Shame’s Antidote

Shame’s Antidote

Behold I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.
I Peter 2:6

A number of different words are used in scripture to express the concept of shame. They include the idea of falling into disgrace through failure of one’s self or one who had been an object of trust. The various Hebrew and Greek words for shame also include the concept of humiliation, disappointment, and alienation.

Shame is a deep sense of unworthiness which brings isolation and may leave a permanent mark on the psyche. Shame is one of the deepest and most troubling emotions human beings can experience. Shame is attached to a sense of guilt, real or imagined. Since we are made in God’s image and are given a conscience by which we either accuse or excuse our actions (Romans 2:15), a sense of guilt for destructive actions is quite normal. The accompanying sense of shame is something much deeper than simple guilt, however. Shame has the power to separate us from God, others, and even our own sense of well-being.

When I was a schoolboy, in fifth grade, I was falsely accused of defacing school property. Someone had written graffiti on the inside classroom walls. I was entirely innocent, but the principal of the school became convinced that I was guilty and implied it publicly in front of my classmates, though there was no evidence. Despite the fact that I had nothing to do with the vandalism, I felt extremely ashamed when she indicated that I was the guilty person. I still remember that feeling today. I was innocent. Why should I feel such an emotion? What is this deep-seated emotion and where does it come from?

Psychologists tell us that shame is a result of external factors such as harsh treatment, demeaning words, unreasonable discipline, or as in this case, false accusation which we received as children at some crucial stage of development. The prescription for healing often includes acknowledgement of the mistreatment to a therapist or other neutral party. It is believed this helps bring healing from the damage caused by shame. Those suffering in this way are then encouraged to replace shame-based thoughts with a healthier self-image.

It is my conviction that in some cases this approach is partially effective; but it does not go nearly deep enough to address the root problem.

From a biblical perspective shame is far more than what we experience, what others do or say to us, or how we view ourselves. It is written into our nature. It is a part of our fallen psyche and cannot be purged with the most advanced or clever human-crafted instrument. No, the disease, while easing a bit with various treatments is, in fact, fatal. What do I mean?

We are told that in the beginning, The man and his wife were both naked and not ashamed (Genesis 2:25). Complete innocence and openness — nothing to hide. But after they fell into sin, their character was transformed: “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself. God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? (Genesis 3:10-11). The man and the woman then disintegrate into blame-shifting and alienation. Isolation and alienation from God and others are the hallmarks of shame. Shame is rooted in our fallen nature. This is what theologians call original sin. Original guilt is the root of shame. So what is the antidote?

The solution is much deeper than simple therapy. Nothing less than execution can destroy the roots of shame in our minds. In fact death and resurrection — a new birth — is the only antidote to shame. Jesus identifies with our guilt and rejection and the accompanying emotion of shame. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him (II Corinthians 5:21). Only the inner transforming work of the Holy Spirit can actually do away with the root cause of our shame. He bore our grief and carried our sorrows. Through the new life he gives us in baptism, he carries away our shame.

In fact, the context of this passage cites several exchanges of guilt for freedom that the work of Christ provides to us. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession . . . Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (I Peter 2:9-10).

This is not to say that therapy to renew our mind and reconcile us to what Christ has done for us is not useful, it is. Paul tells us to be renewed in the spirit of our mind. This includes recognizing and accepting a new mindset. But the source of our healing is Christ, the healer.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

I Peter 2:24

So then, let us find the true antidote for shame, The honor is for you who believe . . . the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (I Peter 2:7). Let us always remember, Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame (v. 6).

With this in mind, it is good to remember that the resurrection of Christ is the complete restoration of an innocent and shameless condition before God – nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Through Christ’s resurrection we possess again, guileless and innocent, life and that more abundantly!