“Shame is that secret belief that you are unfit, unworthy, even rotten.” Ze Frank
Shame hinders us in very common ways, such as feelings and thoughts of fear, rejection, unworthiness, not belonging, and self-hatred. People go through life afraid that it is true that they are somehow inferior and unworthy, and desperately afraid that other people will find this out. We conclude that the key to being accepted is to be different than we are.
In a broken world, everyone experiences feelings of unworthiness, particularly the sense that there are conditions or qualifications attached to our worth. The construct of being loved “if” is toxic to our souls because it reinforces underlying feelings of alienation. Too often, circumstances in our lives reinforce feelings of shame and unworthiness, and events in our lives seemingly confirm the myth of alienation.
Sadly many people, even believers, live their entire lives haunted by the lie of unworthiness. It lurks behind fear. It simmers beneath anger. It encourages excess and addiction. It persistently taunts, unchallenged by the truth that we are unconditionally loved and accepted by the Father.
If the truth of God’s unconditional love does not impact our heart with enough force to displace the lie of alienation, we remain in the haunting darkness of shame – feeling alone, rejected, unable to receive the unqualified acceptance of a Father who has already adopted us.
I am especially interested in the intersection of shame with the Christian gospel message, because I believe the western evangelical gospel actually perpetuates the myth of alienation, exacerbating the roots of shame, obstructing the path to the Father’s embrace.
The thoughts in this post were triggered by the following video and the response of a Christian in the comment thread. This is Ze Frank describing the insidious damaging effect of shame. He references the work of Brene Brown.
Most of the comments in the comment thread are people responding with emotion and vulnerability to the problem that Ze Frank describes in the video. And then there is this comment:
As a Christian I found this video really insightful, though I believe there is a far better solution to the problem of shame. The fact is, we are all unfit, unworthy and rotten. But the good news is that Jesus has taken the punishment for us by dying on the cross. So as a Christian I can say: I am a bad person who deserves judgement, and yet I have been declared innocent by the ultimate Judge.
This is essentially how the evangelical gospel is communicated, and it is ineffective at connecting with brokenness in the hearts of people. It misses the point that people are already stuck and that shame is their obstacle to approaching God. Yet, when a message of wholeness is communicated in a video like this, or in a book like The Shack, or in the work of a sociologist like Brene Brown, it goes viral because it does connect with the brokenness that people feel.
When people hear a message of unconditional love and acceptance, they respond to it. A liberal, compromised, watered-down message is not the answer. Nor is rigid, conservative, rule-keeping religion. Neither of these effectively depict the beautiful, liberating message of God’s love for the world.
I often read articles about the decline of church attendance and the church’s lack of impact in our culture. Solutions geared toward becoming more culturally relevant fail to recognize that the rejection of church goes deeper than dissatisfaction with the format of church programs. The church must reconsider and repent of traditions and beliefs that perpetuate the myth of alienation.
The world is desperate to know, yet reluctant to really believe, the truth that God loves them. They do not need to be convinced of their alienation, guilt, or sin. In fact, these very things are often the barrier to accepting the love the Father has for them. Sadly, the western evangelical gospel shouts this message.
Legalism presents the gospel through a lens of punishment and debt. Love and grace present the same scriptures with a lens that communicates God’s determination for reconciliation. It is orthodox and biblical to have a perspective of salvation that depicts the healing nature of the gospel.
The fundamental problem is not that we are bad people who need to be good. It is that we are broken people who must be made whole. Sin is the propensity to make irrational choices rooted in disorder and delusion. There ultimately must be healing of the disorder and delusion.
The problem of the fall is a fracture which must be remedied, a lie that must be rejected, a view of God that is messed up. The underlying sense of separation, rejection, and abandonment is the nature of the curse and man’s original fall. It is the root of our brokenness. Whether it results in low self-esteem or criminal behavior, the need for healing is the same.
Man was created in the image and likeness of God for the purpose of love and relationship. In our broken condition, the image of the Father is distorted in our hearts and minds. We fail to know and see properly the image of our Creator. The picture of God we imagine when we are feeling ashamed or unworthy typically resembles a disapproving father, a harsh taskmaster, an unsatisfied perfectionist.
