thinking. For in reality if the gospel is presented in such a way that we gain a foothold of who we were before and what our condition was before Christ it drives us to worship him and service to others. When I look at most theological statements that stand in error.
Statements like “Holiness brings Assurance,” or “grace costs us obedience,” or “be careful of teaching grace, grace, grace you might give others the impression they can go on sinning” or “our identity is based on our faithfulness” always reveal both a lack of understanding of precondition and Godly grief.
For in effect if the gospel ought to always be presented in such a way that it gives people the impression they can live freely as they please (Rom 5) and so completely (Rom 6) that it drives them to their knees in worship and to offer their lives as living sacrifices (Rom 12) and one cannot do that without Godly -grief also being presented.
Thanks for a great reminder Sam! .
Thanks! I like your connection to what people call “cheap” grace. And your examples (in your second paragraph ) are terrific (and horrifying).
Thank you, Sam for introducing this into your blog. I agree with you. However, I am wondering if this subject is a “gift” worthy of “further opening and discovering”.
First of all, I think we all have experienced being at the extreme of shame and pride that comes from satan. The more we learn, embrace, and prayerfully apply the truth of scripture, the more free we will be. But even the best of us can just, “bury” a shaming experience with a, “no big deal”….especially when life is so busy, and it takes time AND sometimes a willingness that does not come so readily to deal with the hurt, (avoid pain), and just move on. Then one day we may wake up and wonder why our spiritual life “account” of joy and peace is so low!
Secondly, I believe there are far more people that interface our lives and come through our church doors who have experienced insidious abuse, physical and mental than we may think. This could even include brothers and sisters in Christ who may have “decided” to keep this certain part of their life private, or be convinced that now with Christ’s love, the past is the past and it’s time to move on. There is no socio-economical level of people who have been sufferers of abuse. It is tremendously confusing to fully understand law and gospel, how an abused person can view themselves in the light of the gospel and how Christ truly views them. Jesus commanded His Bride, the Church to “preach the kingdom and heal the sick”. Research now tells us that emotional/mental health and our medical/physical health are interdependent and interfacing as opposed to being separate entities.
I pray that God will continue to guide His Church in healing ministry of all sickness. I am appreciative of the work and outreach of Francis and Judith McNutt in their School of Healing Prayer. They also recommend the development of Joy Starters, a part of “Thrive/Life Model”. A recent publishing of the book, “After the Trauma the Battle Begins”, by Fr. Nigel Mumford deeply inspired me. Fr. Nigel has a deeply powerful 3-4 day retreat, free of charge, for all military veterans who would bring a spouse of significant friend with them. It does not matter what military war a veteran was in. He specifically ministers to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, (PTSD), an awful mental and medical challenge that rears its’ ugly head upon “coming home”. The name of the retreat is, “Welcome Home Initiative”, now so well known about, that Fr. Nigel has positively responded to speak at the Pentegon upon invitation.
Thank you for bringing up the painful subject of abuse. Yes, so very often abuse is associated with shame; we are either ashamed to admit it or we sometimes feel a misplaced shame that we did something to deserve it.
As for admitting it, I think we need to be careful only to share it with mature, grace-filled believers. Someone said in a comment on another of my articles, “Christians are the only army that shoots its own wounded.” Unfortunately, that is too often true. We need to share our pains, but let’s be wise and share with grace-filled believers.
As for the shame of feeling we “deserved” it; let’s remember that it is only Satan that condemns. Abuse victims often feel “condemned” that they created the abuse, and that condemnation brings shame. But it is misplaced shame.
In all these cases, though, let’s bring our shame to God. The only place we’ll truly be freed from shame–true shame or misplaced shame–is in the grace of God. Letting him tell us he loves us just because he loves us, and nothing can separate us from that love.
Thanks for sharing.
Great message and well put
I’m not sure if I completely agree. Shame comes from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, rather than the tree of life. Before we accept Christ; surely, shame can either drive us into the ground, or drive us to God, as it should. This was the whole purpose of the old covenant (law). After we accept Christ, however, I don’t believe there is any place for shame in our lives. The finished work of Christ declares, “you are holy,” “you are righteous,” “you are perfect.” This isn’t our declaration, but His! We are new creations; the old is no longer in existence. Our value and position with God is no longer based on what we do, or don’t do. This was the measure of the old covenant; and absolutely, if the old covenant was the measure; we’d have reason to be ashamed. The Bible tells us, though, that our value and position is based solely on faith, and faith, not of our own, but the faith OF CHRIST’S! To embrace deep shame is to deny ourselves as new creations who are identified by Christ, and suggest that the “finished work of Christ” isn’t truly finished.
Shame by itself isn’t the enemy. Shame is a feeling, one of the emotions (mad, glad, sad, scared, and ashamed). Emotions aren’t good or bad by themselves; it’s what we do with them.
We can be angry at injustice and fight it, and that’s good. Or we can be angry at our teacher (for giving us a bad grade) and slash her tires. That’s, uh, not so good. We can be “glad” at a friend’s job promotion and throw a party, or we can be “glad” when we see the humiliation of someone we don’t like and tell everyone about it (again, not so good).
Shame by itself is neither good nor bad. If it drives us to God—great! If we let Satan or others condemn us, not so good.
God uses all our emotions. When we experience joy in a job, it can show us the true calling of our heart; when we experience sadness at a crappy job it can show us what may not be our calling.
God also uses shame. When David committed adultery and murdered his friend, God sent the prophet Nathan to tell the story of a little lamb that was stolen from a poor man. David was angry (a good anger), and then Nathan said, “You are that man.” God was saying, “You should be ashamed.”
