Each of us has a way of thinking and living that grows out of what we believe will make us right, make us happy, and make us secure, something that will give us identity and purpose. We all seek treasure, satisfaction, and security. Our natural tendency is to seek this apart from God. By this, however, it not meant that God is necessarily excluded from our lives, but rather that if He is considered at all, He is used instead of worshiped, and manipulated rather than trusted. The question about the seeking is whether this will be found in God or something else that might involve God, but isn’t God. Among these things we call “something else” are religious systems—ways of dealing with reality without giving up self-reliance and pride.
Sin that causes us to shrink from God has several aspects. Two of those aspects have legal and social implications. Because we stood guilty before God prior to His work of regeneration in our hearts, God’s legal view of us was one of condemnation. But because Christ absorbed our death sentence, thereby taking away our guilt, we no longer live under God’s condemnation (Romans 8:1). Secondly, because our sin causes God’s displeasure and rejection, in that He cannot look upon or relate with the sinful, we feel that displeasure as shame. Rejection by God is the ultimate revelation of our condition, which results in the internal experience of shame and the external response of hiding. The social aspect of our sin is that it causes us to run from God, in fear of His rejection. But now in Christ, believers have been given His perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), and thus have been declared righteous (justification). Because sin has been paid for and forgiven, we are encouraged to draw near to God. He who was once our judge is now our Father. We who were once “not his people” are now “his people” (Romans 9:25-26). In Christ both the legal and social aspects of our sinful condition have been taken care of.
In our last blog we were dealing with the issue of shame. We learned that as shame painfully exposes that something is badly wrong with me, my reaction is to hide. Adam and Eve were our progenitors in this malady of the soul. We all have shame, but there are many different ways in which we cope with it. All are some form of hiding. Escapisms, for example, are one form of dealing with the discomfort of shame. Excessive use of a substance that changes my mood and internal experience seems to help me feel more like I'd prefer. I'm running from the reality that makes me deal with my feelings of being broken and incapable. Denial is another way to hide. I try to convince myself that things are different than they really are by distorting the facts and reasoning with myself in a way that conforms to the reality I want but that is not true. Control is another way to hide. Those of us who struggle with anxiety know all too well the discomfort of impending or supposed danger, in which my resources, though all I really trust, are simply not enough. I hide in endless worry, seeking solutions to projected problems in field of view. Rather than face my greater problem of futile effort resulting from limited understanding and personal resources, I worry and fret. The result is wearying mental and physical activity that ends in depression and despair. In the end, all forms of dealing with the nagging feeling that something is badly wrong is a form of hiding from others and, ultimately and most importantly, God.
Shame is the universal condition. Shame is that sense that something is wrong—badly wrong—with me. Because of it, I duck and run, hide and disguise, avoid exposure, play it safe. We are all infected with it. We don’t detect it, or don’t recognize it as shame, but we all have it. It’s ours because we are defective, broken, and grossly less than our Creator intended. Shame profoundly affects us all.
The newly married couple came to counseling seeking a better marriage, citing that they have frequent conflict, which they cannot seem to resolve. Talking only seems to make matters worse, as it seems neither of them listen to the other. She tells him that what she needs from him is to be heard, understood, and cared about. He tells her that she needs to give him respect and affirm the decisions that he is making. Both are caught up in expectations of the other, much of which stem from what they consider as “unmet needs.” Each looks to the other to fill a void believed to be necessary for responding to the other in appropriate, loving ways. This couple, common as they are, is caught in a dilemma. Both believe the other must meet his or her needs in order for them to be happy together, but both also believe that they cannot give to the other until their own needs are met. At best, each will try for a while to meet the other’s needs, but with a sense of expectation of reciprocity. Is this the way God designed us to relate? Are we a bucket of needs waiting to be filled in order to give to others what God commands we give?