Editors Note: This article is written by BCC Counselor, Sherry Allchin as part of our series on Pursuing Peace. In this series, our counselors are unpacking how to find peace in all areas of your life.
Guilt and shame churn like a hurricane in the soul! Anxiety, isolation, escape! What is shame and why is it such a part of the human experience? Shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”
Are shame and guilt the same thing? No. Guilt is a legal standing before God. You are guilty if you sin, or not guilty if you did not sin. There is also a third option – no longer guilty if the debt of sin is paid and the guilt has been absolved! That is redemption, justification, salvation. Shame, then, is the emotion that accompanies guilt. So how do we release that emotion back to a place of peace?
Peace through redemption
When Adam and Eve chose to sin, with their guilt came an avalanche of shame; they were both guilty and ashamed, which led to fear and hiding. God showed up on the scene to redeem them through death by shedding the blood of an innocent substitute in their place.
Their legal punishment for sin was death, but God graciously provided a substitute. They were absolved of their guilt, but the consequences still required that they do something about that shame. The covering they had made for themselves, fig leaves, could never atone for sin and guilt. They had to accept the covering God provided, bloody skins from the dead, substitutionary animal to cover their body, representing the covering of their guilt and shame through the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22).
We still try to cover our shame with drugs, alcohol, sex, good works, busyness, entertainment, and a host of other “self-made” coverings that don’t work! The only true release for guilt and shame is the shed blood of Christ.
Peace through forgiveness
Romans 8:1 declares no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Our sin has been forgiven, absolved, and HE took our shame. But we have to accept His forgiveness, His robes of righteousness to cover us as we lay all our guilt and shame at the foot of the Cross. Ephesians 1 tells us about our new status in Christ, and that is the only place we can find peace in the midst of the storms all around us.
Let’s get more practical in how to do that! Some parents shame their children into obedience and those children often grow up to worry more about cultural norms and what other people think of them than what God actually thinks of them. This is called “fear of man” in Scripture and is described as a trap. Indeed, we feel “trapped” in shame because there is no way to change what has already been done!
We also cannot make others change their judgment of us. It feels like nothing can ever remove the shame, and for that, some have even taken their own lives in an attempt to redeem themselves. Nothing changes the past, but God can redeem the past!
He can bring good out of evil (Gen 50:20) and can make beauty from ashes (Isa 61:1-6) that will remove shame and replace it with ministry and fruitfulness. Broken lives are made whole when God’s solution for shame is received. Peace then floods the soul and joy becomes the new reality for those once bound by shame.
Peace through promises
But what if the wrong or sin is not yours, but someone else’s against you? We refer to that as “victim shame.” In reality, it is the same solution. Guilt must be placed on the person to whom it belongs (self or an abuser). Are you guilty or is the other person guilty?
Name the sin and name the person who committed the sin. Confess your own sin and lay it at the foot of the Cross where it is forgiven. Lay the other person’s sin against you in the same place, but trusting God to either bring vengeance to that person (Rom 12:17-19) or to change them. When a “victim” recognizes God’s sovereign justice, the pain takes on new meaning.
God allows only what He has predetermined to use for good in a person’s life (as with Joseph’s emotional/physical abuse by his family, the sexual abuse by Potiphar’s wife who tried to rape him but through false accusations sent him to prison for her crime), and God promises us to bring good out of all the circumstances of our life (Rom 8:28,29). Joseph rose above the shame because he saw God using for good what others intended as evil against him.
We must recognize God uses our pain for good, to conform us to the image of Christ, and through our testimony, to give us a greater platform of ministry to those who have been abused in similar ways. A girl who has been raped may find a meaningful ministry to others who were raped. Someone with any abuse in their past may help others to find freedom without bitterness growing (Heb 12:15). Victims become victors, the surest path to peace!