A copy of “Living Light News” showed up in my mailbox last week. It’s a Christian publication that comes around a couple of times a year. When I got to the last page and read the headline, I groaned inwardly: “No Cheque is Big Enough to Pay This Off!”. The picture under the headline is a zoom-in of a cheque with “NOT ENOUGH” written in as the ‘amount’. The article goes on to say that “we have all incurred a huge debt that no amount of money” (or good works or donations to charity) can pay off. The article ends with a prayer to God that starts off with, “Dear God, I am truly sorry for sinning against You. Please forgive me for the wrong things I have done…”
This is pretty typical in my experience of the “sinner’s prayer”. It always starts off with a focus on our sin and need for forgiveness. The focus is on how we are “bad” and because of that, God is going to punish us. This looks a lot like shaming a person into praying the sinner’s prayer to me. And in light of Brene Brown’s research on shame I would argue that this is a counterproductive approach to encouraging people towards a relationship with God. Here’s what Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012):
“…there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior. In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution. Again, it is human nature to want to feel worthy of love and belonging. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.” (p.73)
We all want to experience connection with others, to feel that we belong and that we are ‘enough’. ‘Enough’ to be accepted and loved apart from our actions. So why does evangelical Christianity think emphasizing that we are “not enough” for God is a good way to encourage people to follow Him? The motivating factor here is fear. Fear and shame lead to disconnection, not connection. And I don’t think that is God’s desire for us at all. Love is the essence of who God is (1 John 4:8) and it is His perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God loves us and wants connection with us. He doesn’t want us to hide from Him.
I believe it is our feelings of shame that keep us disconnected from God and others. Look at the story of Adam and Eve. Once they had tasted the forbidden fruit they hid because they were naked. I think it’s safe to say they were experiencing shame. I believe most, if not all, behaviors that are defined as ‘sin’ have their roots in shame.
So with that in mind, I propose there is a better, more positive way of introducing people to a relationship with God. And the foundation is love:
You are made in the image of God and He loves you. And because He loves you, He wants to experience this life with you. He longs for connection with YOU. His son, Jesus, came to earth to show us what God’s love is like. He came to break the power of shame in our lives that keeps us disconnected from God and from others. Jesus introduced us to grace. It means God already accepts you and that you are ‘enough’…right now. All He asks is that you believe it and accept it. If you’re feeling crappy about yourself, believe that you are forgiven. If you don’t think you’re ‘worthy’ of this kind of love, it’s simply not true. Your ‘worth’ is not based on your actions but on the fact that God says you are precious and beautiful to Him. He doesn’t want you to hide in shame any longer. He wants you to be free. Will you take Him up on His invitation?
Disclaimer: please understand that what I’ve written above does not mean I don’t believe what the Bible says about sin – I do believe that we are all broken (we have all sinned) and that we need to accept God’s forgiveness; I believe the consequences of sin is death…’death’ being the damage to our souls from years of living in shame and disconnection from God