You’re driving home after midnight and the light at a major intersection is interminable. You look around to see no police car or camera and run the red light. You boast on Facebook about making healthy food choices but keep a stash of Peeps for emergencies. More seriously, if you committed a high impact misdeed such as taking financial advantage of a vulnerable person, would you feel shame for your behavior, or would you feel guilt?
If you were a psychopath you’d feel neither — you’d have a cauterized conscience (I Timothy 4:1-2). But for the rest of us, guilt stems from what we have or haven’t done, while shame penetrates who we are. Guilt is the result of action or neglect that is more easily isolated. Shame worms its way into our very existence.
As we studied the Lord’s Prayer, we also observed Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant and found it absurd we could pay back debts owed to God (Matthew 18:21-35). So claiming forgiveness that Jesus has provided on the cross relieves us not only from the wrongdoings or omissions He rightly brings to our attention, but also from digging around for endless minutiae.
Shame goes deeper. Shame invades the essence of our core identity, irrespective of our actions. Shame can also be produced from evil another has perpetrated. One Biblical example, 2 Samuel 13, is the excruciating account of the rape of Tamar, the gorgeous daughter of King David, by her stepbrother Amnon. After he raped her, Amnon (a possible psychopath?) rejected her:
And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!” But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other (the rape) that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.” (2 Samuel 13:15-17 ESV)
The narrative continues:
“Her brother Absalom said to her, ‘Has Amnon your brother been with you? Sister, be quiet; he is your brother; do not take the matter to heart!’ Tamar, however, went back to her brother Absalom’s house inconsolable. When King David heard the whole story, he was very angry; but he had no wish to harm his son Amnon, whom he loved because he was his first-born. Absalom, however, would not so much as speak to Amnon, since he hated Amnon for having raped his sister Tamar.” (2 Samuel 13:20-22 NJB)
The mark of shame on the once desirable Tamar became indelible. Her condition in verse 20 has been translated several ways – inconsolable (NJB), desolate (ESV), isolated (NASB), and secluded (AMP). Shame drove Tamar to hide herself – committing a suicide of sorts – wandering like a ghost in Absolom’s home until the end of her life.
As the story progresses through 2 Samuel Chapters 13-18, A “royal mess” ensued. Tamar’s male family members did nothing to help her retrieve wholeness but instead spent their energies on vengeance-murder, deportation, usurpation, humiliation, and mourning what might have been.
Addressing the emotion of shame should be high on our list of spiritual priorities. The devil is primed to take advantage of untended wounds such as Tamar’s. Our enemy can thwart God’s desire to heal and generate ever expanding messes.
Has shame been festering in your life or in the life of someone close? Take a step this week to tackle or continue to address the cause of that shame. To help your thought process, here’s a short perspective on the subject. 10 Things You Should Know about Shame | Crossway Articles