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shame guilt
Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

Shame and guilt themselves aren’t so different between the gospel models but how they are dealt with is.

In the Traditional Legal Model, the consideration would be: If there was a crime committed (no matter how long ago) justice demands that the guilty party be punished perhaps with a little shaming added for extra measure.

In the Biblical Healing Model, while there may have been a crime in the past, if the person has repented and is healing of that behavior, there is no need for guilt and shame.

Shame and Guilt Definitions

Shame (noun)
the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another: (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/shame)

 Shame (noun)
1. A painful sensation excited by a consciousness of guilt, or of having done something which injures reputation; … Shame is particularly excited by the disclosure of actions which, in the view of men, are mean and degrading. Hence is it often or always manifested by a downcast look or by blushes, called confusion of face.
(https://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/shame)

Guilt (noun)
the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability …
(https://www.dictionary.com/browse/guilt)

Guilt (noun)
… guilt renders a person a debtor to the law, as it binds him to pay a penalty in money or suffering …
(https://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/guilt)

The Hebrew word for guilt is “asham” – from which we get the English word “ashamed” so they are closely-related terms. A consciousness of guilt leads to shame.

Guilt and Shame Come From our Actions, Not from God

David admitted the guilt of his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah.

“Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” (Psa 51:4)

He experienced guilt and shame because of what he had done, not because God had imposed those feelings on him. The desired result is a restored relationship with God.

Guilt is the Cause of Shame

Shame comes from the consciousness of guilt as a result of wrongdoing:

“Thou art become guilty (“asham” H816) in thy blood that thou hast shed; and hast defiled thyself in thine idols which thou hast made; and thou hast caused thy days to draw near, and art come even unto thy years: therefore have I made thee a reproach unto the heathen, and a mocking to all countries.” (Eze 22:4)

We know what shame is but what does it do? God gave man the capacity to experience the emotion of shame just as He gave the capacity to feel pain. In both cases, they act as safeguards against further injury or emotional pain. They warn us of the results of our actions. While God designed us with those abilities, He is not the cause of us experiencing physical pain or emotional shame.

 Shame in Hebrew

Let’s look at the word for shame in Hebrew. It is “asham” (spelled, right to left: aleph, shin, mem):

אשׁם

The root of the word is: Aysh (aleph, shin) = fire:

The word picture of these two letters- reading from right to left – aleph and shin – is that of something which is strong, and devours. This is fire. The Hebrew letter “mem” is added to produce the word for shame.

“One aspect of the Hebrew letter “mem” is chaos or turbulence rising. Another aspect is that of blood. When someone is ashamed, they feel flushed, as if they are “burning up.” In fact, it is the consciousness of guilt they feel at that moment as the blood rises in the face. This is a certain give away, as understood in the expression “shame-faced.” One who is ashamed, is experiencing the ‘fire of chaos’ within.” (From a guest article by Paul Harnett at my other website: https://www.jesus-resurrection.info/difference-between-guilt-and-shame.html)

See the booklet The Lake of Fire and the Second Death for an interesting connection between the words for man and woman and that for fire.

Provision to Relieve Guilt

God gave Israel the practice of the trespass offering (“asham” H817):

“And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin.” (Lev 5:6)

This was not because God needed or wanted sacrifices but because, by this ritual, the sinner could “make the payment” they understood to be required thus alleviating feelings of guilt.

Sacrifices were appointed, again not because God required them but because man needed them to assure them of God’s forgiveness:

“And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin.” (Lev 5:5-6)

“And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty; When the sin, which they have sinned against it, is known, then the congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring him before the tabernacle of the congregation.” (Lev 4:13:14)

This was an accommodation on God’s part with the purposes of:

  • Causing (knowledge of) sin to abound (Rom 5:20)
  • Removing guilt and shame
  • Pointing to the Savior
  • Satisfying our sense of justice

Set Free from Guilt and Shame

Now, of course, we can look on the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus and, with knowledge of His self-sacrificing love, deal with those feelings. When we sin, how long do we need to feel guilty? As soon as we realize that we are forgiven we can  accept the forgiveness and leave the guilt behind.

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

We are made free. That making us free is equivalent to the ransom provided on our behalf. We can be free from fear of punishment, from condemnation and from shame.

Guilt and Shame a Protection from Acts of Sin

As the conscience is sharpened, guilt can be activated before performing a sinful act because of the awareness that the desire to do the act is, in itself, sinful (Matt 5:28).

Guilt is not intended to make us suffer. It is to help us to turn to the One who has the solution to guilt.

God Protects us from Shame

 Feelings of guilt and shame are certainly, in a sense harmful; painful to us. God does not seek to promote or increase guilt and shame. There are a number of cases in scripture where God is seen to minimize that hurt:

Genesis 3 – Adam was not accused but merely questioned (I can imagine in a non-condemning voice) “… Who told thee that thou wast naked? [implying: “It wasn’t me”] Hast thou eaten …”

Luke 7 – Jesus wanted Simon to recognize his condition (guilt) without causing him embarrassment and shame in front of his guests.

John 8 – Jesus did not openly expose the sins of the accusers of the woman caught in adultery.

John 13 – Jesus could have openly exposed Judas. Instead, He treated him as one already forgiven.

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