Shame and hiding- the power of sin. Confession of sin and the fear of punishment
"See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. 2 Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. 3 Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. 4 The fearful heart will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear." (Isaiah 32,1 ff NIV)
My dear friends,
I was a sunny child. A radiant, loving child who could feel the presence of God at an early age. But I was also a child who grew up in relative poverty. Relative because poverty always has a social definition. I had food to eat, even if the table was not richly set. I had something to play with, but not cute children's furniture in which - neatly and accurately - the most beautiful dolls were lined up, but...cardboard boxes with old, used toys. I had clothes, extended, washed out, self-sewn. Often I saw my mother crying - when my father was away, on assembly, and the bank told her that he had withdrawn the last money and that nothing could be given to her. She was helpless then, angry, resigned - left alone with five children who were all hungry.
Not far away lived the closest companion of my childhood days. My cousin was a year younger, but her laugh sounded just like mine. The resemblance was so striking that we were mistaken for twins. But there was one difference between us: she lived provided for. She was the only daughter, the princess. And she had everything my childhood soul dreamed of: thick, fluffy rugs. Pretty pink hair clips. Countless children's cassettes with fairy tales. And...a real, electric Duplo train set.
Often I spent the night at her place. I remember not knowing such care: We were bathed in effervescent bubble baths, wrapped in warmed robes, given small, lovingly prepared morsels for supper while watching the Sandman.
What was a small blessing soon became a nightmare. My cousin was like a reflection of myself, like a message that she was better. In her I saw what I didn't have. So I began to want it too, defiantly, sadly, claimingly- and finally I began to steal secretly.
I remember well the feelings of guilt that attacked me. The self-justification that I was just taking some of her abundance. That she wouldn't even notice. We always find a thousand excuses for wrongdoing, for sin. "It's not so bad, look - she has everything. They'll buy it for her new anyway" the soft voice of seduction whispered in my ear. Jesus stood admonishingly before my eyes. "Don't. No, child." And yet- the urge of self-sufficiency, envy, the feeling of desire was stronger than the realization of the truth.
There were consequences to the behavior.
I began to claim things were "on loan"-something my four-year-old cousin self-consciously disagreed with. She wasn't lending anything. They were her things. I began to lie. The day my aunt dumped the overnight bag in front of me and everything I had secretly pocketed tumbled out, I was overcome with deep shame. I lost my cousin, and blamed myself. No one told me that the reason for the break in contact was other than my wrong behavior. She had seen me fall into darkness. It was pity, but also the protection of her own child from increasingly dark family circumstances, which caused her to break off contact. It was not my behavior. However...she did not remedy the situation.
For a long time I dragged this secret around with me. It was a combination of being lost and self-condemnation that grew and grew. I remember inner debates with Jesus, trying to justify it, but he wouldn't let me. No, it was the wrong way, as much as he loved me. And the despair entangled me, led me into isolation and sadness. My mother knew about it-nothing.
It was three years before I came to her.
I remember the evening when the burden became too much. I was sick, we were out of town. And halting and in tears, with a high fever, I freed my soul from the guilt, shame and sin that held me captive.
What had kept me from revealing myself for so long? Lack of confidence?
No, it was the fear of punishment. It was the fear of condemnation. It was the fear of being judged and seeing my deepest fear confirmed: That I was evil, unworthy, less worthy than my cousin. Not lovable.
My mother was great. She listened to what I had to say. Yes, she was disappointed. Yes, she was devastated, and surely she saw how much I must have suffered from lack and jealousy. Instead of punishing me, she took me in her arms, explained, comforted, and ended by saying that I had now learned what came of it. She showed me that she loved me, and in doing so she opened the door back to love, to the right path.
Fear of punishment.
Misbehavior, sin in the biblical sense, rebellion. Hurtful behavior, wrong ways- yes, confronted with such behavior we react frustrated, angry, wrathful, disappointed. "I didn't expect that from you!" is the emotional slap in the face. For many, a period of love withdrawal, bitter punishment follows in the memory. "Consequence, reparation" is the name given to this harsh approach that often follows self-disclosure. Rarely, very rarely, does one hear parents, friends, siblings respond to such a revelation with "I love you, but I need a moment now to digest this," or even with understanding, grace, forgiveness. But what does someone who confides actually do?
Well, you open your heart in the most hurtful points, right? One shows that one is not perfect. If you were talking about a cat, it would allow you to scratch its belly. "I surrender myself to you. I admit that I have behaved wrongly. Forgive me."
It is bad, very bad, that the other person's response to this vulnerability is for us associated with the expectation of harshness, rejection, consequence, punishment, exclusion, and further recrimination. For some, this courageous confiding is accompanied by the memory of slaps, beatings, violence.
Often, not always, it is the father who has poured contempt and violence on a little child's soul- in response to real misbehavior, in response also to undesirable behavior- perceived as a response to oneself.
We have to be honest- this shapes. And yes, it transfers to our heavenly Father.
Experiences of violence and the feeling of having irrevocably destroyed something, of having finally fallen from grace, are devastating for us. Existential threat. What arises from this are spirals of concealment. Of secret sinning. Of secretly falling. Of hiding and shame. Sin that becomes obvious, such as an alcohol problem that is no longer hidden, a hidden affair that is discovered, a pornography addiction that has become public, or an extramarital pregnancy, are virtually found food for moral guardians and moralizers. We expect condemnation- and unfortunately the moral pressure in communities is often so high that the individual is left alone with it and is driven further and further away from community and also God- serving as a bad, fallen example and as confirmation of one's own self-importance. Behind this sin, however, you know, lies a longing. A sorrow, a loneliness.
I deliberately chose this (true) story. I was five years old, and the ambivalence will immediately flare up in some reader or other. "But you had nothing! There was a lack! Why didn't anyone see this need and remedy it? Why didn't your aunt just buy two little dresses, two pairs of hair clips?"
A good question, my friends.
But it is also sin, isn't it? And we see clearly where sin leads. Into self-closure, darkness, self-accusation and harm- to self and others.
In recent days, I've been thinking more about moral standards in our churches. It is right that Christians should make a difference in their impeccability. But it is also true that we can all fall, all become entangled, and the measure of understanding and comprehension for the other yet often fall prey to inflated egos and unkindness. "Truth without love is hardness" , it is said, and in 1 Corinthians 13 we are reminded that we can have all heavenly blessings, but that without love they are worth nothing. The call to conversion and repentance echoes through the churches with such unrelenting harshness, with such an aggressive sense of punishment, that it can scare the living daylights out of you. Fingers are pointed at misconduct, supposed sin is proven with biblical passages, pressure is built up to finally fulfill the norm again. Everyone arrogates to himself the right to condemn the other. The background, the plight of the soul, is rarely asked about. This would mean an involvement and a confrontation with the other person, which then seems too troublesome.
Jesus is different. And we, who have received his spirit, should make a clear difference.
We should be people who can be confided in. Who do not condemn, but open the door. Maybe we need to take a breath. Become calm. Sin is always ugly. But you know, that's what grace is all about - that's what Jesus died for. And we should not drive each other like scapegoats through the village nor frantically look for the fault in the other - because then Jesus died in vain.
And be sure- everyone who has the Holy Spirit feels real sin like a corroding darkness- and looks for someone to confide in. Without condemnation. There is no need to overzealously point every false judgment, every moral opinion of your own, at each other like arrows of fire.
For the Holy Spirit convicts, clarifies and teaches in His time.
With love, be blessed.