Shame Article: Confusing Guilt and Shame

Let’s imagine what happens if we try to help someone suffering from shame by using our usual method of explaining Jesus’s death.  

Rebecca: Oh hi Sarah – how brilliant to see you! How long is it since I last saw you? About a year? It was last Easter wasn’t it? 

Sarah: Yes, and it’s been a pretty rubbish year, too.  

Rebecca: Oh no, what’s happened? 

Sarah: Well, first I lost my job. My boss was a real bully, and when I had cried once too often in his office when he had been criticizing me, he started saying I was unfit to work for him. It reminded me of what my Mum always used to say to me when I was small – that I’d never be any good at anything. When I’d been off sick for six months with stress, I lost my job. Then I couldn’t pay the rent so my landlord booted me out. My debts got worse and worse until I tried to top myself. Then I ended up in mental hospital. I’ve only just got out. 

Rebecca: I think I know something that can help. Jesus came to help when we’ve messed things up. He says he’ll forgive us when we have done things wrong.  

Sarah: Well, yes, I guess I must have done something wrong. It must be all my fault. But when I keep going back over it I can’t work out what it is I did wrong. It wasn’t my fault my boss bullied me – or that my mum told me I was no good. But I must have done something… so yes, you’re right. I must be a sinner. 

Rebecca: Well, yes, everyone is a sinner – but Jesus came to take the punishment you deserve – you deserve to die for what you have done, but Jesus died instead. Isn’t that great? Wasn’t it great that God punished Jesus instead of you? 

Sarah: Well, yes, I suppose so.. but it reminds me a bit of when my dad used to beat my older brother with a strap even when he hadn’t done anything.. 

Rebecca: Well, maybe, but actually the bible says God is love. Don’t you feel better now you know that he has forgiven you for what you did wrong? 

Sarah: well, maybe… I guess God has treated me as I deserve.. I’m no-one special. 

It doesn’t work, does it? It doesn’t address what Sarah is really bothered about, which is that she feels she’s not worth anything. Have a look at my little book on The Cross and Shame if you would like to find out more about how the Cross helps with shame (as well as guilt). It’s short and clear and was well-reviewed here.

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