You couldn’t say the dog ate it because you didn’t have a dog. Mrs. Owens, your third grade teacher, was scowling down, asking why you didn’t have your homework done. When you couldn’t provide a sufficient excuse, her imperious expression changed to one designed to produce in you extreme shame and self-loathing. She had practiced this face in the mirror and looked down as though you were something she had accidentally stepped in.
But here’s the question: Did her “shame on you act” work? Did she inspire you do achieve greatness in the third grade? Not likely. That’s because shame or feeling guilty actually inhibits you and makes you less likely to do better. Research on addiction has found that when people feel shame about their addictive behavior, they are more likely to repeat. More likely!
Of course, there is a better way. We can acknowledge we have messed up and, without wallowing in shame, figure out how to do better. That’s what this line from the Bible means:
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
To paraphrase, when we mess up, God would have us change our thinking (that’s what “repent” means), recognize we did wrong, turn around and make a better choice. That’s what “godly sorrow” looks like. “Worldly sorrow,” third grade guilt, just makes us feel crummy and stuck.
Satan’s name means “accuser.” He tempts us into doing wrong things and then turns on us, accusing us and making us feel shame. He knows in that condition we will be stuck. Contrast that with the work of Jesus: He took our shame and guilt to the cross, and encourages us to enjoy the freedom of changing how we think. He says, “Go, and sin no more.”
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)