Shame is toxic, it spreads everywhere.
That’s the problem with the way Christians talk about sin and the cross. We focus our attention on our unworthiness. My sins hurt God.
Why do we talk that way?
I have never met anyone who needed to be reminded that they’d failed. That they’re a failure. That they just aren’t enough. We know. We already know.
Here’s how this works in real life: I’m an engineering student. At the start of the semester, I don’t visit my professors during office hours because I want to show them that I’m not going to waste their time unless I have a really good question. I can work through my own problems. Then I screw up an assignment. I fail.
You’d think I’d ask for help. But for one reason or another I can’t bring myself to face my failures. Which usually results in more failures. And all of a sudden, I don’t know if I’m going to survive. I can’t even work on my work, let alone ask for help, because every aspect of the work is now associated with failure. I’ve let people down. I’ve let myself down. True story: there’s a good chance that I’ll lose my scholarship at the end of this semester. And then what? Everywhere I look, I see that I’m not enough. And that I never will be.
This is not the Gospel.
This is hell.
And in the world we live in, this kind of experience seems universal. We hide our insecurities deep. But we know – everyone knows – what it feels like to fall short.
One of my professors has been leading a book study, and there’s this quotation from the book we’re reflecting on together that I really like: "Fear of punishment and desire for rewards are motives that have no place in the heart of a son reconciled to his father by the father's self-emptying love."
God offers forgiveness. Grace. Love without strings. God knows exactly why I’m stuck, and God understands. So why can’t we talk about that? If God says I’m good enough and I always was, then why do we keep trying to rub each other’s noses in all this shame shit?
Shame doesn’t save people.
Why would we choose to wallow in self-loathing and shame? Why do I?
I don’t know.
But here’s what I think. God doesn’t want, need, or require my repentance. God just loves me. Am I willing to turn away from shame? Can I accept God’s love? Can I begin to believe that maybe I am enough?
This is the Gospel.
“Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir.”
“Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”