Tuesday, January 23, 2007

real shame / false shame

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?


  1. Not only caught, but bound at times. You go out and try to find a job, you get a job... but where you live, the car you drive, etc shows where you are in life, and when your friends around you have a good bit of money you feel shame at what you could have been. Granted, my friends don't make me feel bad... they don't act any differently than those friends I have that don't have money... (except they have nicer cars). It is just something that satan loves to use to get us to focus on the stuff... instead of Christ.

    I find myself not being able to afford to go to a seminar or something or get a book I need to read, and feeling shame at it... and have to take hold of that and put it where it belongs.

    I've also seen shame used to keep people "in their proper place"... at least in my old church they did. I still feel it at times. Even if my leadership doesn't do anything of the sort, I still carry that with me at times and have to remind myself of where I am.

    Shame when it becomes a tool to manipulate is nothing more than abuse.

  2. ...I always thought of you(Dave) as having more than a few brains(understatement)...a smart, a wise, emotionally intelligent guy,...isn't it interesting how others view us...

    been thinking through Paul's letter where he says,

    Phil 3 NLT
    ..I could have confidence in myself if anyone could...If others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have more...(his list)I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes everything is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Jesus my Lord.
    I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law but I trust Christ to save me, for God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith...as a result I can really know Christ...

    not just bible verbosity but I think some of Pauls prison realizations...

    I reckon all of us deal with shame on some level, as you mention...will the real guilty person please stand, every honest human must stand...

    maybe a better word 'regrets' on some level...the what if's, why's, if only's, I usually end with I'm an idiot...I should have...and then in time, become gratefully his again.

  3. I am not so sure shame was the first negative emotion--duplicity was.

    Think about it:

    First, ignorance is bliss, then Eve bites into the fruit. She doesn't feel shame as her eyes open for the first time, she looks for an accomplice. She looks around and finds Adam and says, "Hey dude, take a bite of this new fruit I found, you are going to love it!"

    Misery loves company!

    Just a tought, of course I guess we could let Eve off the hook and say that it was shame that drove her to dupe, Adam. By the way, if I can make a shameless plug:



  4. Interesting post. I never thought of shame in that way. I sometimes look back over my life and see a litany of mistakes, but I'm learning to only extract lessons learned from the past and drop the rest, looking only to what is currently in front of me and to the future.

  5. It can, at times, be difficult to distinguish between real and false shame since we live in a world that's upside down, inside out and backwards relative to The Truth. That can even cause problems for folks who do have their Doctor of Divinity since many cemetaries, I mean seminaries, are obsessed with humanistic philosophy and tradition rather than the teachings of Y'Shua. I recall myself being told: "forget what you learned in church and go back to what you learned from The Word".

  6. I find shame and guilt as blood brothers.One brings about the other.I find myself caught in false shame many times because my health prohibits me to do what I want to do.True shame and guilt are different matters.If you've done a shameful act, guilt acts as a warning that something is amiss, and hopefully leads to remorse and forgiveness.
    False shame and guilt are self inflicted only. NO ONE can make you feel shamed or guilt. They can try to press your buttons, but it's up to you to let that button to be pushed, and this is contrary to anything I've read in the Bible.
    Using myself as an example, my health makes me undepenable at times and I have to cancel plans. Peoples comments try to press my "buttons". but it's ME that lets it happen.I've been working on this a long time, and it's very difficult to change.
    Right now I should be at Mercyworks volunteering, and I'm tearing myself up with shame and guilt.I feel like I'm letting the Lord down.
    But the big point is and I keep cramming into my brain is that JESUS JUST WANTS YOU TO TRY YOUR VERY BEST.
    I hope this has stimulated some thinking and hope people will try to change like I am.

  7. The Hebrew term for shame is bwash and is best interpreted as "Loss of face" or "pale faced". It is exactly what Asians say it is. The basic meaning is a loss of identity and inheritance. It is not a feeling but a fact that results in feelings of loss, emptiness, and self loathing. Guilt means that we deserve punishment and the result is the emotion of fear. The answer to both is the work of Christ on the cross but Guilt is removed by Justification and Shame by Adoption when we are placed as "eldest sons of the father".

    It is all grace.