For the week of August 29, 2009 / 9 Elul 5769
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
Free from Shame
Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. (Isaiah 54:4; ESV)
Years ago a friend of mine who was a Bible translator and an expert in cross-cultural communication explained to me how some cultures are guilt based while others are shame based. It is common to confuse guilt and shame, but they are actually quite different. Understanding this difference can help us to learn to live free of both.
Guilt is the result of breaking a clearly defined law or rule. Guilt is usually accompanied by a fear of punishment at the hands of an authority of some kind. Taking a cookie when your mom or dad told you not to may result in guilt. A judge determines guilt based on whether or not you have broken the law. A person is either guilty or not. If found guilty, then a sentence of some kind would be given.
Shame is not so straightforward. Shame often comes from a deep internal sense of having done something unacceptable due to a sense of failure to measure up to certain standards or expectations. Guilt may be included, especially if a rule or law is broken, but not all rules carry the same level of shame and a rule doesn't need to be broken to experience shame. Shame is present when there is a perception that our behavior is such that we don't deserve to be accepted by those with whom we have relationship. That relationship could be family, friends, community group, work place, school, and so on. Shame often leads to a desire to hide from others. Embarrassment often comes from a sense of shame.
Shame is much more difficult to deal with than guilt. It is relatively easy to determine when a well-defined rule has been broken thus making someone guilty or not. Shame has more to do with perceptions, not facts. That perception may be influenced by right and wrong, but in a very vague way.
Western society, with a foundation upon the rule of law, has for the most part been guilt based. Our leaders sought to establish a way of life that had one clear standard for all people. In recent years moral issues have been more and more removed from our legal codes. Personal preferences and special interests influence and control morality more than objective legal standards. As a result, while we continue to use the language of a guilt-based society, we have largely become a shame-based society. The often felt heaviness of heart and turmoil of mind that we call guilt may actually be shame. We wonder what we have done wrong, but we no longer possess the moral clarity to determine guilt, and so we feel ashamed.
It may appear that the current casting off of traditional morality is devoid of shame. Immorality is flaunted and celebrated. But this can only occur where the legalities controlling these behaviors are no longer in force. What is actually being celebrated is the apparent freedom from guilt. Yet the intensity of the celebration as well as the violent attempt to silence detractors may be very well derived from the desire to cover shame.
The redefining of morality will never free us from shame, since at its most basic level it is due to our alienation from God. It was God's clarification of right and wrong through the giving of the Torah that enabled us to understand this alienation along with its resulting shame.
God desires to free us from shame. Through the Messiah God has dealt with not only our guilt but also our shame. Through Yeshua we can not only be forgiven, but also be set free from that nagging sense of shame that continues to heavily burden so many of us. Seeing our shame for what it is is the first step to our being free from it.
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