Summary: Our shame can be healed.
From time to time I have said to you that one of the challenges of being a pastor is that when you preach, there is always the possibility that someone in the audience is thinking, "Pastor, you are telling my story. You are talking about me." And then they think that everyone knows that the person or situation being spoken of has to do with them.
This is especially true with this morning’s topic - shame. All of us here have moments of shame in our lives. It is as common, and just as troubling, as the common cold. But, as I share this morning, I speak to all of us.
Lewis Smedes, a seminary professor and author of the book "Shame and Grace," tells in the opening chapter of that book of two different events, close in time that opened him to the reality of shame in his life.
The first event was a conversation with a close friend who, in response to Smedes’ statement about feeling "vaguely guilty," simply said, "I don’t think that you feel guilty at all, Lew; I think that what you feel is shame."
The second event concerned his mother, who lay dying in a hospital. As he visited her one day she said to Smedes, "Oh, Lewis, I’m so glad that the Lord forgives me of all my sins; I’m a great sinner, you know."
Smedes found the statement incredible. As he reviewed her life, with all the demands of raising a family and the constant willingness to help others in very simple ways, praying each night to the Lord to help her do it again for one more day, he thought, "When did she have time and where did she get the energy to do any great sinning?"
At the end of Genesis chapter two we read "Although both Adam and his wife were both naked, neither of them felt any shame." What does it mean?
Most of the time we think that it means Adam and Eve walked around paradise in their birthday suits. Which is probably true. But, there is another kind of nakedness - it is a nakedness of spirit, of soul, which does not contain the tainted ness of deception or dishonesty. It is the kind of nakedness, we would call it transparency or innocence today, in which there was no shame.
But, the choices of chapter 3 change everything. In verse 7 we read, "At that moment, [in other words at the time they ate of the forbidden fruit] their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness."
Shame comes into the picture because the nakedness, the transparency or innocence, of the relationship between God and humanity as well as between man and woman, is shattered. They become naked and afraid and they hide from God. They are ashamed.
Now, there is another reality in this story that we need to acknowledge and understand in relationship to shame. That is guilt.
Adam and Eve experienced both shame and guilt. But what did they experience first? Shame.
Now what’s the difference between shame and guilt? John Bradshaw offers us a very clear picture of the differences.
"Guilt," notes Bradshaw, "says I’ve done something wrong; shame says there is something wrong with me." "Guilt says I’ve made a mistake; shame says I am a mistake. Guilt says what I did was not good; shame says I am no good."
We clearly see both shame and guilt in the Fall of humanity. God points out that Adam and Eve have done something wrong. Adam and Eve, and I don’t think that I am misinterpreting scripture at this point, are consumed with their feelings of shame at this point. Otherwise, why would they run and hide?
One of the elements of shame is embarrassment. Can you recall a time when you did something that embarrassed you?
You felt stupid, dumb, and ashamed didn’t you? You wanted to do what? (Ask the congregation to respond). "Run and hide." Just like Adam and Eve.
Our text for this morning is a troubling text. It is an intimidating passage because it gives us an intimate glimpse into God that is perhaps too intimate at the least, and too troubling at the most, to bear.
In the opening verses of Genesis 6, we read that the human population grew rapidly followed by some very mysterious statements about the "sons of God," God’s complaint about the human race, and then, in verse 5, the beginning verse of our text, we begin to read about God’s second thoughts.
As I read this passage, which is part of the preface of the story of Noah, and began to ponder it, a question, which disturbs me very much, formed in my mind: "Did God experience shame at this point?" "Was He ashamed of what He had done? Was He ashamed that He had created us?"