I had a recurring dream as a child in which I arrived at my elementary school, took off my coat, and found that all I had on was my underwear. Yet I could do nothing about it. I stood there, in the midst of fully-clothed classmates, effectively naked.
We’re told that after they partook of the forbidden fruit “the eyes” of Adam and Eve “were open and they knew they were naked.” They knew shame for the first time. Because this shame is now part of our nature, it sits, fat and ugly, in our souls, too heavy to move, too large to ignore.
While shame is unresolved, it drives us to seek resolution through compensatory self-righteousness. We will mindlessly try to be “good enough” to quiet the pangs. Or we will numb it away with various addictions designed to kill our moral sensibilities. Sin created a worthiness vacuum. Having collectively lost our sense of God’s approval, we reflexively stave off our feelings of unworthiness through various devices.
Humans fall into one of two shame ditches—the narcissistic and the codependent type. Either we stifle shame through feelings of superiority, pride, and entitlement, or we cherish feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem, and unworthiness. The foundation of these two states is the same—the hope that through something we have, something we are, or something we can do, we will be able to take away that fat, ugly core of shame.
The gospel’s answer to the shame dilemma is a new Source of righteousness. Jesus is reaching out constantly, wanting to lead us to a new foundation, a foundation built on his lacerated back; a foundation of His righteousness in place of our own.
Confess your sins honestly to God, as to someone Who already knows, and forgives you still. Tell God right now what you’ve thought, cherished, and done out of sinful and self-centered greed, pride, lust. As you speak, He looks at you with mercy. Imagine how His face reflects that mercy. Picture Him looking at you with tenderness in His eyes. Imagine Him saying, “I forgive you.” Then believe that He has forgiven you because He has promised.
Oh, God of grace and comfort, You love us with an everlasting, unfailing, and unfathomable love. While we have thrashed around, looking for a human solution to my sin, You have stood by with the only solution, Your own righteousness, woven on the loom of heaven. We finally see it, but we want to see it more. We want to receive your mercy and comfort more—immediately and ongoingly. Teach us how. Amen.
“Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul would soon have settled in silence. If I say, ‘My foot slips,’ Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:17-19