Guilt, Shame, and Panic: Are they justified?

Posted on March 7, 2013

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“How dangerous a master human emotion is!” 
― Watchman Nee

We’ve all been there: you wake on Saturday after sleeping in a bit from a hard week at work. You wake up, grab some coffee, maybe spend some time with Jesus for awhile, and realize you have nothing to do for the day (or you just don’t want to do anything). You sit down on the couch, or in your bed, and turn on the TV–nothing on. So, you go to Netflix and pick out a movie. Then, a bit later, another movie. After that, even, you decide to start watching a TV series and wind up watching half a season at once. By now, it is 5:00 pm and you have accomplished nothing. Immediately you feel panic, shame, and guilt. You realized that you haven’t once done any spiritual activities for the day besides coffee with Jesus. You feel so far away from God, so disconnected. Immediately you begin to think of something to do, or to go, to get connected with Him once again. You find out via your church’s schedule that there is some sort of meeting tonight like for prayer, bible study, discussion, or worship music. You go to church feeling guilty; you do whatever is required in this meeting extra hard. You leave. You feel better once you leave, but by the time an hour or so goes by (or maybe the next day) you feel that guilt again, that disconnect.

If this hasn’t ever happened to you then stop, close your eyes, and think of a similar situation. Maybe you read half of a Harry Potter book in an afternoon, maybe you just hung out with your friends all day (but not discussed anything of a spiritual nature), played video games, or just plain slept and dozed all day. Then comes the above mentioned guilt, shame, and panic.

Now that you have placed yourself in that situation all over again (maybe you’re in it right now!) let’s go over the emotions that were experienced that day. guilt_woman

Guilt

You feel guilty that you haven’t performed any of your regular spiritual duties for the day: reading the Bible, praying for others, witnessing, meditation, listening to sermons on your iPod, attending any church functions, or spoke with any Christian friends during the day (maybe you even ignored their calls!). In the back of your mind you feel as though God is looking down upon you with that same look your mother used to give you when she caught you doodling instead of doing homework. You move swiftly to “make it up” to Him. But now it’s too late, He is upset and probably won’t draw close to you until sometime tomorrow.

You have been told and taught, either by others or even yourself, that if you aren’t ‘doing’ then you aren’t growing. The goal of the Christian Life is not swelling our heads with theology, Greek or Hebrew, Bible memorizations  or the like. Also, it is not to strive and work for different emotional releases such as trying to ‘summon’ the Spirit for an emotional outpouring, to hop from one worship conference to the next seeking that release you experienced before, nor is it to discover your spiritual gift. (PLEASE READ NEXT PARAGRAPH BEFORE YOU EXIT THE PAGE)

Now please DON’T misunderstand me. I am not saying that any such activities are bad or that God isn’t in them. Often, He is there, but not always. Many seek to somehow gain a new ‘level’ of spirituality with such things (whether they call it that or not, it is indeed that for many), but never seem to obtain them. The latest theological disposition is forgotten, the Greek or Hebrew translation doesn’t offer what you were looking for, the hype and excitement from the worship conference has long faded in a matter of days.

So, the goal isn’t to swell the intellect, or to receive emotional overloads. For a small example on what that goal is, read a past post of mine titled, “Why are We to Bear Fruit? The Answer May Suprise You”

Shame

Shame is that feeling that is quite similar to guilt, but they are not the same. They are close relatives, however. Shame is that thing that causes us to hang our heads low and to dwell on failures for long periods of time. Shame causes us to believe that we are failures at living the Christian life, failures at living up to the standards that we and others place upon us, and makes us believe that we will never ‘get it right’ no matter how hard we try. I would say that guilt leads to anxiety but shame leads to depression. Clinically, these two conditions often coincide with one another when an individual is diagnosed with Depression.

We feel dirty, contaminated, and compromised by our failures and shortcomings. Our outlook on our walk with Christ is dim and fading. Many times, shame leads us to believe that we deserve any bad thing that happens to us.

“My car broke down. Well, that’s what I get for not praying enough.”

“I got laid off from work. God is disciplining me for not being committed enough to His Word all last week.”

“I can’t get through this situation at work right now. I knew I should have studied my memory verses! This is what I get.”

…and on and on it goes, all day, every day. Millions upon millions of your brothers and sisters suffering needlessly! Is that what we think God has in store for us who believe? God is good, right? I find it interesting how we can sing those songs on the radio about how Jesus crucified our sin and bore our shame, almost in tears, but we forget those words in our daily comings and goings. guilt

He bore, not only your sins, past and future, but also your shame. In that view of things, I pose a question: Did Christ ever intend for us to feel shame after He died and resurrected? When God created Adam and Eve, was it His intention for them to feel shame? Remember, it wasn’t until after the first sin did either of them feel shame due to their nakedness. We would be wise to remember what God did directly afterward, He came looking for them, they were the ones that hid.

Panic

By us attempting to somehow ‘make up for it’ we go into panic mode. We do one or more of the spiritual activities that were mentioned at the beginning of this post. The problem with panic is it really doesn’t take us anywhere. Because we begin to perform certain activities out of panic or fear, our heart is not actually in anything we are doing. We are mechanizing our walk with Jesus by doing, acting, and performing because our ‘checklist’ hasn’t been fully completed for the day. We have turned our lives with Christ into an hourly employee system. We fear being fired, so we try to do the right thing. We hope to reach certain goals for some type of reward. We think more time means more payout. But this isn’t the case.

So What am I Saying?

The guilt, shame, and panic we fall into are completely unwarranted and not from God. I have never seen anywhere in Scripture, especially the New Testament where a fruit of the Spirit is either of these. In my mind, these three are simply subcategories of something larger—fear. I think we all know what the Bible has to say about that.

Also, guilt and shame only come from accusation. God has never been called the ‘Accuser of the Brethren’. You and I are the ones that accuse ourselves, we are the ones that accuse others also. Typically, we accuse those who have similar struggles more than we accuse others. Not only are we the accusers, but the devil himself is! So, he is called the Accuser of the Brethren, but also his name is a direct translation to ‘liar’ or ‘deceiver’. So, if he is a liar and deceiver and at the same time an accuser, then wouldn’t that mean that his accusations are inherently a lie?

My point is this: God isn’t staring down at you recording every mistake you make. He isn’t up there beating His head against a wall at every shortcoming and failure that you walk in. Also, He’s not a Dad that abuses us, accuses us, or puts us down. Remember the words of Jesus and the apostles all throughout their letters, “Love one-another,” “Treat others as you would be treated,” and “Encourage one another, don’t bite and devour each other.” This is what He has to say to us when it comes to treating our fellow man, and especially our fellow brother or sister. This is such an emphasis because this is how God Himself treats us!

Your sins and mine have been crucified by Christ. Not only that, we must not forget that He also bore our shame and guilt on the wooden stake as well. So, He took it, He wore it, and now “it is finished.” We simply need to come more fully into this reality. One more quick word, the more we come into this reality the less likely we are to judge and mistreat others, and we are able to walk in that Love that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13.

I think a song called Adore by my good friend Blake can conclude this post very well. Take a listen HERE. You can download the entire album HERE.

Amen

-Michael Young, 2013

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Posted in: Spiritual Living