Jesus came to show us what God is really like. Determined that we would not remain in our brokenness, God did what was necessary for our reconciliation to Him and our restoration to wholeness. Christ willingly gave His life to defeat the alienation that ruled over His creation. Reconciliation to Christ is accomplished and complete. The good news message to the world is that they are reconciled to God, they are already loved and embraced by the Father.
The love of our Creator both exposes and heals the brokenness in our lives. Salvation – the degree to which we are rescued from our brokenness – is an ongoing work of the Spirit’s transformation of our hearts. Salvation is the ongoing process of healing in our lives, the freedom and wholeness that will occur as our hearts are made whole.
Shame has never been an effective motivation for transformation. In fact, it is often the greatest hindrance to true freedom and wholeness. Shame results in hiding and in living behind a facade. A moralistic focus on behavior causes us to become hopeless in our inability to will ourselves to change. Yet as we focus on Jesus, he can bring healing and change, restoring our hearts to the wholeness that He intends for us.
Shame is transformed and healed by the assurance of love. I am convinced that this perspective has greater potential for real transformation. I don’t think we, the church, have yet come close to accessing or expressing the transformational power of God’s love. God has always had our restoration to wholeness in His heart. God’s love has the power to redeem and restore in a way that judgment and condemnation cannot.
Wholeness – the defeat of sin and brokenness in our life – occurs incrementally as we learn to live in the Father’s acceptance. A relationship with the Father can and should be one of progressive wholeness. As we grow in truth and understanding, we reject the disfiguring lies of shame that have alienated us from the love of the Father.
This is salvation – deliverance and restoration from the pain of alienation and shame.
Salvation perspectives that infer a contingent transaction are overwhelmingly common with the evangelical gospel message. In this post, I want to discuss the possibility that we can express the gospel in ways that override this default perspective.
The reason for Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was because we were helpless to reconcile ourselves to God. The gospel message is not what we must do to get to God. If any part of the plan of redemption is dependent on us, it has an inherent fatal weakness, which is why it is important to not communicate transactionalism in the gospel.
Here are a couple of statements I’ve made in prior posts that do not fit the western evangelical model:
God’s act of reconciling mankind in Christ demonstrated scandalous love toward everyone – enemies, sinners, the ungodly, and the undeserving – with a one-sided benevolence that is difficult to grasp – an unconditional gift, not just the possibility of salvation.
What God has done in Christ to reconcile the world to Himself is an accomplished reality. It is not a transaction contingent upon your response. Your response does not in any way affect God’s stance toward you. His gift is unconditional; faith is not the action that makes it a reality.
The gospel as God’s unconditional deliverance of mankind clashes fundamentally with the transactional understanding that is presumed in the western evangelical gospel. Since I have been writing about the gospel as unconditional, the most common pushback that I have received concerns the issue of decision or choice.
A common argument is that salvation as a gift is conditioned upon our acceptance of the gift. However, God’s saving act took place when no condition had been or could be met. The really good news – you are loved and embraced by God the Father, period.
Another common argument is salvation as amnesty or pardon, which is conditioned upon returning to our home country. Yet, instead, Christ came to the “far country” and brought all of pardoned humanity home to the Father. A person will either live in the light of this truth or continue to live in the delusion of alienation.
Rather than a message that perpetuates alienation, the gospel story of Scripture is that God jumped into our mess in His recovery mission. Through the incarnation and crucifixion, He entered into the depth of our brokenness in order to restore our communion with Him.
Why doesn’t everyone enjoy the benefits of salvation now?
Why do so many people NOT partake of divine life?
God chose before the foundation of the world that all mankind would be saved in Christ. Just as by one man, Adam, death came into the world, by the second Adam all are saved. God stepped into the depths of our lostness to rescue mankind. His saving act in Jesus is complete.
I understand the concern about making a decision and believe that free will and choice are essential to relationship. There cannot be love without the freedom to respond. It is helpful to distinguish between God’s saving act and our participation in that reality.
a. The decision regarding the adoption of mankind was a unilateral act of God and is an established reality. God has done what man cannot do.
b. It is in the realm of relationship where choice is essential. This is a response of cooperation and participation in the already established union with God.
Partaking of divine life is not an automatic thing, but that does not negate the unconditional nature of God’s saving act. We have agency to participate in what God has provided. For those who have awakened to God’s love, salvation is ongoing participation in divine life.
