The Lie of Shame
This morning I read Genesis 3, the story of humanity’s temptation. As I was reading the story a basic question came to my mind, “if they became aware of their nakedness after they ate the fruit, how did they see themselves before? Did they see themselves clothed before?” I know it is a silly question, one that teenagers have probably asked a thousand times before. But today, it became the question of my mediation.
While I do not know for certain, my guess is that what they saw before and after was the same: each other’s, and their own, nakedness.
Then what was the difference?
The difference was shame.
It is easy to imagine. Just think about a silly thing you did when you were young. What you saw then is no different to what you would see now, the only difference is that now you have perspective. And that makes all the difference, it is why you cringe when you think about it.
After the first humans had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they received what the name of the tree promised: knowledge of good and evil. With absolute clarity they could now see that God was good, the serpent was evil, and what they had done was evil. And with their newfound awareness came the curse of shame for their nakedness.
Shame changes how we see things, especially ourselves. When we feel shame over our failures and imperfection we put into question our accomplishments, journey, and ourselves. Some might even say, “am I really a Christian since I made this mistake?” That is shame talking. Notice how whenever we feel shame over something evil we have done, we do not question the evil action but our self-worth.
Adam and Eve had always seen each other naked; the only difference now was that they saw their nakedness through the lens of disobedience. Suddenly they began to see their naked bodies shamefully. What God had proclaimed good they were now perceiving as bad. But what was bad was not their nakedness, what deserved their shame was not their nakedness, it was their evil action. But instead of being ashamed of their action, they became ashamed of what God had called tov (good).
Shame is a misdirection that makes us focus on the wrong thing. It clouds our judgment and makes us question our self-worth rather than our actions which prevents us from truly repenting.
I have always wondered what would have happened had Adam and Eve not hidden. What would have happened if instead of playing the blame game of shame they would have allowed themselves to be found, confessed, and asked for forgiveness?
Jesus tells us that he came to reveal the Father (John 14:6-10) and the epistle of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father (Heb 1:3), therefore although the text does not tell us what would have happened, we can lean into the revelation of God in Christ to make a guess.
If the Scriptures are true in saying that God is like Jesus, then I believe that God would have said to them “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Sin kills because it is toxic, like radiation to organic lifeforms. But sin also kills because it creates shame that keeps us from repentance.
Many have made the mistake of using shame as a tool to draw people to repentance or of using it as a deterrent. This is more than a mistake, it is a lie. Repentance has no shame, for shame blurs reality while repentance requires clarity.
If Adam and Eve were to repent, they could not be ashamed of their nakedness. They could not be ashamed of what God had called good. It is the same with us, if we are to repent we cannot be ashamed of ourselves, because God has called us good. We can be ashamed of our actions, but not of ourselves.
We are repenting of our actions, not for existing.
If you have shame, do not let it lie to you. The Living Word invites you to have a seat at His Table and says to you “go and sin more.”