Monday, September 22, 2008

How can God love me when I’ve done such awful things in my life?

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.
Genesis 3:7

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 since.

“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 going nowhere.

I was caught for many years in this shame cycle. In my book, Prodigal Song: 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.


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