Have you ever been accused unmercifully, like Susanna in (Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62)? Whether the accusation is true or false, we feel terribly invalidated, especially if it comes without forgiveness. Even when we’ve done nothing wrong, we need an attitude of mercy from our accuser or else the wound goes very deep.
Feeling remorseful for a genuine sin doesn’t make it easier to endure the harsh reactions of others. Since we naturally prefer to look good in the eyes of others, especially when they treat us unmercifully, we defend ourselves and try to rationalize away our sins.
This happens because we’re trying to protect ourselves from shame. Guilt is the honest awareness that we have sinned, which leads to remorse, which leads to healing. Shame is different. Shame belittles us and causes deeper wounds.
Only mercy can protect us from shame. Mercy validates our worth. Without it, we try to undo the shame by manipulating people into liking us and approving of us and affirming us. The more we sin, the more desperate we become for other people’s approval. And the more desperate we become, the less remorse we feel for what we’ve done wrong, because remorse includes the feeling that we deserve disapproval.
To heal the wounds of shame, we must realize that our desire to repent and receive forgiveness has opened us to the mercy of God and that his opinion of us is what matters most.
When we’re accused falsely, we’re at the mercy of others and they have rejected us. If their opinions matter to us, we hunger for affirmation. We defend ourselves and offend those who accused us. We convert our innocence into selfishness and pride and other unloving behaviour.
To heal this wound we must know that we are embraced by the mercy of God.
No one can validate us like God can. He alone knows what’s in our hearts. He alone loves us completely, no matter what we do. In him there is no shame; he has erased our guilt with Christ’s blood on the cross. When we grasp the fidelity of God’s mercy, we are freed from the self-protective need to be validated by people.
Shame is harmful but guilt is redemptive. Guilt without shame motivates us to repent. Repentance purifies us and helps us to grow in holiness. Holiness extends God’s mercy to those around us. In holiness, we invite others to recognize their own guilt without shaming them into it. As we have received mercy, we give mercy, and so the world becomes a better place.