Whether it’s that queasy unsettled sense of fear that resides in your subconscious mind that you might somehow be discovered as incapable of being the person, that everyone you know expects you to be, or it’s just in the general way that our culture is able to insinuate judgment of us whenever we lack acceptable levels of compliance to social norms – guilt and shame are busily at work, like emotional gremlins whispering the half-truths of our conflicted minds. This of course makes true vulnerability nearly impossible – because apparently we never know when guilt might show up like a crowbar and start prying open that box of shame we keep hidden away.
To the mind’s eye, there’s not even a flicker of daylight between guilt and shame – conceptually, we can’t help but imagine them as inseparably intertwined. But we do well, to consider them separately if we want to understand them better. Guilt is largely a moral/legal framing of behavior – all the things we do, consider doing, or leave undone, each action screened for malady and defect, each one scrutinized and held to account. But shame is far more complex – more than reductive forensics could ever hope to identify or sort out.
Our default impulse is to believe that it is our guilt that makes us feel shame when in truth it is invariably our shame causing guilty behavior. Shame is native to the human psyche – it is the lingering taste in our mouth from eating the bitter fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And now we can’t simply un-know our own shame – it resides in us, ever reminding us of the nakedness of our vulnerability . . . a knowing of ourselves set apart from God. In this way, every guilty thought points us back to our shame — the shame that’s innate to the distance we feel between us and God.
You know full well the naked truth of who you actually are, beneath the camouflage of your pretense and postured self-presentation . . . and you know God does too. And it is from this locked away truth deep within you where your shame allows guilt to constantly hold court with every expectation of finding a guilty verdict. And this is precisely how your shame becomes weaponized against you. We find it at the epicenter of every co-dependent relationship, and it is also infused into the manipulative language of religious, political, and consumerist communication . . . for this is how they prey on our ultimate weakness.
But guilt no longer has power over us when our shame has been freely and humbly confessed – because this is the nakedness of innocence (Genesis 2:25). We stand before God, not with the feeble garments of our own vain explanations, stitched together with the lies we tell ourselves – rather, we stand naked and unashamed in the mercies of God . . . where a robe and a ring await our arrival (Luke 15:22), and we celebrate being clothed in salvation within the robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).
A long journey of faith is a testimony to the faithfulness of God.
This is a song I wrote many years ago and recently recorded at my daughter’s house.