I remember learning in a college psychology class that the two emotions most commonly selected by people meeting the criteria for clinical depression are guilt and shame. I saw the list that was given out in the assessment, and it included lots of others that I thought might have topped the list. Ones like grief, anger, fear, sadness, despondence, loneliness, rejection, etc. But, the two that were the most common consistently were guilt and shame. At the time I was a little surprised by that just because there were so many choices and they all seemed so “depressing”, but as the years go by, I am more surprised that I was surprised.
That is because guilt and shame are crippling and powerful negative emotions that we all experience. In definition, guilt and shame are a bit separated in the sense that guilt refers to the feeling associated with our behavior while shame is associated with a negative feeling of ourselves. Sin causes both. Because we all sin, we all experience the devastation of both emotions. And in a world where we find ourselves with divisions of race, socioeconomic class, culture, language, and background. . . let it be known. . .we all experience guilt and shame because we are all guilty and shameful. If there is one thing uniting us all, it is that we are all intrinsically unworthy desperately in need of a savior. There aren’t those who are “really guilty” and those who are a “little guilty”. And even if that were the case, I think I’d want to be the former because in human reasoning, that is where the “man after God’s own heart” falls, and I believe those who recognize their unworthiness also recognize their need for God more. The human race is made up of innately sinful people completely unrighteous and unworthy constantly falling short of our perfect sovereign God.
“As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NIV)
“The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)
But, long before our existence God knew this and had an eternal plan. A plan to send a savior, His begotten son, Jesus. So, while we experience that guilt and shame, we are also able to experience mercy, forgiveness, and hope. His desire is not to condemn us because of our guilt, but to save us from it. We feel shame because we don’t deserve that love and favor, but despite how we feel about it, it is there for the taking. Always. Again and again.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17, NIV)
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9, NIV)
Just as we are united in the sense that we all sin and experience guilt and shame, we are also able to share forgiveness and hope together. We all have the opportunity to be forgiven by God, but not so we can “feel better”. . . so we can glorify Him. One of the most beautiful ways to do that is to forgive others. Who doesn’t love the story of the Prodigal Son? So, may we seek to live with the mercy of the father and not with the bitterness and pride of the brother. The inheritance that matters is our shared one. And part of loving our giver is sharing the gift with others. It is worth returning for. It is worth staying for. It is worth learning about. And it alone is the lasting source of hope.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21: 1-4, NASV)