For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those who by their injustice suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been seen and understood through the things God has made.
So they are without excuse, for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (New Revised Standard Version)
Exchanging Good for Bad
Nature abhors a vacuum. Everything is filled with something. If one thing is given up, another thing will take its place. Change is actually more like an exchange of one thing for another. Something is taken out, then replaced with something different.
We have exchanged:
- Behavior that attends to the common good of all persons, for self-interested behavior to what is good for me and my family and/or group
- Good deeds done from a pure heart, for good deeds done from an impure heart which give me an advantage or leverage over another
- Steadfast committed love of others, for hustled love that gets discarded whenever things get hard
- Submission to one another out of a sense of sacred reverence, for disobedience to anyone I don’t like
- Dignity of being an image-bearer of God for the shame and ignominy of self-image
- Majesty and worth of all persons in the world, for becoming masters of small worlds
And that’s not all, there’s more. We also have a nasty tendency to replace:
- Freedom for shackles
- Virtue for vice
- Morality for immorality
- Justice for injustice
- Goodness for ungodliness
- Truth for a lie
- Wisdom for foolishness
- Immortality for mortality
- Honor for dishonor
- Devotion for disregard
- God for gods
These are all very poor replacements. In fact, the exchanges are so dark that they leave us in a state of guilt before God and all creation. Indeed, we all have sinned and fallen short of our intended purpose on this earth.
Guilt and Shame
Our response must not exchange guilt for shame because they are different words:
Guilt is assigned by God so that repentance and reconciliation might happen.
Shame, however, is introduced by us; we are the ones who label ourselves as a bucket of pig slop, not God.
Guilt is a function of the conscience, letting us know when we have said or done something wrong or hurtful; it is specific to a particular action or lack of action.
Shame, however, is a function of the “inner critic.” It interprets bad words or actions as we ourselves being bad, focusing not on actions but on our very personhood in the form of judgmentalism leveled at myself.
Guilt says, “I have done something bad.”
Shame, however, says, “I am bad.”
Guilt serves a redemptive purpose through alerting us that we need to deal with a wrong.
Shame, however, damages our spirits through telling us we are flawed and unworthy of love and connection with others.
Because guilt and shame are not the same, they need to be dealt with in different ways.
Guilt, if not faced and dealt with, becomes gangrene of the soul. Over time it festers and poisons our spirits, leading to significant emotional and sometimes physical problems. Forgiveness (both in apologies and in forgiving oneself) is the primary tool in dealing with guilt.
Shame, however, lives in the shadows and feeds on secrets. If shame persists, we withdraw from others and experience grinding loneliness. Therefore, the path out of shame is to openly name your shame and tell your story – thus taking away shame’s power and giving it back to yourself. Vulnerability is the tool which erases shame.
“Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged and healed.”Brené Brown
In the absence of light, there is darkness. Purging oneself of belief in God merely means that another god will take her place. Scripture labels this “idolatry.”
What’s more, in the absence of feeling, in the quest to absolve oneself of unwanted emotions, there still remains emotion – because humans are emotional creatures.
People mostly rid themselves of any god concept because of how they feel about it. In fact, we do just about everything in life based on our emotions. This is a good thing, not a bad thing. We get into problems and fuss about emotions mucking up things, only because we never faced those feelings to begin with.
A person will never know God unless they understand this. The worship of God and the practice of Christianity is not only to engage the mind and the spirit, but also the body and the emotions.
Emotions and feelings are not like foreign microbes that enter the body as unwanted interlopers. They didn’t enter humanity as part of the world’s curse, after Adam and Eve’s fall into disobedience. No!
Rather, we are our emotions, just as much as we are our body, mind, and soul. Therefore, every emotion which exists, resides in us, all the time. We cannot purge ourselves of our emotions any more than we can remove the heart, the brain, or the bowels, and then expect to live.
Denying our emotions, suppressing feelings, and leaving them unacknowledged is terribly unhealthy and will slowly kill us – because our emotions are vital to our very existence.
Getting Rid of God
There are millions of spiritually dead zombies walking the earth who have jettisoned God altogether – either deliberately or unwittingly – because they discarded their emotions, long before they exchanged the sacred for the secular.
We all sometimes get physically ill; it’s part of the human condition, and we all understand that. So, we go to bed, or to the doctor, or to the hospital’s emergency department – depending upon the severity of our illness. We even go to a physician when we are healthy, just to get a check-up and make sure everything in the body is working as it should.
We also all get spiritually and emotionally ill; it’s part of the human condition. But we all don’t understand that. So, we soldier on, going about our regular business as if everything is hunky-dory. We don’t attend to our emotional selves. We don’t slow down and address what’s going on, or go to a church, or go to anyone. Instead, we suffer in silence.
Just as it ludicrous to get rid of the body altogether whenever we get a disease, so we must not rid ourselves of God whenever we get spiritually and emotionally sick. We face the illness and deal with it. It might require surgery. Recovery will hurt. That’s all part of facing it.
Ignoring God is about as smart as ignoring a heart attack. It might go away for a short time, but it’ll come back with a vengeance and do you in.
Emotions aren’t to blame when things are rough. Neither is God to blame when bad stuff happens. Both our emotions and God are realities we must deal with.
Just like the force of gravity is always there and needs to be respected (by not simply walking off the roof of your house, believing you don’t need gravity anymore) so the person and the power of God is always here and we absolutely need to come to terms with that reality, instead of walking away.
What will you do?…