Q: How can
God love me when I’ve done such awful things in my life?
A: This question goes to the heart of ProdigalSong
Ministries. Of all the elements involved in what our ministry
calls “Healing the Broken Spirit,” nothing holds
a stronger grip on those suffering than this one thing: Shame.
Our shame, along with its close cousin fear, lies at the core
of our hurting. And it started a long time ago. . .
Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they knew that they were naked;
and they sewed fig leaves together and made
themselves loin coverings.
In Genesis 3:7, we see the introduction of shame into the
human condition. (Fear is also introduced, and we’ll
get to that another time.) Now that the fruit has been eaten,
and sin has blown like a harsh gale into the once-serene world,
a razor-sharp sense of shame immediately follows.
Right from the get-go, the guilty couple tries to cover up
the crime. Verse eight says:
And they heard the sound of the Lord walking
in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man
and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the
Lord God among the trees of the garden
I find it interesting that the Scripture does not say, “tried
to hide themselves,” but instead says “hid.”
The notion that Adam and Eve would in fact be capable of pulling
the proverbial wool (or palm leaves) over God’s eyes
is in itself absurd, of course, but this is not, literally
at least, what the passage means. We are, in fact, given the
freedom by God to “hide ourselves” from Him, by
choosing through disobedience—the breaking of the boundaries
He has set for our well being—to sever our inherent
intimacy with Him. By willfully breaking this bond, we abandon
our stewardship, and abandon our relationship. And this is
the choice Adam and Eve made: They lied. Overwhelmed by their
shame, and afraid that they would be punished, they decided
to hide. And in many ways, most of us have been hiding ever
“Where are you?” God calls out to Adam. And this
verse holds great irony, too. There is both a sense of humor
and sadness in it, I think, because God knows full well where
Adam is, hunkered down and shivering in the suddenly-sprouted
poison ivy. God isn’t wondering about his child’s
location; He’s challenging Adam to look into his own
heart, and discover for himself before it’s too late
where in the world he’s wandered off to. God understands
more deeply than we ever will just how quickly the gorgeous
garden can become a dark wood. “Where are you, Adam?”
He asks, knowing that only if he chooses to be lost does his
child need remain that way. “Do you know where you are,
Adam?” seems more what He is saying, because God never
asks us questions in order to learn something—He asks
us questions to teach us something.
I cannot read this passage without feeling a strong sadness
passing over me. There is an almost tangible note of grief
in the Father’s voice—maybe, just maybe, God is
hoping against all His sovereignty that His child will suddenly
reconsider, and decide to give himself up and run, and come
out, come out wherever he is, and stop all this foolishness.
If only Adam had come rushing out of the weeds and thrown
himself at the Father’s feet, sobbing, crying out His
name. But he doesn’t.
Through Christ Jesus, though, we can. By virtue of the Cross,
our past destructiveness has been forgiven and forgotten;
God has already forgiven us. Now, the challenge is to forgive
ourselves. Jesus waits. Jesus waits.
Much of the shame we carry through life began in our childhood.
Many of us grew up in dysfunctional families that did not
nurture us and project on us the biblical model of what family
was created to be. Here we experienced various kinds of abuse
and abandonment, and later learned to medicate the resulting
shame and fear with substances and/or behaviors. These behaviors
caused us more shame, validating our sense of worthlessness,
creating what I call the “Shame Cycle”—
a self-defeating dynamic that continues to feed itself, round
and round, much like a hamster wheel…going fast, but
I was caught for many years in this shame cycle. In my book,
A Memoir, I recount the long and dark journey back
from alcoholism, drug abuse, and the terrible wake of destructive
behavior I left behind. The depths of my own shame and fear
nearly killed me…until I discovered that no matter how
far I ran or how often I turned my back on Him, Jesus was
always facing me.
In recovery, we learn how to see ourselves as God sees us.
We work to dispel the lies of self that keep us in bondage
to shame and fear. Once we’re past some of the deep
toxicity that blinds our ability to see ourselves clearly,
God can begin His healing work. The journey back from so many
years of self-deception can be long and difficult, and we
can rarely accomplish such a thing alone. The various 12-Step
programs are one good resource for such work, and Christian
counseling another. A healthy church family can play an essential
role, so we should pray for God to give us discernment and
help guide us to a church that is nurturing and non-shaming.
We must learn that our shame is a lie. Christ called out,
“It is finished!” Now, we simply have to let go,
and let Him love us back to life.