Unfit, Unworthy, Even Rotten

“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.


15 thoughts on “Unfit, Unworthy, Even Rotten

  1. Great post Linda. I’ve never been able to go the route of total depravity and all the other Augustinian overlays on the Good News. It’s a shame that the beloved theologian placed this veneer of shame over the human condition, one I believe to be birthed by the rejection of human fathers and mothers not by the Divine parent.

    Yeshua always seemed to take a healing approach with everyone he encountered, except the religious sober-sides who were oblivious to their own dysfunction and humanity. He used shocking language to try and shock them out of their stupour without much sucess I might add.

    Anyway, lovely to see you up and posting.

    x Dylan

  2. Good thoughts Dylan. Views on sin, wrath, and depravity have contributed to distorted understanding of the Good News. The intended definition of total depravity referred to man’s inability to heal the fracture of the fall. Yet, more commonly, man’s worthlessness has been emphasized rather than his helplessness. Sadly, this interpretation reinforces the root problems of shame and alienation.

    It’s always great to hear from you, and thanks for keeping me in your reader. :)

  3. Good stuff Linda! Reminds me of how it took me 3 meetings with a Christian friend to convince him that his heart was not desperately wicked. I told him that his heart was good. Our issue is not the good heart that God gave us. Our issues are in our minds not our hearts.

  4. So true Bob. The majority of evangelicals believe that convincing someone that their heart is desperately wicked is the proper starting point in presenting the gospel. Even if it results in a decision, it launches one into an unhealthy belief system.

  5. Good thoughts, Linda. The older I get the more I get to see that acceptance is a much more powerful dynamic of transformation than shame. Shame can certainly precipitate change, but persistent, loving acceptance is much more thorough. (However, I still have a nagging suspicion that some relatively rare types of individuals should be pole-axed on sight…. ;o) )

    I’m also becoming more sensitized to the starting point perspective of the person speaking/presenting the Gospel. If the start is that of a God who is angry and is spewing people into hell, then guilt and fear are first order motivators. However, if we begin with our acceptability before God because of what He has accomplished in the Son, then we are much more open to honesty and engagement with that which is broken within ourselves.


    1. Tom,
      Your comments always make me smile and think. Gospel presentation is a bit of a soapbox for me lately because it encompasses such fundamentally important messages about the nature of God, the nature of man, the story of life, and how these relate with and impact one another.

  6. Lovely post, Linda…it sure takes a long time for the poison to leave one’s system, eh? Reminds me of addiction…just one taste can sink months of progress. We need a new process….

    1. Peggy, that is why I believe that addressing the underlying theology is so important. If we don’t have a logical, coherent theology that supports our transformation with a believable message of the Father’s acceptance and approval, we are sunk before we start.

      As this theology has taken root in my heart, the work that I find myself in currently is learning what this means in the midst of difficult life circumstances. Unfortunately a beautiful theology is not necessarily a magic bullet against the struggles and pain of life. The progress that I can report is simply experiencing greater trust, more of a sense of God with me, in the midst of the trials.

    1. Bob, as I said on your recent post, the seeming lack of supernatural intervention is something that I have a hard time explaining or defending. For myself, it isn’t an expectation. To be honest, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. However, I find it easier to trust and rest without a demand. My prayers in the midst of pain tend to be requests for awareness of His love and presence, for comfort, and for light to see beyond the circumstances.

      1. It is hard to see God in a way that is not focused on me – narcissism is strong in my life. The reality is that miraculous answers to prayer are rare. I guess that is why we are called to persevere in faith. Always comforts me to read of the faithful saints in Hebrews 11 who died and did not see promises fulfilled.

  7. Hi there, I found your blog through a comment you left at Kansas Bob’s blog. I am recently coming out of the “you have to hear the bad news before you get the good news” evangelical gospel message mindset. I agree that telling the world that God has already reconciled them is so much more….more wonderful. God is love, we just have a hard time believing it.

  8. Not been here reading in a while Linda and Hey there Bob!!!
    I have heard this before but only recently is it becoming clear to me that I am so totally loved by God already even in all of my crap.. As I look back at the things I was taught to believe from childhood, I can see how very wrong all that Fire and Brimstone really was. I only have a glimpse but it breaks my heart ( in a wonderful way) to see that it has always been true, that theology that taught me I was a bad person was always wrong. So glad you are still here.. His love is really so amazing!!!

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