One’s experience of kingdom life and the quality of their relationship with God, to whom they are reconciled, is dependent on their cooperation. This is an ongoing choosing, not a one-time decision. All of life is the moment by moment opportunity to live in light of this reality. The transforming love of the Father, the indwelling life of Christ, and the ministry of the Spirit empower this journey of living out the reality of reconciliation.
This position does not fit the traditional frame of either Calvinism or Arminianism. However, it does address the salvation of humanity as the divine initiative of God while still acknowledging the role of human free will in relationship and communion with God. I would be very interested in reading your thoughts.
The message of exclusion is a fundamental problem for christianity and the church today.
While there are abundant examples of the message of exclusion, the Chik-Fil-A episode is an obvious recent example. Regardless of the first amendment issues involved, this was an epic failure in communicating the message of Christ for the christians who were involved in “taking a stand.”
In christianity, we are very comfortable with the designation of an outsider group. How we treat the outsider is reflective of our understanding of the nature of God. Too often exclusion and rebuke are emphasized, furthering the outsider’s sense of shame and alienation. With a punitive understanding of the outsider, we collectively, and possibly individually, become self-righteous about opposing and excluding.
The reality is that God’s benevolence in not confined to the church. God has never let go of the outsider, even when the outsider lets go of God.
In an earlier post, What’s the Difference?, I pointed out the areas of concern that I have with central message of the western evangelical gospel. The message communicated is to convince an individual of their sinful state, of the fearful verdict awaiting them from a wrath-filled God, and of the conditions required to save themselves from eternal punishment.
The central problem of humanity is not God’s demand for judgment. The central problem of humanity is our sense of alienation from God. Shame and guilt magnify this alienation and are barriers that must be overcome to approach God. Unfortunately, in a gospel of exclusion, the myth of alienation is perpetuated by focusing on accusation and by falsely portraying the anger of the Father. In an orthodox inclusive gospel, the primary message is to convince a person of God’s love for them and His acceptance of them.
I understand that the phrase “gospel of inclusion” makes us nervous. Often when this phrase is used, we see a message that is watered down, containing little truth or life and bordering on pluralism. I do not believe that all roads or belief systems lead to God. Jesus is the only way that we could be reconciled to God. A belief system, including christianity, is hollow if it is not leading a person to share life with God.
However, we do not have to let go of the essence of scripture and truth to communicate a gospel of inclusion. If we look to scripture, the Father’s embrace of all humanity is evident. He has included sinner’s before they (we) do a single thing.
But what about their sin? Don’t worry about it, it isn’t our job. Our concern should be their sense of alienation and lack of understanding of the Father’s love for them. This is the “sin” that must be overcome in their life, and it is not overcome through moralizing condemnation. It is overcome through a convincing communication of the truth of the Father’s loving embrace. Whatever moral issues a person struggles with can only be transformed through the love of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. When and how that happens will occur within a person’s relationship with God, not according to our agenda or timeline.
For the church, having an orthodox theological basis for inclusion is essential to an engaging missional stance toward others.
An unconditional theology of the gospel makes a difference in the freedom and assurance that we experience in Christ. It also makes a huge difference in how we approach others. Although we may not know where someone is in their understanding and knowledge of God, we start with the assumption of their inclusion and acceptance by the Father and then encourage them in the love of God.
So what do you think? Do you feel that Scripture can support an orthodox theology of inclusion?
It is almost impossible for anyone today to hear that question without automatically forming a determination of inclusion or exclusion.
Are you “saved” or are you “lost”?
Are you a church-goer or a heathen?
Are you going to heaven or going to hell?
Are you good or are you bad?
Regardless of background, there is an almost universal assumption underlying this question of a clear in-or-out line in the sand designating both an individual’s current and future spiritual status.
“Are you saved?” is such a limiting question because it doesn’t reflect a dimensional picture of someone’s relationship with God. Instead, it immediately compartmentalizes them without hearing where they are in their journey of knowing God.
Too often the message of religion is that you need to get right with God.
The really good news is that God already made things right with you.
In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself*, not counting people’s sins against them. - II Cor.5:19
*Some exclusions apply. See terms and conditions below.
That is what you’ve heard, right? Terms, conditions, exclusions.
The truth is that there is nothing about you or your life that excludes you from what God has done for you.
