What’s behind feelings of shame?
by Robert Krumrey
We’ve just finished looking at Genesis chapters 1-3 in the last two sermons. There is a lot about nakedness which can be a little embarrassing. Last week, the scripture reading from Genesis 2 ended with “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” and then the reader said “This is the word of the Lord”. My inner middle schooler was wanting to burst out with a giggle or an elbow to my neighbor’s ribs. Of course, as the pastor, I kept my cool through readings in both services.
This week (in Genesis 3) we heard another mention of nakedness: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” This didn’t illicit the same response. There is something very troubling about this passage. Not because Adam and Eve are naked, but that in a heartbeat they’ve gone from being “comfortable in their own skin” to being full of shame.
Why is this part of the Genesis 3 account? It is a very important revelation of what life is like when paradise is lost. Humans are guilty of sin and with that guilt comes a whole truck load of shame. Mike Wikerson in his book Redemption says this about shame:
This experience of feeling that something is wrong with you is one of the effects of sin - sins that we have committed and sins committed against us. It’s part of what is meant when we say that sin causes separation between humans and themselves. Fallen humans stand outside of themselves and see themselves as something to be ashamed of instead of staying fully present to God, self, others, and earth.
This is one of the most horrific effects of the fall in Genesis 3. We were not created to be full of sadness and anxious thoughts. We were never meant to loath ourselves or wish we were dead. That said, as sinners who are committing sin, we should be ashamed of ourselves. This is where this whole shame thing gets tricky.
As you were reading, I know some of you may have been thinking that our culture could actually use a little more shame now and again. It seems that many of us have thrown off all shame with a little help from a therapist and our favorite self-help guru. Just a few weeks ago, Smith College expressed their lack of shame by walking out of convocation wearing nothing but their underwear - which is a yearly tradition by the way. Yet, no matter what we do to tell ourselves that we should jettison shame, we just can’t seem to do it. Those who are among younger generations today are exhibiting ever increasing occurrences of anxiety, depression, cutting, even suicide. No amount of telling ourselves and each other that we shouldn’t be ashamed seems to get at the heart of the matter.
The heart of the matter is sin. If shame is a natural effect of sin, we will never remove it until we deal with the disease. When we press into understanding more of what Jesus has done for us in the gospel, we find that he has dealt with both our guilt and our shame. The theological words for how he deals with these are propitiation and expiation. Propitiation is what Jesus’ death does to clear guilty sinners from their deserved punishment. How does he do that? He takes the punishment. Most of us get this if we’ve been around the gospel any amount of time. What some of us miss is the meaning of expiation.
Expiation is the washing away of the uncleanness that the sin left behind. That sense of being spiritually dirty. The bible is full of allusions to “washing away” uncleanness. When you read these kinds of verses, you should think expiation. Here’s one that is well known among many Christians:
Notice that the verse speaks to both guilt (forgiveness of a debt) but also to shame (cleansing from unrighteousness). These are two sides of the same coin that are available to those who put their trust in Jesus for salvation. Jesus frees us from the penalty of sin but also the marring of our souls that sin leaves behind. This is for EVERYONE who relies on Jesus as their Savior from sin. Paul writes this to the Corinthian church who had quite a long list of shameful acts in their history:
This is such a powerful declaration over the Corinthians. They had done very shameful things and I’m sure struggled with regret for their past actions and continued thinking of themselves in those old categories. The Apostle will have none of it. Though those in the church were certainly not perfect (see the books of first and second Corinthians), he declares them washed and made holy. This is their new identity and nothing will change the removal of both their guilt and shame. Jesus came to accomplish both and to restore us to a state of naked and unashamed!
Robert is husband to Melanie, dad to Kory (and wife Rebecca), Cooper, and Kayla and lead pastor of MERCYhouse. His roles in the church include teaching and leadership.