I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling to achieve “freedom in Christ” lately. I’ve been reading in Genesis, particularly about the creation and inevitable fall of man. I really honed in on the aspect of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (Genesis 3). They experienced the fracture of the relationship between man and God and they were afraid. So they hid from God. Naked and ashamed.
Guilt vs Shame
Guilt, as a verb, is simply the very act of having committed an offense or crime. But, there is often this moral emotion associated with that act. I have committed the crime and I feel some type of way about it. I feel regret or remorse for what I have done. The sin, the offense, is therefore the problem. Shame, however, has this connotation that I, the offender, am the problem. This self-evaluation leads one to believe they are morally compromised, no good.
For a long time, I believed I was living in guilt. Why do I keep doing the same behavior that even I disapprove of? Why can’t I stop being so reactive? Why do I keep failing my family? Why do I keep struggling with anxiety and depression? Why do I continue to fail to measure up to the glory of God or to my own moral code?
The Place I Found Myself
Once I heard it said that guilt is about what we’ve done and shame is about who we are, I understood that I wasn’t just feeling that my behavior was corrupt, but shame was the identifier that I was corrupt. No good. I’m not just someone who loses her temper, I am impatient. I’m not just someone who gets upset, I am depressed, I am dead, I am unable to experience joy and life. I am not just someone who experiences and acts out of anxiety. I am incapable of being at peace. I don’t just hate the things I do – I hate myself for my inability to stop doing them. There is something wrong with me. I am a failure and I am unworthy.
So, like Adam and Eve, I sat naked and ashamed with this knowledge of myself. I stayed broken and hidden in the dark places because the God of love, joy, peace, patience, and light would have no use for me. Joelle, woman of hate and turmoil and impatience and darkness.
A Whole New World
But then, my perspective began to shift. I thought that God was so disappointed in Adam and Eve. They had one job and they failed. Stupid people.
But, here’s the thing, I believe that more than being disappointed in Adam, the God of heaven was disappointed in the separation. See when Adam and Eve disobeyed, there was this shift, this break. A fracture between God and man, the one made in His very likeness. I believe it grieved Him to know “I gave you everything, and I love you so much, and now there is this fracture between us that caused you to run from me.” And yet, He didn’t pull away. He came looking.
God pursued them, He found them, He questioned them, and yes, He even delved out consequences. But, let’s not gloss over this simple phrase in verse 21, tucked in between curses and banishment. The LORD God clothed them. The Creator of heaven and earth, the All-Sufficient One, the Holy One, gave Adam and Eve ONE command and they failed. They defied heaven. But heaven drew near and the LORD God covered them. What a beautiful snapshot of what is to come.
As the story continues,
this fracture between God and man unfolds with story after story of the failures of man. Even after God protects and pursues His people, they continue to turn from Him and go their own way. He even gets pretty fed up at times. Personally, while reading it, I get pretty fed up too.
I start to notice some themes and repetition and then we get hit with all of these laws and consequences. Honestly, it makes sense why I could look at all of that and think “well dang, if God’s chosen people, in close proximity to Him, could never get it together, there really is no hope for me!”
I tend to be a person who sees in black and white. There is right and wrong, those who follow rules and those who don’t. I have always been very hard on myself for failing to do the right thing or to be the best version of myself. As a result, I can be very harsh with others when they don’t live up to my ideals as well. I get easily offended when everyone else doesn’t fit into my version of right and wrong, good and bad.
Back to Eden
Then, one day I traced this back to Eden. Back to that fracture. I realized that I was so disappointed in Adam and Eve. You had one job! I was certain of God’s disappointment as well. And I’m no different. With Adam in my blood, I could never be worthy and God will always be disappointed in my inability to do the things He requires of me.
But, seeing how He loved them, pursued them, and cared for them brought me to tears. That’s exactly what He does for me. And he DID that for me. I’ll share more of my testimony later, but I was very much hiding from God. I wasn’t literally naked, but I did feel exposed and very ashamed of the choices I had made.
In a sea of people
I was on the beach with my mom, 20 years old, my outward appearance showing various tattoos and piercings, and my face showing a look of hardness that I felt screamed, “don’t even think about bothering me! I’ve seen some things!” Even so, my outward appearance was no match for the words etched on my heart, “you are broken, unworthy, and unloved.”
I noticed two girls wandering about, with a stack of something in their hands and a mission on their minds. They singled us out and made their way to us and I could feel the aggravation growing inside of me. Really? I just wanted to sit here and enjoy some peace and quiet! What could they possibly be selling? As they approached us and engaged in conversation, my aggravation slowly melted away as tears poured down my face. Because the thing they were selling was the very thing my wayward heart desperately needed – a God who loved me.
I have gotten to know and love both of those gals, but they might as well have not been there at all because even though they were the ones to physically approach me it was the LORD God who came calling my name. “Joelle, Joelle, where are you?” In a sea (no pun intended) of people, the God of heaven came searching for me. He covered me with robes of glory and spoke softly, “I’m so glad I found you. Why were you hiding from me? All I ever wanted was to be close to you. I moved heaven and earth to do so. You are so loved.”
From Eden to Freedom
It has been years since that beach encounter, and just like all those other messed up people in scripture, I tend to be very short-sighted. Forgetting who God is and what He has done for me is a result of that fracture all those years ago. Sometimes I also forget, He didn’t just stop there, He set out to make it right. He did move heaven and earth to get to me. He provided a way to close that gap – Jesus. God of heaven embodied in the flesh. Immanuel, God with us.
“when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians 4:5-7
Though we are still under a moral code, we still have laws and rules to abide by, we are no longer subject to bondage by the requirements of the law. I told you before that I tend to live in black and white, so this law stuff seems way easier to me. But, “the law” laid out in scripture, was designed to point out the very fact that man could never uphold it. What! No wonder I kept living in shame.
Let me remind you (and myself) Christ is the fulfillment of the law and has freed us from our bondage to it.
Galatians 5:1 says that “for freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
To be continued…
This would typically be the conclusion section, but there is so much more to the story. If you have never read the whole story, I encourage you to do so. The Bible Recap is a great resource for reading through the entire Bible one day at a time. Or just pick it up and start!
I have been on this journey for a while. I have read through the Bible numerous times and I am still sitting here saying “just the other day I realized God loves me. I guess I forgot.” On this side of glory, I will still battle my mind and my flesh. But today, I’m choosing to take the thoughts captive and remember that heaven is near in the garden and heaven came down to forfeit the crown so that I might be called worthy.
I was all of those things I previously described, but today I am free. I am clothed in the robes of heaven. I am Joelle, daughter, apprentice to Jesus, following Him in the way of life and light and truth and peace.
The consequence of Adam and Eve trickled through generations and was bequeathed to me. I still feel this today, but my greatest inheritance is now the Kingdom of Heaven.
Covered and Unashamed,