Shame is not God’s Game

One of the feelings that every person has experienced at some level is the feeling of failure, and sometimes that evolves into a sense of shame, especially if that failure has taken us to an all-time low. We hear stories like this all the time. The leading news story on television or the front page of the newspaper is often one of these situations. Maybe your failure didn’t make the news, but it took you to the principal’s office or a meeting with your supervisor. The consequences included being expelled or fired, and then you had to come home and tell your family. Maybe it was simply some cross words that you spoke to someone you love deeply, but now it feels like it’s going to take much more than an apology to heal the hurt that your words caused. There are thousands of scenarios that can lead to a sense of failure and shame, and in each case, at least for a Christian, we visualize how God will respond to us in our badness.

On many occasions Jesus encountered people who had failed, and were experiencing shame. In their “badness” some even relented to envelope themselves with the cloak that comes with the sense that “I’ve failed in a reprehensible way.” And, like us, they likely were trying to brace themselves for how God would deal with them in their badness.

One of the most well known examples of this was one day when Jesus returned from the Mount of Olives, where he had most likely slipped away to enjoy a time of silence and solitude with his Heavenly Father. However, early the next day, after being refreshed, he was back again at the Temple, where a crowd soon gathered. So he sat down and taught them. Let’s pick up the story right there.

As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:1-11

I can only imagine the deep shame this woman must have been feeling. She was humiliated in such a public way in front of God himself. When I picture this scene, I imagine a woman who couldn’t raise her head to look at anyone as she desperately tried to cover up her very exposed body. I imagine someone who just wanted to run away and never show herself again. I expect that she was bracing herself to die that day, and possibly thinking that wouldn’t be so bad.

But imagine the shock that she must have experienced when Jesus, not only didn’t condemn her to death, but with great love and compassion, sent her on her way with the simple admonition to “go and sin no more.”

I’m confident that this was not the reaction she expected from him. In his response, Jesus clearly communicated that this woman was more important to him than her sin. He wasn’t distant in that moment, but very present. He wasn’t like a demanding judge, but instead one who showed great compassion. But he also wasn’t a pushover acting like sin is no big deal. On that day, a previously hopeless woman walked away as one who now had hope.

This isn’t the only example of Jesus showing love and compassion to those who were “caught” in their badness. We can look to Matthew and Zacchaeus, despised tax collectors, who Jesus invited to join him. There was the despised Samaritan woman at the well. And don’t forget the man hanging on the cross next to him or Peter, one of his best friends who denied even knowing him on three separate occasions. In each one of those instances, Jesus loved instead of loathed.

Jesus seems to ALWAYS see the person, not as a sinner, but as one who he came to redeem. Instead of seeing us at our worst, he wants to show us his vision for us at our best!

I wonder, however, how we imagine God’s response to us in our badness? Personally, there have been times, when I couldn’t imagine the possibility of forgiveness, let alone blessing. There have even been times when I have believed the lie that I’m expendable. But if that were true, what was the point of Jesus dying to redeem me?

As you think about how loving and compassionate Jesus was to those who had failed, calling them into a relationship with him instead of calling them out, how do you imagine him responding to your badness? I am confident that when Jesus thinks of you, even in those moments, he’s focused on the good news that comes when we receive his offer of benevolence and blessing.