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  • David A. Case

Shame


“Jesus won’t love you if you do that.” Just about everything with that statement is wrong. To write it down makes my blood boil. But I write it because it is a great example of shame being used to manipulate a person’s behavior—usually someone very young. That is sick.

Jesus never condemns. He never shames. Many religious people use shame. In today’s political debate, many non-religious people use shame. It is a manipulative persuasion tactic.

Both condemnation and shame are a tone of voice. They are an attitude. At their core is a belief that the other person is miserable, sick, and of no value. They turn their focus from a person doing a wrong action to a person being a hopeless mess.

Jesus can’t speak in that manner because He is the redeemer. He died on a cross to make sure that no person is ever hopeless. Any human being who will make room for God can be restored. Jesus does correct. He does attempt to activate a healthy conscience in a person, but he never confronts with a tone of shame or condemnation. He can’t because He absolutely believes in the worth of every human being.

If shame has a positive side, it is an appeal to a person’s conscience. As a nation, we have largely lost any sense of conscience, but shame actually does not help develop conscience. Shame appeals to a person’s pride. It appeals to his desire to have his performance seen as positive in the eyes of others. Notice the relational piece to this appeal. There is the threat of withdrawing love or approval if there is not a change in performance.

Shame also carries with it a threat of some sort of retaliation of pain at a relationship level. “Jesus won’t love you.” “I won’t love you.” The Scriptures are clear. The drunkard cannot be treated the same way as the sober. It is both acceptable and right to change behavior toward a person who is responding in an unhealthy way. A murderer needs to be stopped. An alcoholic needs to be treated in a way that he can and will open his eyes to the destructive nature of his behavior.

Confrontation is not condemnation. We can confront the behaviors of one another without losing a sense of the value of the other person. We can also challenge another person at a high level without threatening relationship pain. This is where the difference between healthy and unhealthy becomes subtle. There is a point where I can no longer participate in a person’s foolish behavior. That means that I must pull back—maybe in a way that is perceived by the other person as me inflicting relationship pain.

The godly person may have to temporarily cut off relationship, but he never stops believing in the possibility of redemption. He lives in the image of the prodigal’s father (Luke 15) who continues to look down that road, waiting for the day his son would return. Unfortunately, many times the son’s do return—with the same sick ways. They return to “use” the father one more time. The godly person cannot participate in someone else’s sin. So if the son is not ready to make changes, the father cannot enter into the deeper relationship with the son. He can’t. The two have opposing purposes. Deep level connection is impossible.

But the father waits. He hopes for, believes in, and waits for the day when the son will be open to a lifestyle where the two can walk in love, where the two can walk in partnership. The key piece of shame is relationship pain. The prodigal father handed off his pain to God. When the son returned, there was no shame there to be dumped on the son. There was just a joyous welcome.

The threat of relationship pain is at the core of shame. “Jesus will not love you.” “I will not love you.” The godly person never wavers in believing in God’s purpose and plan for another human being. Yes, we do have to be realistic and respond to current behavior. We need to live out “tough love.” But others know when we have lost hope in them. They know when we have allowed the relationship pain we have received to change us to the point to where we can no longer give love. When that happens, the other person will feel devalued and shamed.

If we are to stay away from shaming others, we must deal with our own relationship pain. If we cannot hand off the pain we have received to God, we will traffic in shame. We will devalue others. In devaluing them, we become a part of the reason that they keep doing the destructive things they do.

Jesus never speaks with the tone of shame because He knows His power to redeem if someone will only make room for Him. He never speaks with shame because His love is greater than the relationship pain He feels when we reject Him. Rejection is one of the best words for relationship pain. Those who traffic in shame are generally threatening some form of rejection.

When dealing with addicts, it is my goal to keep a pure and open heart. I continually ask the addict, “Are you willing to do what you need to do to get better?” If the answer is “Yes,” then I choose to be willing to do what I need to help the person get better. (Obviously, the addict my answer “Yes” with more than just his lips!) If the answer is “No,” I am wasting my time and possibly even strengthening the person’s sin if I stay involved with that person. I choose to partner with those who have a goal of being healthy.

Some would say that my response is condemning or shaming. I don’t believe it is. I continually work at letting go of relationship pain so that if someone returns to me for help, I truly have an open heart. I can look at that person with hope. Knowing past behaviors, I will ask “Are you willing to …” questions. If a person will not humble himself and trust, the outcomes will be the same all over again.

The prodigal son had completely humbled himself and came back to be restored in relationship to his father. He no longer cared about getting the wealth of his father. The two had a great reunion. Addicts frequently come back just to use someone one more time. I choose not to participate in that kind of sickness, but I also continually check myself and ask God to search me to see if I am holding on to any past relationship pain. If I don’t do that, the person returning to me will feel shamed by me.

Sometimes a person “feels shamed” because that is where he lives and not because another person is inflicting it. Those who struggle with depression often live in a place of shame. God never speaks with a tone of shame. If shame is dominating you on the inside, there is no room to receive the love of God. The first step is to confess the lifestyle of shame and to ask God for forgiveness for holding on to the shame. A person who is “full” spiritually has no room for God. To get rid of shame, we start by saying, “God forgive me. I have chosen shame and I have believed that it was right. I let go of my shame. I want to hear Your voice and feel Your presence instead of this shame.”

Shame is not God’s way. An appeal to conscience is good. The belittling and devaluing that happens with shame is bad. Are you living

in shame? Are you shaming others? Choose the way of love!


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