This is the first of a series of blogs from Ed Welch about shame. The occasion is the publication of Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (New Growth Press).
The implicit agreement with an author, especially an author who writes about counseling, is the same as the implicit agreement with a preacher: the author must have been affected by the material. After all, if it hasn’t been personally useful, why even bother?
Here’s the problem. I can’t say that I have lived with a deep sense of shame in my life. My parents were encouraging, I experienced no abuse to speak of, and my more vivid sins are not out of the ordinary. That doesn’t mean I am indifferent to them. I am only trying to say that shameful sins are less common and tend to draw stares. My shame involves the sense of never being good enough—yes, I know, welcome to humanity—and though it is always with me it tends to hover more in the background.
I began work on Shame Interrupted with other people in mind, and wasn’t expecting it to be life-changing for me—but it was. That haunting sense that God could easily love other people, but loved me only because he had to, has been fading. I could say more, but this is a big one for me.
I also wasn’t expecting to write such a long book. But I kept writing for two reasons. One, I thought that people who really struggle with shame would be okay with investing a good bit of time. Two, I found there was so much to say. As I searched Scripture I began to see that shame is in view from start to finish.
Before the fall—no shame: The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Gen. 2:25)
After the fall—shame: Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Gen. 3:7)
At the final wedding feast—shame is gone: For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Rev. 19:7-8)
Sandwiched between Genesis 3 and Revelation, God speaks over and over again about shame though we rarely hear it that way. We are all familiar with the lowly birth of Jesus, but we might miss that he is catching the attention of shamed people. The King of the universe enters into his kingdom with signs that he is both the King and the outcast. Shamed people would recognize him, even at his birth, as one of their own.
How can I deal with my nakedness, uncleanness, and status as an outcast? That is the question Scripture poses at the outset. Every page gives more of God’s unfolding answers. How do we get from being booted out of the garden, and needing to be covered with the skins of dead animals, to… being clothed in fine linen, a cleansed and beloved bride? It is a great story of hope.
There is no mystery about the story. We know where it goes. The interruption of shame comes at an historical moment when Jesus took both guilt and shame to the cross and disarmed shame of its power. It happened in a moment, but like everything else about the death and resurrection of Jesus, we need the rest of our lives to begin to understand what actually happened and how our life today hinges on those events.