I really needed God to speak to shame in Genesis 3. (See yesterday.) I needed Him to tell Adam and Eve that it was okay to be naked, that this was the way He created them, that until a few minutes ago, even they thought this was "good." Because it was. It was good. Until they realized it was lesser.
Shame today is a little more complicated.
Because shame today seems to come from the things that were never good. It's the things that were never meant to be, the things God did not create. ...Or is it?
That's how it feels. It feels like we're wrapped in shame from a broken world and so it's not enough any more for God to say simply, "It's okay." It's not okay. It's not okay even when it's forgiven. It's not okay even when it's redeemed. You can still hear God's heart breaking, but it's not any more because we have turned against His Creation - that we have failed to see it anymore as "good." Now, His heart breaks because we have perverted His Creation - it was never supposed to be this way.
And yet, without the intentionality of it being this way, there would be no shame at all. Here's where it gets kind of complicated.
Think about the things that shame you. Maybe you're ashamed to be a man or to be a woman. That's because something in this world has exposed what you are - man or woman - as lesser, in some way, shape or form. But that doesn't change that you were made to be man or woman. Man or woman, as you are, is still "good," even when it feels lesser by some cultural expectation. The key to shame, then, is to come back to understanding that it is good. Man or woman is an essential part of you, a beautiful detail of your very being created by God.
That seems simple enough. Not everything is so simple.
Let's say you're ashamed by something that's happened to you. Let's say someone used you in a way you'd never hoped to be used. Regardless of what that is - physically, sexually, professionally, socially - you feel shame. Now, what is the core of that shame? It is a perversion of your purpose or perhaps, a perversion of your love. (Depending on what example you're thinking of right now.) On the one hand, it was never supposed to be this way. Purpose and love are beautiful things, part of the very fabric of your being, and they were not meant to be broken and used by this world. That's one side of the coin. On the other side, the very fact that these things were broken means you are still tender to them, which is precisely the way they were meant to be. You were made to feel your purpose. You were made to be sensitive to your love. That they could be wounded at all...means they have a fair sense of themselves. It means they understand who they are. It means you understand them, and that you've refused to let them change their form. So on the one hand, God's heart is breaking because it was never supposed to be this way, and on the other hand, He is deeply saddened precisely because love is supposed to be so fragile, purpose so tender. They have to be in order to be anything at all. And He tells you, I'm sorry...it wasn't supposed to be like this. But that very fragile love, that very tender purpose, is exactly as I created it to be. It...is still good.
Maybe you're ashamed of something you've done. Maybe you've made a bad choice or two along the way, and you're reaping the consequences. Maybe it's by your own hand that you're left feeling exposed. On the one hand, again, it wasn't supposed to be this way. You were created with a certain something that God wanted to manifest in you, and maybe you've chosen against it right now. But whatever you are - the very gift of it is in that you have a choice about it at all. Some things, as we saw yesterday in the form of pure love, must be chosen if they are to be real at all. Yet choice is open to perversion as much as anything. God says, I created you to be loving, but if I hope for love for you, you must choose it. Love must always be chosen. It doesn't have to be love, of course; it could be any number of things. Whatever it is that you were thinking of when I brought this up.
Shame today is a complicated matter. It's not so simple as original sin. It's not just a change in perspective of what was once good is now lesser in the blink of an eye. It can't so easily be traced back to a piece of fruit. Because it's this constant mess of the way things are in the fallen world, and that's usually what we see first of it. But underneath every shame is still this truth: there is something there that is still good. There is something there that is still just as it was created to be. The answer to shame today is to come back to that understanding, to come to that place where you recognize what that "good" thing is and can start to see the beauty in its fragility.
It's when you realize what love was created to be, and now, you're not so much ashamed as you are heartbroken over its perversion. It's when you know what purpose is, but you can't get rid of the ache that it was meant to be more beautiful. It's when you go back to God's very intended design for you and see its very tenderness in the shadow of the Fall and you can't make room for shame any more; there is only grief.
It's weird to say that. I wish there were better answers. I wish things wrapped up nicely in a neat little package, but they don't. The answer to shame in this present world is grief. It's grief. It's mourning over what was meant to be, grieving over everything that was "good" and now feels lesser. It's letting your heart break and letting the life that was meant to be pour out of you the best it can. It's...tearing your clothes, exposing yourself, returning to nakedness not in defiance but in sadness. Because you can't bear to be ashamed any more. Because the only way out of it is to grieve.
It's not pretty. It's not easy. It doesn't sound promising. But there's still a promise. It's the same promise God gave to Adam and Eve as He placed His angels at the entrance to Eden, swords burning. It's the promise that God is already working on it. That He's already bringing it back. That He's got a way to make sense of it, to redeem these things, to set this world right. It's the Promise that there's still something good and that one day, it will all be good again.
I wish God had spoken to shame on that very first day. I wish He had said something powerful, something healing. But He didn't. There was nothing that could be said to shame. There still isn't. There's only a promise. One day, God will speak. Until that day, we grieve.