Now, although Adam and his wife were both naked, neither of them felt any shame. …So she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too. At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves. (Genesis 2:25, 3:6b, 7 New Living Translation)
I think it’s interesting that the first negative emotion humanity experienced was shame. We cover ourselves, we hide ourselves. Real shame is spiritual in nature—it’s the intuitive, inner understanding that something is not right—we’re trespassing on holy carpet with mud on our shoes. We have an awareness that we are not who we are supposed to be.
I once worked with a man who would express interest in Christianity…he knew I was a new believer. We would talk for hours and he would ask lots of questions. He had dropped out of church when he was young (“Nothing but hypocrites,” he told me). He had a brief stint with Scientology (“It’s goofy and it costs too much,” he said). What he found himself doing mostly was drinking and frequenting parties. Many times I encouraged him to give Jesus Christ a shot at his life but frankly he was preoccupied with himself. One day he confessed, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me...I just feel so guilty!” I candidly shot back “That’s because you are.” What I meant was that he was guilty of trying to live a life apart from his Creator. It’s impossible to not feel guilty. Later he became a believer.
On the flipside, false shame works like this:
Before I became a believer, I went to college on a four-year scholarship. But after a year, somewhat impulsively (actually, bordering more on insanity) I dropped out of school and thought this is a waste of my time. I never went back. I now regret that decision. Nevertheless, I got very involved in music and then became a Christian. Now years later, I find myself in a world where education is not an option, it’s a necessity. Sometimes in social circles and pastoral peer networks I can feel ashamed because of my lack of academic credentials. I feel inferior.
This is a false shame, a measurement made with the wrong tools. My worth comes from the fact that God values me...enough to pay the ultimate price for me.
Do you ever find yourself caught between those two--real shame or false shame?