Shame, The #1 Community Killer (Part I)
Text: Genesis 3:1-13, 21 | Listen to Message
Grasping for Fig Leaves
Even if we struggle to define it, we all know shame the moment we feel it.
Ever since our first father and mother, shame has been a part of our human experience. The moment Adam and Eve sinned that very first sin, they sensed not just nakedness, but exposure. They were disgraced. They were ashamed.
We all know the feeling. Maybe we’ve done or said something sinful. Maybe someone has done something sinful to us. (Think of the shame of being on the receiving end of abuse or adultery, even if you did nothing wrong.) Maybe something’s just happened in life, and no one’s to blame, but you feel hopelessly humiliated. Regardless of the source, shame is emotional/psychological pain and distress over how something makes us look – first to ourselves and then to others. It is the conclusion, not that I’ve done something wrong, but that something’s wrong with me.
By the way, that’s an appropriate conclusion: There is something wrong with us! We don’t just do bad things out of nowhere. Our sin isn’t “out of character.” Jesus says sinful actions always erupt out of sinful hearts. We are by nature children of wrath. As Tim Keller says, “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe.”
In Part 2, we’ll talk about how the Christian Gospel addresses this fatal flaw and offers us deliverance and healing from shame. For now, let’s look at where this shame will lead us if we don’t handle it biblically.
1. Shame will lead you into isolation and hiding.
The moment Adam and Eve sinned that first sin, they instinctively grabbed for some fig leaves and ducked in the bushes. And we do the exact same thing. To be sure, our fig leaves are figurative, but that’s the only thing that’s changed. We withdraw from people and community. We isolate ourselves. We stop attending church. We go where people don’t know us. We hide behind any veneer, any narrative, that we think will cover our shame.
2. Shame will lead you into disintegration and conflict.
Shame destroys relationships. It dissolves the root of a healthy marriage, a healthy friendship, and even a healthy relationship with God. If you cannot be honest and authentic, and if you’re always afraid people will uncover your shame, you’ll have one conflict after another.
3. Shame will lead you into self-justification and blame.
When God asks Adam, “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” the answer is simple: “Yes.” Instead, Adam responds, “The woman whom you gave to be with me . . . blah blah blah.” Honestly, who cares what else he said? Instead of answering the question, he blamed the only two people he knew: his wife and his God! This is what shame always does. Shame loves diversionary tactics. Shame loves to point the finger. To shift the blame. Shame loves to gossip about and slander innocent people – anything to get the focus off self onto someone else.
4. Shame will lead you into frustration and bitterness.
Unresolved shame becomes an excruciating self-obsession. You will loathe yourself and you’ll always think everyone’s looking at you, judging you. You will not gradually feel better over time. You’ll grow angrier and more frustrated. Bitterness will lie just beneath your fig leaves, and will be vomited out time and again when anyone gets close to discovering your shame.
5. Shame will lead you into desperation and depression.
Many of those who are chronically depressed are there because they never handled their shame. Their pain has grown deeper and they’ve grown more desperate. Eventually, they’re convinced, “There’s something incurably wrong with me, that’s just how I am, and nothing will ever fix me.” Many even conclude their only way out of this pain is suicide.
Stop and do a quick self-check. Ask yourself:
- What’s my secret that brings me shame?
- How does that shame make me feel? What does it make me think?
- How do I see myself in light of that shame?
- What are my “fig leaves”? How have I tried to cover my shame?
- Where/how do I see myself doing the 5 things listed above?
- What things have I tried to get rid of this shame? How did it go?
- Do I really want to be healed? Am I willing to do whatever God says to be made whole?
Now keep reading Part 2, where we discover the Gospel’s ultimate solution to shame!