Dealing with Guilt and Shame

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Written by BCC Counselor Jin Taek Chung

We have all dealt with guilt and shame at some point in our life. The effects of unresolved guilt and shame in our lives can hold us back and weigh us down. So, how do we make sure we are dealing with it appropriately?

The way our culture views guilt and shame differ vastly from how the Bible views it, and it’s important to understand this in order to reach true resolution and restoration.

Our Culture’s Conflicting Approaches

We live in a culture that has a love-hate relationship with guilt and shame. At one end of the continuum, there is a philosophical effort to relativize morality in order to rationalize our own wrongs, and thereby demand that no one judge anyone according to fixed moral standards of right and wrong.

Or as the apostle Paul described mankind, they “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18).

At the other end of the continuum is a fixation with other people’s guilt and shame, taking aim at them with no road toward redemption, while diverting attention from one’s own guilt and shame, or rather, projecting it.

This pattern is seen in a once murderously adulterous David whose guilty conscience wrongly found release by redirecting the conviction toward another man who acted similarly (“David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man” [2 Sam. 12:5]), to which Nathan interjects, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7).

Though the evasive attempt of the former and the deluded self-righteous route of the latter may momentarily distract oneself from one’s own unresolved guilt and shame, neither actually brings about true resolution.

Our inner consciences continue to sound the alarm that a fire within us needs to be put out (Rom. 2:15). Both approaches have in common the attempt to silence this internal mechanism that God designed for us to guide us in His direction for new life.

All other paths eventually worsen things in each domain of our lives (Gal. 6:7), and subsequently, affect those whom we do life with for the worse.

The Devastating Effects of Unresolved Guilt and Shame

The Bible gives us many case studies of the effects of failing to deal with guilt and shame:

  • The relational isolation of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:7-15)
  • The depressed countenance and violent envy of Cain (Gen. 4:5)
  • Amnon’s irrational and intense hatred (2 Sam. 13:15)
  • David’s disproportionate and hypocritical anger (2 Sam. 12:5)
  • Judas’ spiraling addiction and deadly sorrow (Jn. 12:6; Mt. 27:3-5)

…to name a few. Researchers today are catching up to what the Scriptures have already revealed thousands of years ago: unresolved guilt/shame can lead to withdrawal, anger, hostility, depression, addiction, and suicidal ideation.   

Failing to resolve guilt and shame in a healthy way leads to the cascading effect of de-creation that sin initiates within us. When God created us, He designed us to rightly live within secure loving relationships with Him and with one another.

This vertical and horizontal peace that once existed within the Garden of Eden was rocked to the core when sin entered into the world, and the fear of due judgment for guilt and the resultant feelings of shame were experienced for the very first time (Gen. 3:10).

Isolating themselves and hiding behind trees with fig leaf cover-ups, Adam and Eve picked up flimsy shields of self-justification and weapons of self-exaltation by blaming one another, their circumstances, and God Himself in a futile attempt to assuage the terrible feelings of conviction.

We, along with the rest of mankind, have been doing these same things in our own ways ever since, and to no avail.

As the apostle Paul put it, we have been “slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).

True Resolution and Restoration from Shame and Guilt

When we hide in our shame or blame others, we can unwittingly forfeit the very oxygen of our Creator’s love that we were designed for.

He offers to release the valve of His forgiving and life-giving grace toward us when we humbly surrender and honestly repent of our sins before Him at the cross by faith.

Sincere trust in His substitutionary sacrifice for us is the entry point back into intimate Edenic fellowship with our Creator and Redeemer; our guilt and shame have been completely and eternally washed away by His blood.

Jesus calls out to us with open arms, and invites us to Himself for a new life, for true and lasting restoration that we all have been longing for: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:29).

It is there that we will find ourselves being transformed from the inside out as we rest secure in His gracious presence in light of the cross, the ultimate tree of life.

With softened and restored hearts, we can then gratefully walk anew in step with the Spirit as He gently convicts and guides us toward repentance with His sanctifying Word.

Beholding and exalting His gracious glory in our hearts with every step of the way (2 Cor. 3:18), Christ’s image will outwardly flourish from within us with the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Then we and those around us can only declare that we are “a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17), to the glory of God alone.

Conclusion

Have you been burdened with shame and guilt lately? Jesus invites us to leave our shame and guilt behind, to trust the work that he has already done, to find security in the perfect love that he alone can give.

Shame and guilt can lead us to a dangerous place if we allow it, but God has a better way if we come to Him.

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