I am convinced that every person is battling shame.
Shame keeps us preoccupied with ourselves and inattentive to God and the needs of others. It tells us falsely that we must fix ourselves before we can start loving others.
Adam and Eve were the first to turn inward with their shame. No longer blissfully naked, they schemed to cover themselves with fig leaves, excuse making, and blame shifting. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam blamed Eve and God: “The woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit, and I ate.” So matter of fact. So desperate.
Left to ourselves, we fight shame through partisan behaviors of a different kind. Some of us turn to politics, forgetting that Jesus’ kingdom is still not of this world. Others turn to their theological tribes, not chiefly to build each other up but to conspire against a common enemy. Who needs Matthew 18? The court of public opinion is more efficient. What’s the point of protecting reputations anymore? Assuming the worst and airing grievances on Facebook are much more satisfying.
“To some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on other people with contempt, Jesus told this parable ….” (Luke 18:9-14). I believe the Pharisees carried a heavier shame burden than others in their time. Those who feel least secure in Christ are usually the ones who declare the loudest that the problem with the world (or the church) is other people.
I have been among the least secure a time or two. Have you?
What if we began with the logs instead of the specks? What if we brought the raw honesty about ourselves that is more common in church basements — where the recovery groups meet — back into our sanctuaries, elder meetings, presbyteries, and general assemblies? What if we stopped posing and posturing and started going first in public confession?
What if our conversations began with, “Hello, my name is Scott. I am a sinner. Not a general sinner, but a particular one. I envied someone else’s ministry yesterday. I acted entitled with my elders last week. I get depressed. I worry about dying. I am an unloving Pharisee toward those I perceive to be unloving Pharisees.”
What if we could stop playacting and finger-pointing? What if we started catching each other doing right instead of doing wrong? What if we started calling each other out for good things instead of bad things?
What if our joy in the gospel, the fruitfulness of our ministries, and the integrity of our witness depended on such things?
What if we started catching each other doing right instead of doing wrong?
I love telling people that these possibilities exist, and that Jesus paved the way for us. When He was stripped, spat upon, taunted, rejected, and made nothing on the Cross — when He surrendered to the relentless shaming that accomplished our un-shaming — we became free from any need to prove ourselves or prosecute others.
We share one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, even when we disagree. Our shared union with Christ being our foundation, we can love as we have been loved, forgive as we have been forgiven, and embrace as we have been embraced.
Jesus’ death on the cross is an appraisal of your value. You are worth that much to Him. I vow to do my best to treat you accordingly. I pray you will extend the same grace to me, because I will surely need it.
Where would any of us be without grace?