Guilt and Shame

I’ve had something running through my mind over the past few days: the topic of guilt vs shame. We all expierence these feelings in life but what I hadn’t relized for years is that they are not interchangeable terms (despite what a Thesaurus might say.)

Guilt comes from our conscience, our sense of right and wrong installed into all of us by God. It is a healthy mechanism to keep is from doing bad things to ourselves and others. Paul calls it a “godly grief”.

2 Corinthians 7: 10 – For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

Expanding on this, Mark W. Baker write about this concept on his blog:

“Shame is debilitating. It ruins relationships, thwarts growth, and destroys hope. It can even masquerade as various other problems—one of them is guilt. But shame and guilt are not the same. Guilt is the bad feeling you have for doing something you should not have done. Shame is the bad feeling of regret for being an inadequate person. Guilt is about what you did; shame is about who you are. Both are bad feelings, but it’s important to know the difference.

The Bible says guilt exists to help us. Paul talks about a “godly sorrow” that leads people to repentance and produces good things in their lives (2 Corinthians 7:11). This is a healthy guilt, because it is motivated by love. It motivates you to do the right thing to restore damaged relationships.”

So guilt is healthy but shame is something else. It is rooted in fear and keeps us away from God and other things that can heal. It tells us we are not good enough and will never be. It tells us we are worthless and no one will value us. It is the fear that people (or God) will judge, hate or reject us for something we did. This is never a place God wants us to stay:

Psalm 34:4-5 – I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

Romans 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

Truth is we all fall short, we screw up from time to time, we cause pain and hurt in others but we are so much more than those actions. God sees our very best, along with our worst, but still loves and calls us His and chooses to see our good, defining us by His good creation in us.

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