Guilt and Shame

Psalm 51

Sunday, July 10, 2022  

Do you remember the first time you disobeyed your parents or did something that you knew was wrong?  Chances are you felt guilty and ashamed.  Those are two different things. 

Let’s imagine that your Mom made fresh chocolate chip cookies.  After they cooled a bit she gave you two cookies and a glass of cold milk.  It was delicious!  Then, after she wiped the excess chocolate off of your hands and chin and nose she put the rest of the cookies in the cookie jar and she told you, “The rest of the cookies are for your Sunday School Class.  There’s enough for each person to have 2 cookies, but don’t you take any more or there won’t be enough.”  She goes about her activities, but all you can think about is the cookies.  They were so delicious and you’d like to have some more, but your Mom said “no more”.  When Mom’s not looking you go and grab another cookie and shove it down your throat as fast as you can before she sees.  You go back to coloring.  Your mom comes back in the room, looks at your face and says, “did you eat another cookie after I told you not to?”  You say “no, mommy”.  Then she asks “then why is there chocolate all over you face and fingers again?”

You’ve been busted.  If you’re like most people you’re feeling two things: guilt and shame.  You feel guilty because you did something wrong, you disobeyed your mom and stole the cookies after she told you not to and then you lied to her about it.  You also may feel shame.  “I’m a bad boy or a bad girl, I never listen to mommy, mommy’s going to hate me now and when the kids in my class hear what I did they’re gonna hate me too, and so will my teacher and so will the pastor when he finds out, and maybe even God will hate me.”

When we feel guilt we feel bad about something we have done (or sometimes what we didn’t do that we should have.)  When we feel shame we feel that there is something wrong with us.   I’m broken, I’m damaged, I’m bad, I’m evil.  Guilt and shame are both powerful and shattering emotions.  Is there any remedy for them?

Psalm 51 was written by King David.  I recently attended a musical about David at the Sight and Sound Theater.  It showed David’s life from the time he was a little shepherd boy until his death as King of Israel.  David was a great man, a man after God’s own heart.  Most of the Psalms in the Bible were written by David.  David killed the giant Philistine Goliath with stones and a sling.  David was good, but he was not perfect.  One of the worst things David ever did was commit adultery with his neighbor’s wife while his neighbor was off fighting in battle in David’s army.  David got his neighbor’ wife pregnant and then tried to cover up his sin.  In trying to cover up one sin David committed an even greater sin and had her innocent husband killed in battle.  It was an act of great treachery.  David succeeded in covering up  his sin so that no one else (he thought)  knew about it and then he took his neighbor’s wife to be his own.

David was later confronted by the prophet Nathan who revealed  his sinful act.  But even before his sin was revealed, David was not at peace.  His heart was mired in guilt and shame.  In the midst of his guilt and shame David cried out to God to be set free.  Psalm 51 is one of the prayers he prayed to God.  Take time to read through Psalm 51.  Imagine this powerful king in anguish before God.  He is so overcome by guilt and shame, that he had sinned and that he was a sinner, a wretched, broken man.  What David feared most was being alienated from God, from the joy of knowing God’s saving love and the power of having God’s spirit.

David knows that if he can be set free from his feelings of guilt and shame, the joy of God will come back to him and he will be able to powerfully declare God’s grace and mercy to other people who are also trapped in their guilt and shame.

Lots of people today are trapped in guilt for what they have done and shame for who they are.  So much of the evil we see going on in our world every day is born out of people trying to escape the bad feelings of guilt and shame. Rising rates of suicide and deaths from opioids, increased murder and sexual violence, the rage and confusion that so many feel all can be traced to feelings of guilt and shame and attempts to cover up or self-medicate the pain away. 

There is a better way.  David knew that true healing for his guilt and feelings of shame would only come from God.  Only God could bring real joy to His heart.  The same is true for all of us.  Jesus, who was both David’s descendant and the true son of God provides the only lasting solution to guilt and shame.  When Jesus went onto the cross he took upon himself the burden of our guilt for sins we committed and our feelings of worthlessness for having committed those sins.  In their place we are forgiven of those sins and discover our true identities, we are also children of God made in God’s image.

I John 1:8-9 says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Chances are, after you told your Mom that you really did eat the cookie and said that you were sorry, she wiped your face, gave you a big hug and said “I love you, don’t do it again” and you felt a lot better.  Love covers over a multitude of sins.

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

  1.  Which do you find more painful- Guilt- I did something wrong, or Shame-There’s something wrong with me, I’m worthless?
  2. What are some of the ways we try to hide our guilt and shame?  Why do they often make things even worse?
  3. Is there still some guilt and shame hiding in your heart?  What is preventing you from going to God, confessing it to him and letting  him clean you up and give you a hug?

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