God’s act of reconciling mankind in Christ demonstrated scandalous love toward everyone – enemies, sinners, the ungodly, and the undeserving – with a one-sided benevolence that is difficult to grasp – an unconditional gift, not just the possibility of salvation.
Salvation is too important to be a once and done decision. To be rescued from the world and its powers, we must turn and keep turning to Christ for the grace to live in the reality of His life.
Salvation, rather than a single act of decision and repentance, is growth in relationship with God – ongoing and continual turning, belief and trust. We are continually responding to the truth of the gospel.
All of life is this process of comprehending the truth as the Spirit enlightens our vision and reveals to us what is real.
My message is the same to the person has never known about Jesus as it is to the person who has spent two thousand Sundays in a church pew.
You are loved and embraced by God.
Are you participating in the life of God the Father, Son, and Spirit?
Almost a year ago, Kansas Bob and I had an interesting conversation on his post, Are all humans immortal? This topic has come up again recently in several conversations, so I thought that I would share our earlier discussion and ask you to share your thoughts and perspective.
Kansas Bob: Most people believe that all humans are immortal (i.e. live past death) when they are born. Some wonder if people become immortal when they are spiritually born after they are physically born. What are your thoughts? Are humans born immortal or do some become immortal after they are born?
Linda: Bob, my thoughts are that man as a created being was not by nature immortal, but was given immortality by God at creation. However, I believe that this original immortality was lost in the fall. Mankind could only be restored to immortality through the recreation of man’s nature (rebirth) made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection. It is my understanding that all of mankind was restored to immortality.
Rather than solely an expression of time, I believe that references to eternal life speak more to the quality of life with God. Our ability to commune with God was also restored through Jesus, but obviously how we experience life with God is determined by our participation in relationship with Him.
Kansas Bob: I would be interested in your take on what it means to be born of the Spirit.
Linda: My belief is that the phrase “born of the Spirit” refers to the restoration of the nature of man to the image of God, giving mankind, once again, the capacity to commune and have relationship with God. In my opinion, this is not something that we do, but something that Jesus accomplished and that we experience through our understanding of who we are and what is ours as a result of what He has done.
A few verses concerning this:
John 3:3 (Amp) unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God.
John 3:7 Marvel not [do not be surprised, astonished] at My telling you, You must all be born anew (from above).
John 3:17 For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.
I Peter 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
Romans 6:4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Romans 6:8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Kansas Bob: My thinking is that your perspective is that those verses is generic rather than personal in that you believe that we are all born again and experience the kingdom of God.
Linda: I believe that it was necessary for Jesus to restore the capacity of mankind to share in the life of God, kingdom life. Yes, I think this rebirth was generic, made effective for all of humanity, in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Jesus is the only Way (no man comes to the Father but by Me) in which we could be recreated with a nature capable of participating in the life of God (ye must be born again).
An individual’s personal experience of life in the kingdom of God is determined by their choice to connect and share in life with God. We each experience kingdom life to the degree that we turn to the source of life.
Kansas Bob: A bit confused by “restore the capacity of mankind to share in the life of God, kingdom life.” It seems that having the capacity to share does not mean that all will share. That view would indicate that all may not share in the life of God. Seems to conflict with the CU view that all will be in heaven.
Linda: Let me try again, perhaps capacity isn’t the best word. The aspect of man’s union with God that was broken by the fall was restored to all mankind through Jesus. Our adoption was fulfilled in Jesus.
I think there are many who will be in God’s presence in the afterlife who did not experience sharing life with God while they lived on earth (this may include some folks who define themselves as Christians).
In my opinion, sharing life with God will not ultimately determine the afterlife, but it will definitely impact the quality of kingdom life that one experiences today. It is tragic to trudge through this life apart from Him, when sharing His life is so freely available to us. We are continually in a state of being saved from living apart from God.
Kansas Bob: I resonate with you that real eternal life can begin this side of life. My thinking is that kind of life begins with being spiritually reborn. How do you see that life beginning and how is it different?
Linda: Bob, I place spiritual rebirth in our inclusion in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and in His resurrection. For the individual, I believe that salvation is an ongoing process of growing in knowledge and understanding of God. In that process we experience the drawing and teaching of the Holy Spirit, and at times, life-altering encounters with the truth. I do not see this as a one-time event, not to diminish the fact that we can have dramatic encounters with the Spirit of God. I believe our hearts are transformed by sharing in life with God, immediately and over the course of time.
