Is Shame Ever Healthy?
My concise summary:
My concise explanation:
There is a difference between something being healthy and good and something possessing the potential of being motivating and in a sense, “helpful.” We need to be careful not to confuse good with motivating. Evil can motivate. That does not make evil good. Let me explain.
Shame entered the world and our individual lives back in the garden (Genesis 3). When Adam and Eve sinned they experienced two new feelings – guilt and shame. Now feelings can be messy. They don’t have clean edges and often overlap…sometimes one birthing another. But just because they can be muddled doesn’t rob each of their uniqueness. Guilt is I have done something wrong. Shame is there is something wrong with me that I don’t want others to see. And so I hide it. I sew fig leaves that are way too small.
Guilt is a gift from God. It immediately tells us that we have done something unaligned with what the character of God in us would have us do. The goal is repentance and trust. Shame on the other hand, is not doing something wrong, but believing a lie about ourselves…often the result of unresolved guilt. I am just the kind of person who does such things…or who others see no value in and use to meet their sick needs. I’m dirty. Broken beyond repair. Undeserving. As Lewis Smedes writes, it is lugging “around inside of me a dead weight of not-good-enoughness.”
Some psychologists teach that if we feel shame it is because we are healthy enough to recognize it…and therefore it protects us…and it is good for us. Not so fast. Shame is believing a lie about yourself. Believing untruth is sin. Jesus took both our guilt and shame to the cross so that we could have an identity as God’s beloved children. That’s the truth. That is who we are. To believe shame is good or health is to deny the work of Jesus on the cross.
I have an unknown tumor that is causing me great pain and so I visit my doctor. After a litany of tests, I am informed that I have a tumor, but it has been caught early and is treatable. It stimulates action and treatment. Just because the tumor triggered action does not make the tumor good. It does not make it healthy. I have never heard a cancerous tumor described as, “that is a really good tumor. That’s the healthiest tumor I have ever seen. Congratulations.” No. A tumor is never good.
The same with my dentist. He has never told me, “Wow – that is a really good toothache.”
And so with shame. It is not good and never is. Living with it is not healthy. It tells me untruth and makes me sicker. However, when I finally discover there is no human solution to dealing with this dead weight of shame – I can be motivated to turn to the one action than can deal with the pain…and that is trusting that God deals with our shame by the cross of Christ. I don’t have to live with that dead weight of “not-good-enoughness.” While shame is not good or healthy, there is good news and health in the gospel.
For Your Pondering:
Romans 7:24 – 8:1