David responded by writing one of the greatest Psalms of all time, Psalm 51.
Conservatives often say “Stuff your feelings;” Liberals often say, “Vent your feelings.” Scripture says, “Pray your feelings.” That is why the Psalms are so rich, full of Anger, joy, sorrow, fear, and shame. They are simply being real.
One of the problems with the church today is that it uses emotions to control its members. Westboro Baptist uses anger to get its members to hate homosexuals; and many conservative churches use shame to make their members give more money. It’s not the emotions (anger or shame) that is bad; it is the manipulative behavior of churches.
They should—uh—be ashamed of themselves.
This is a thought provoking post, it niggled away at
MY understanding of shame, but connected with my knowledge of shame and
made me think about things that make me ashamed of myself.
Shame, Conviction, Repentance
what am I convicted about? my wrong doing, am I ashamed and want to
change, yes. Sin revealed by the Holy Spirit, shame of my sinful acts
No one likes the word shame, it doesn’t carry good feelings, but non the less it is a feeling.
Frankly I have been “niggling” away at this topic for sometime; I’ve wanted to say something about shame, but it has taken me months to figure out what to say.
On one hand, I know too many people who are controlled by shame; on top of that, I know too many people who use shame to control others.
On the other hand, I also know people who could–how do I say this?–who could do with a little more shame themselves (like those people who control others with shame!).
Shame is an emotion. It is a response to circumstances, desires, and deep beliefs. We need to look beyond the shame and realize what causes it, and let it drive us to God.
If the shame comes from a guilty conscience, let’s repent and deal with the source. If it comes from a sense of being abandoned or unloved or unworthy, let’s go to the true Father who is the ONLY ONE who can remove our shame.
Beth, I always love your responses. Thanks once again for replying.
“Shame is the raincoat over the soul repelling the living water of Jesus that would otherwise establish us as the beloved of God.” Andrew Comiskey
My understanding of shame is different. I believe shame is what keeps us from intimacy with God. Adam and Eve initially “felt no shame” in the presence of God before the fall. They were both naked and unashamed. They were fully known, just as they were created to be. They experienced uninhibited intimacy with God.
After the fall, they “covered” themselves with fig leaves. Their shame led them to hide from God. God came looking for them, not to punish them, but to engage them. Their hiding became a barrier to God’s offer of mercy, tenderness and love.
The voice of shame is the evil one, the father of lies. Shame is a feeling that quickly becomes a belief that we are defective, flawed or worthless; inferior, inadequate or unacceptable. While guilt says I have done wrong, shame says I am wrong. The lens of shame focuses not on what I have done but on who I am. If I believe that I am inherently worthless or inadequate then it is difficult for me to accept God’s offer of grace and forgiveness.
The liberating truth of the gospel is that through the blood of Christ, we are forgiven and made clean. We belong to a God who does not shame us. Jesus did not shame broken people. He extended mercy, forgiveness and hope into their messes.
I think shame, in most instances, keeps us from a deeper relationship or any relationship to God. Our shame needs to be healed by the blood of Christ. Our shame can only be healed when we pull back the curtain and allow ourselves to be seen for who we truly are. The voice of love speaks louder than the voice of shame!
Sam, just want to express my view on shame. Not really trying to argue any particular point. Knowing your heart, I agree with the bottom line – we need the grace of God to redeem our sin and shame. Self-help and certainly, self-indulgence, cannot heal us and transform our hearts.
Thanks for disagreeing with me (though you did so every so graciously). I like the challenge; iron sharpens iron.
It’s not shame that drives us from God, it’s condemnation. Shame isn’t the voice of the evil one, condemnation is the voice of the evil one. And you are right, the voice of love IS greater than the voice of shame, but not because shame is bad.
Shame is that feeling of having failed; and the truth is, we all fail. Shame is the humility of admitting and accepting that we failed. And then going to God for healing.
It was only in the last hundred years that philosophers and therapists began teaching against shame (and look at the world today). I always wonder about current, popular therapies; did they come from a deep knowledge of God, or did they arise out of the world’s answers apart from God?
Sometimes I’m tired and irritable, and then I snap at my wife out of frustration. It is entirely right that I experience shame at my outburst. Shame brings a humility–“I failed, it’s no one else’s fault”–and that humility allows me to repent to my wife and to God.
It is the lack of shame that keeps us from that humble position. In my lack of shame–in my arrogance–I want to say, “She deserved it,” “Didn’t she see I was upset?” “Why couldn’t she have waited to say that…”
Shame brings me to the point where I have to go to God and say, “I can’t do it; no matter how hard I try, I keep failing. I need YOUR help.”
Honestly, I see so many arrogant, self-righteous, insensitive people all around. I think a little shame would make the world a little more humble.
But shame, not condemnation. Scripture says Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it through him.
Thank you, Sam, for an enlightening post. In my earlier years, I wept under the weight of my perceived failure to meet others’ expectations of me in major ways. I never had to courage to marry, or to sire children, and felt that I had failed as a human being, retreating home after college to take care of my mother, who suffers with Schizophrenia. I was raised on a diet of tragedy in regard to marriage and family. I strongly agree that deep shame moves us to turn to God and Christ. I threw my hands in the air and knelt, finally giving up attempts to “earn” worthiness and others’ approval. Nothing can ever truly satisfy the human need for peace more than God’s grace. Now, I feel much better, and find continued hope in turning to God about everything.