Now I rejoice, not because you were made sad, but because you were made sad to the point of repentance. For you were made sad as God intended, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For sadness as intended by God produces a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly sadness brings about death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)
The sadness spoken of in this scripture is often translated as guilt, but it could also be translated as shame. It identifies two types of shame or guilt – that which God intends, which can produce positive changes in our life. It also identifies a lingering shame that never goes away because it is a lie – an ambiguous feeling of guilt or inadequacy that disables us in our spiritual walk. So let’s dispense with it.
What is shame?
Shame involves two people. It involves ourselves, and someone who sees us. In our hearts, we have internalized the negative evaluation of our inner self – it could be our parents, our peers, God, or even our own self who judges us as unworthy, ugly, or broken. So how do we deal with this conception?
The Wrong Way to Deal with Shame
Without any instruction in how to properly deal with shame, most of us take one of two paths, depending on our personality. To end this dynamic where we are seen by others, we must either destroy the others or destroy ourselves. Some of us learn to hate others, or despise them and hide ourselves in a superior (arrogant!) view of ourselves. Others of us who are more sensitive and not prone towards such “violence” may instead turn inwards and hate and destroy ourselves. But as the scriptures say above, this type of response to shame causes death. Thankfully, the truth can set us free.
God’s Way of Dealing with Shame
As per the passage above, we must understand that there are two types of guilt or shame – legitimate and illegitimate. When we do something shameful, we should feel badly so that we stop doing that harmful thing! But feeling ashamed of who we are in our created, beautiful self that God made is not God’s intention. But how do we tell these apart?
Rather than hating ourselves or others (or God!), we should figure out the accusation that is making us feel bad. God’s shame or guilt is specific, and it is clear what actions should cease, and what responses we should take, such as apologizing or making reparations. But bad shame or guilt is non-specific, and no means of making things better seem possible.
This “worldly” shame has a different solution – we should reject it with affirmations of our worth and value. We can do this in a secular fashion (“I am worthy, I am beautiful”), but that only carries the weight and authority of our own opinion. The biblical solution is to affirm that “I am beautiful and made in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27, James 3:9) and worthy of love because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8b).
We should be careful not to dismiss legitimate shame and guilt by making these affirmations – affirming bad things as good will not free us, only the truth can.
God, I have felt shame for a long time. I have either hated myself or others for it. But now I want to stop hating. I want to love myself and see myself as you do. Whatever legitimate guilt or shame I feel, I agree that those things are bad. Help me to reject them, and heal me. And for the general shame I feel, I recieve your love, and agree with you that I am beautiful and worth loving. Thank you for loving me and sending Jesus to take my sins and faults. I want true freedom! Amen.