Kansas Bob: I do understand Christian Universalism to a degree. That said, I still do not have a clear understanding of why you believe that some people experience spiritual life and some do not if you believe that all have been spiritually born.
Linda: I don’t call myself a universalist because, although I believe in universal reconciliation (restoration, re-creation, rebirth), I also believe that individuals choose their degree of participation in life with God. In that regard, I am a hopeful universalist. I have great faith in the work of the Holy Spirit and in God’s relentless pursuit of each person, and ultimately, in the irresistible nature of His love and goodness.
Back to Bob’s original question, “Are all humans immortal?” Only God is by nature immortal. As created beings, our existence is sustained as a gift in and through Christ. Immortality was gifted to man in creation, lost in the fall of Adam. The power of death – mortality – had to be defeated and the nature of man had to be restored. I believe there was a cosmic, metaphysical change for humanity at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Only Divine Life could restore immortality to humanity through His death and resurrection, and only the Creator could recreate man once again in the image and likeness of God.
If this topic interests you, I highly recommend On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius. It can be found online in several formats at the link provided.
Since the Word of God was above all,
when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument
as a substitute for the life of all,
He fulfilled in death all that was required.
Naturally also, through this union
of the immortal Son of God with our human nature,
all men were clothed with incorruption
in the promise of the resurrection.
For the solidarity of mankind is such that,
by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body,
the corruption which goes with death
has lost its power over all.
- St. Athanasius
The previous post about the Sandusky trial is a perfect backdrop for a discussion about the wrath of God. All that we have been discussing in the previous posts is on display in the drama of this courtroom.
We see the depth of pain caused by evil.
We grieve the shattered lives of the victims.
We experience deep anger at this devastation.
We are frustrated with the years of ongoing abuse when justice was afar off.
We are relieved at the exposure of the despicable violence.
We watch the enemy’s power crumble.
We witness the depth of his depravity.
We feel the palpable demand for justice.
We sense the satisfaction that justice has prevailed.
We know that God loves righteousness and justice. Our innate sense of His divine attributes is demonstrated in the public response to the verdict of this trial. We want evil to be exposed; we need for God to protect and to side with the oppressed, the poor, the powerless, the victim.
In a healthy society, retributive justice is necessary. We expect criminal acts will be punished. The threat of punishment maintains order. We want criminals removed from our midst in order to prevent them from doing further harm.
Yet legal justice cannot undo the pain of the victims.
It cannot heal the brokenness of the perpetrator.
As discussed in previous posts, we do not have a legal, judicial, contractual gospel. At the heart of Christianity, justice is not retributive, it is restorative and redemptive.
If this is true, do we expect grace for these monsters – for Sandusky, for Hitler, for our personal enemies? How could this be? That would mean that the guilty one is forgiven, the undeserving one is set free.
In situations as vile as the Sandusky abuse, it is not uncommon for Christians to desire the worst punishment imaginable. Hell is for people like this, right?
I understand that sentiment, really I do. But it isn’t Christianity. If grace is not true for the worst of men, then it is not true for the best of men. Reckless grace is central to the Christian faith. The forgiveness and mercy that I desire for myself must also be available for my enemy.
Ultimately, we want and need a deity who will passionately oppose evil. We have an expectation and trust that evil will be conquered and that goodness will prevail. Whatever we understand about the love of God, we know that He can and will defeat evil. We understand that in His justice, all will be made right, as it should be.
Typically we are afraid of the idea of God’s judgment. We must remember that His judgment is not punishing; we will not be sentenced according to our merit. We will experience judgment at the loving hands of Our Father. For those of us who already trust Him, perhaps this is not hard to imagine. Whatever evil, toxic, or unhealthy things that remain in our being will be exposed to the purifying fire of His love. Perhaps this will be painful, but it is what we want and need the most. It is the completion of our healing.
The beauty of the wrath of God is that evil throughout the cosmos will ultimately be destroyed, from among us and within us. As those who follow Christ and adhere to the Christian faith, we cannot equate this with everyone getting what they deserve. Yet we trust that in the end all will be set right.
The beauty of the wrath of God is an emphatic righteous verdict against evil. It is the rescue of the oppressed from the power of the enemy. It is the restoration of creation and humanity to the goodness that was intended.