Saturday, May 10, 2008

Shame and Guilt

One of the things I mentioned in the last post was that shame can be an underlying emotion of anger. Shame is a powerful feeling in our society, and it motivates us in a variety of ways. I would say that shame is always bad. But shouldn't we feel ashamed when we do something bad? No, we should feel guilt, not shame.

In the field of psychology, we generally distinguish between these two terms. Guilt says, "I did something bad." Shame says, "I am bad." That can appear like a subtle difference, but it is actually huge. Guilt comments on our actions and behaviors, but shame comments on our identities, who we are. And it comments negatively, tearing us down, making us worthless.

Bad theology may say that God thinks we are worthless, but good theology promotes the eternal, infinite value in people. Bruce Narramore made an excellent biblical, theological, and psychological argument against using shame and condemnation as a motivational tool. As my undergrad pastor stated, all people are "made and loved by God."

Viewing ourselves and others that way will radically change our outlook on life, the world, and relationships. We can feel "Godly sorrow" for something we did, but that does not mean we are worthless. And because someone else did something wrong, that does not mean they are worthless. In fact, particularly because of Christ's sacrifice, despite all of these actions, we are all infinitely valuable.

Take a moment and think about a person with whom you have had a conflict. Or someone you dislike. Imagine them. What are you feeling toward them? Now say, "___ is made and loved by God." Repeat that. What do you notice about your feelings? Anything? I wonder what would happen if we approached all conflicts with this perspective?

No comments:

Post a Comment


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).