A friend of mine told me that he’s been thinking a lot about his past lately and what he feels more than anything else is shame. Not guilt. Shame.
I’ve fallen in love with the psalms again this winter, and I’ve been noticing how the word “shame” often appears and how it’s never seen as coming from God—how God is always taking our shame away:
O my God, in you I trust; / do not let me put to shame. 25:3
In your O Lord, I seek refuge, / do not let me ever be put to shame; / in your righteousness deliver me. 31:1
Look to him and be radiant, / so your faces will never be ashamed. 34:5
(these are all from the New Revised Standard Version)
Somewhere I read that guilt is when we’re sorry for what we’ve done but shame is when we’re sorry for who we are, and shame in that sense is never right, is blasphemy, for we are made in the image and likeness of God and God loves us, with all tenderness and joy. When in the psalms the speaker confesses his sins, admits his guilt, God doesn’t say, “you’re a terrible person, you’re awful, go away.” God always welcomes us. God always frees us:
I said, ‘I confess my faults to the Lord,’ / and you took away the guilt of my sin. /
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice! 32:11
We are glad in the Lord, we rejoice in the Lord, because we know that he really knows us, the true us, the true self.
Shame is never the voice of God. Never. We can take that as a rule for the spiritual life. Whenever we become aware that shame has been working in us again, we should name it and then reject it. We need to notice it, we need to acknowledge it, but we should try never to give in to it.
“Be strong,” Psalm 31 concludes, and “let your heart take courage.”
This is when we know that we are being led by the Spirit. When we take heart. When we feel our strength. Our joy.
Sin is not the deepest layer in us, however deep it is.
Beneath it there is a mystery far greater still.
There is beauty, there is freedom, there is love.
There is Christ.