“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.