I’m so ashamed

I recently heard some efforts to distinguish between guilt and shame.

Guilt is a function of an healthy conscience – I do wrong, I feel badly about the wrong, and I can do something corrective and move on.

Shame is heavier – I do wrong and conclude that I am a ‘bad person,’ and will continue to condemn myself as ‘not _____ enough.’

The awful permanence of shame, as well as it’s antidote, is expressed in a verse from the New Testament,

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

The Permanence of Shame

The cross points to permanent condemnation.  The Romans crucified people and posted the victims’ crimes on signs as an epitaph of irrevocable judgment.

In the religion of Jesus’ earthly time and place, execution by crucifixion was considered a form of hanging, defined in the Scriptures as a final proof that the victim was – talk about shame – cursed in the eyes of God and a stain upon the land and people,

…his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:23 ESV)

On the cross, Jesus shared the death of the uncounted and unnamed multitude who die bearing a label.  No way to do anything about it; no way to atone for the offense if guilty or to clear one’s name if unjustly condemned.

That’s how shame works, There’s nothing you can do about it.  You’ll never be _____ enough.  You’ll always be _____.

ShameShame reflects an external voice that we internalize. The voice is often that of a parent but can come from some other impactful person or group in our lives.  The Greek noun for shame used in Hebrews 12:2 appears in the Gospel of Luke to express public humiliation, and in Paul’s Second Letter to Corinth about the secrecy that shame engenders – the desire to hide ourselves from what we’ve come to perceive as an accusing world.

The Antidote for Shame

However shame enters our makeup, the antidote involves putting it in its place.

Jesus despised the shame with which the Roman government and the Temple Priests alike labelled him via the cross.  The Greek verb translated “despise” is an intriguing compound of “down” and a complex word connoting “thought, feeling, understanding” – key inner qualities that can guide our behavior.

That is, Jesus thought down upon the effort to humiliate him.  He belittled it by enduring it and going on toward the joy set before him.  He founded and perfected faith, knowing that ultimate worth, validation and reward are with God and not the fleeting opinions and indignities inflicted by people.  Jesus rose from the finality of the world’s shaming verdict and sits gloriously at the right hand of the throne of God.

The antidote for shame is to internalize a stronger voice than the one(s) that condemn(s) us.  By this voice we endure the world’s judgments, fair or not, and carry on in the assurance of our value to God.

It is the voice of God in Jesus Christ, speaking through the Holy Spirit,

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  (Romans 5:1-5 NRSV)


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