Christ’s Good News: the Abolition of Shame

Christ’s Good News: the Abolition of Shame March 6, 2023

This piece initiates a series for this column – Christ’s Good News. The Gospel is allegedly good news, yet to so many it feels oppressive. Over the course of this series, I intend to explore what makes Christ’s news good for us. The series will include reflections on forgiveness, belovedness, freedom, eternal life, nature, and revolutionary hope.

A person with their head in their hands
Photo by @felipepelaquim on Unsplash

To all who feel shame dragging at their hearts,

To the shameless folk who toil to overpower it,

To the shame-filled folk who are governed by it,

From one who is often the same.

Shame has been abolished, dear reader! Let this song ring in the streets! This is a central pillar of the Gospel. We no longer need to listen to the creeping voice that sits at our ears saying “you are evil and unlovable because you have done something wrong.” Its voice is no longer worth listening to, for both guilt and love have been turned on their heads in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But how has this wondrous thing happened? Why? What does it matter? And doesn’t shame play an important role in society? Is the abolition of shame truly a good thing?

What is shame?

Shame has two parts: it is a feeling that somehow, somewhere, you have done something wrong and that you are bad, evil, unlovable for having done so. A feeling is only properly called shame if it has both parts; just guilt or unlovability alone is not enough.

It does not matter if this guilt is merited or not— shame exists whether it feels like you committed a great evil (cheating on a spouse) or a small embarrassment (farting just a bit too loudly on a date). It has all been abolished.

The process of abolition

The Christian believes that 2,000 years ago, a man who was God walked the Earth. The man’s name was Jesus, and he was murdered by military police. This was no ordinary murder — to kill God is no small thing. Stranger still, God willingly submitted to His own death. He wasn’t defeated, He voluntarily sacrificed His own life.

In that moment, God abandoned God’s self. He emptied Himself on our behalf. He stood in front of the overwhelming tide of all history’s sin and shame and proclaimed “Enough! I will take this upon Myself for their sakes. It is finished.” (Isaiah 53:5, John 19:30)

In that moment, God abolished shame (Romans 5:6-19). He did so by smashing both of its pillars: He forgave us for our sins and He reconciled us to Himself, ensuring that we are always and forever beloved by Him. We have been forgiven for all wrongs past, present, and future. This does not leave us without responsibility regarding those wrongs, but it does leave us without shame towards them. Before God, we have no longer done anything wrong. 

Shame no longer has any place in our hearts, beloved readers. It is no longer worth listening to, not the slightest bit. When you undertake the Christian life, you are given an eternally valid “get out of shame free” card. Whenever shame enters your soul, banish it without a second thought.

What has not been abolished

“Wait,” you might be thinking, “isn’t shame a positive thing sometimes? Don’t some people deserve to be ashamed?” This is a good and important question. Should not the one who murders a child be ashamed for what they have done? God has not left a vacuum in our souls here. He has replaced the destructive emotion of shame with the constructive one of lament (2 Corinthians 7:8-11). And with this new emotion comes a new response — instead of wallowing in or denying shame, lament enables us to repent.

From shame to lament

When we do something truly wrong, it is still right and good to grieve that wrong. This is called lament. It differs from shame in three major ways: the security it offers, the clarity it brings, and the actions it enables. 

Shame focuses on how evil and unlovable you are. It presents a disguise of righteousness, claiming that you deserve to feel pain for screwing up. But in reality there is nothing good or righteous about it. Shame adds a self-oriented dimension to guilt — it makes the bad thing you did about how bad you are, not about how to remedy the hurt you caused.

Now, dearly beloved reader, please do not take this and become ashamed of your shame. Do not think “I’m such a bad person! Even my response to my own wrongdoing is wrong!” This is nonsense. Shame has been abolished in its totality. Do not go there.

Instead of all this, lament offers us security. Lament does not focus on our own evil, but rather on the hurt we cause. When lamenting, we do not need to welcome the destructive thoughts that say “I am bad” or “I am unlovable.” We can accept those thoughts and redirect them, keeping our focus on grieving and rectifying the harm.

Lament also brings clarity. Because it separates the hurt we’ve caused from our own badness, it allows us to clear-mindedly analyze if we’re fretting over something we’ve actually done wrong, or if we’re just reacting to social pressures. Again, we feel shame in reaction to both cheating and farts. In both cases, it feels as though we’ve done something wrong, but only in the case of cheating is that feeling true. When we transition from shame to lament, we realize that all the shame we feel from social pressure is wholly irrelevant, and we need never listen to it.

I know this is much easier said than done. Hopefully, I will elaborate further in a future piece on the practical outworking of this.

The role of repentance

Finally, shame and lament orient us towards different actions. Shame makes us want to wallow – it directs us inward. Lament directs us outward, towards repentance. Repentance is a Christian term that means turning around. It consists of two elements: doing what you can to right the harm you’ve caused and working to make sure you don’t cause that harm again in the future.

Repentance gets tricky, though. It’s here that shame can start to worm its way back into the room. Because change is hard. What if you aren’t doing enough to right the wrong? What if you backslide and hurt someone again? Doesn’t that mean you’re bad and evil? Shouldn’t that make you unlovable?

Still no. Shame is abolished in all cases, in every way. This isn’t a single-chance scenario. Once, the apostle Peter asked Jesus “How many times am I supposed to forgive someone who wrongs me? As many as seven times?” and Jesus replied “not seven, but seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). That is to say, an unimaginably large amount. And if that’s how much we’re supposed to forgive each other, imagine how much more God forgives us when we continually mess up!

Parting Words

If you’re reading this, I love you. Regardless of whether you’re reading this, God loves you. Please, please, please, dear reader, do not allow shame in your heart any longer. It does not belong there. It has been abolished.

With much love,

Zo Mathetis

P.S. This is all, of course, easier said than done. One cannot simply banish a feeling by thinking it away. But I hope you heed these words closely, beloved. Know that, for those who believe in the saving work of Christ, shame is never warranted. It is a feeling with no foundation. Doubt it and work against it with every inch of your soul, for it brings only destruction.

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad