What Does The Bible Say About Shame? (and how to overcome shame)

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Shame plays a powerful role in our lives. Whether we want to admit it or not, many of us are bound by shame. It controls our lives, dictates our actions, and dominates our thoughts. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Shame doesn’t have to control our lives and hijack our stories. There’s a better way, a better path, a better story. Shame doesn’t have to rule us. God has made a better way. 

We will look at how to overcome shame. But before we get there, we need to define some terms and ask the question, “What does the Bible say about shame?”

Defining Shame 

There’s a good chance that you and I define the term shame differently. So, before we go any further, we need to get on the same page and clarify how we will be using these terms. 

The way I’m going to define shame is a negative influence in our lives. There are no redeeming qualities. It’s a harmful and destructive force. 

I know some of you might push back a little on that and argue that there is a benefit to shame. But I believe that that is confusing guilt and shame. 

You see, guilt can have benefits. For example, if I steal $100 from a friend, I should feel guilty. And that guilt should bring me to a place where I confess my wrongs and return the money. Guilt of our wrongdoings, our sin, should bring us to a place of repentance AND restoration. But guilt is only supposed to be temporary.

Shame is fundamentally different. Shame stays with us; it won’t let us go. Shame weighs us down, reminds us of our failures. Shame retells us a story of our failures and mistakes. Shame doesn’t lead us to repentance. It leads us to isolation. You see, guilt, if we let it, will bring us to the cross where we find forgiveness. Shame keeps us in hiding. 

Let me say it this way… Guilt is what we feel when we do something bad. Shame is what we feel when we think we are bad. 

Shame is destroying many of our lives. Slowly but surely, shame is hijacking our story. 

What Does The Bible Say About Shame?

So, what does the Bible say about shame? 

Shame makes an early appearance in the Bible, when Adam and Eve eat the fruit in Genesis 3. One minute, everything is perfect, just as God intended. And then sin enters the picture, wielding the weapon of shame that forces them from perfect harmony into isolation So they hide in shame. Shame drives a wedge between their relationships with each other and with God. More on that in a minute. 

You can read more about what happened in the Garden and the consequences of sin here: What Is Sin? (why it’s more than missing the mark)

The consequences of shame continue throughout the Bible. Shame brought David to a place where he thought it was better to hide his adultery with murder (2 Samuel 11). Shame forced the woman at the well to withdraw from community. Similarly, the woman who suffered from hemorrhaging for 12 years was bound by the shame of her condition. 

Jesus seemed drawn to the people trapped in their shame. He continually sought them out and walked with them, because he knew how powerful and damaging shame can be. 

Shame seeks to separate and destroy us. Shame hijacks the story that God wants to tell through his creation. 

Curt Thompson in The Soul Of Shame describes shame this way: From the beginning it has been God’s purpose for this world to be one of emerging goodness, beauty, and joy. Evil has wielded shame as a primary weapon to see to it that that world never happens. 

We see this play out time and time again in the Bible. 

Let’s shift to what shame does and then how to overcome shame.

What Shame Does

I think we often view shame as a consequence of the fall. But I think it’s less of a consequence and more of a weapon that is used against us. And an effective one at that. 

Here’s what shame does. 

Shame Keeps Us From God

Shame’s power is in its ability to isolate us. It isolates us from others and from God. It’s been that way from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned, and shame was used as a weapon to change the story God had intended to tell. Only moments after sin entered the picture, shame separated them. Shame caused them to hide from God and blame each other. Shame brings isolation from our Creator. 

The very person that has the power to bring healing is who shame keeps us from. Shame wants us to isolate so that we stay sick. And just like Adam and Eve, we often find our shame keeps us from God. Shame keeps us from being known by God. 

Shame Separates Us From Each Other

The first thing shame did to Adam and Eve was cause them to run from God. The second was to blame each other. How quickly things changed. 

Shame separates us from each other. You’ve probably experienced this. Shame often causes us to blame others for our sin. We seek to justify, rationalize, and defer by pointing the finger rather than looking in the mirror. Shame tells us to look at their problems rather than addressing our own. In doing so, a wedge is driven into our most important relationships. 

Shame Keeps Us Sick 

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying: we are only as sick as the secrets we keep. And that is shame’s primary goal: to keep us sick.

Shame feeds us lies to keep us sick. Shame tells us that if we open up, people will leave us. Shame tells us it will hurt too much to be truly known. Shame tells us our mistakes are too great, that God doesn’t really love us. Shame wants us to remain sick. 

But God invites us  to step into the light and be known. Will it hurt? Yes. But it’s the only way to find healing.

Shame Hijacks Our Story

Stories are central to who we are. Whether you realize it or not, your life is telling a narrative. And we don’t know how to live without it. Shame knows that and directly attacks our narrative. 

Of all the things that set us apart from the rest of creation as humans, one feature stands out: we tell stories. No other creatures we know of tell stories the way we do. Whether we know it or not, and whether we intend to or not, we live our lives telling stories; in fact, we don’t really know how to function and not tell them. From The Soul Of Shame by Curt Thompson

Ultimately, shame hijacks our story. Shame changes our narrative, our life, into something fundamentally different. Shame hijacks the story God intended to tell through our lives and replaces it with a much inferior one. One that brings death instead of life. 

How To Overcome Shame 

Shame is a weapon wielded by evil to corrupt our relationship with God and hijack the story our life is telling.

So what do we do? 

Well, it’s simple really. What I’m about to say won’t be that difficult to understand. But it will be really hard to actually do, which is why many choose to live in shame rather than seek healing. Let’s look at how to overcome shame.

Step Into The Light

The Bible, specifically Jesus, offers us an invitation. It’s an invitation to be loved and to be known. It’s an invitation to a relationship where we don’t have to hide anything, because he already knows everything. It’s an invitation from a God that would rather die than let anything come between us. It’s an invitation to see ourselves as who we really are and exchange our shame-filled story for one that brims with joy. 

Jon Bloom says, “The key to breaking the power of pride-fueled shame is the superior power of humility-fueled faith in the work of Christ and the promises of Christ. Shame pronounces us guilty and deficient. Jesus pronounces us guiltless and promises that his grace will be sufficient for us in all our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). Christ is all (Colossians 3:11). As we trust Jesus as our righteousness (Philippians 3:9) and our provider of everything we need (Philippians 4:19), shame will lose its power over us.”

This invitation requires us to step into the light. We have to acknowledge the darkest parts of our lives, the ones we often simply pretend don’t exist. We have to give them to God. But doing so brings great pain, because those parts of our lives haven’t been exposed to light in some time. 

Have you ever come out of a movie theater or some dark building and stepped into the midday sun? It hurts a little bit, doesn’t it? You squint and hide your eyes. It’s a struggle for a few minutes. The light hurts for a time when you’ve been in the dark. 

That same principle is true in our lives. Our shame causes us to live in darkness. God invites us to step into the light. And it will hurt. 

The key to overcoming our shame is bringing it into the light. To confess it to God, to share it with trusted friends, and to seek guidance from a spiritual mentor. Yeah, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to be uncomfortable. But the joy and the freedom on the other side of that pain is so worth it. 

A mother who suffersgoes through the excruciating process of giving birth quickly forgets the pain when she holds her baby. Why? Because the pain she endured pales in comparison the joy and happiness she now experiencesjoy and happiness pales in comparison to the pain she endured. 

The That same is true for us. Does it hurt to step into the light?. Oh yeah. It’s painful. But on the other side of that pain is the joy and freedom God intends for us. The pain you experience pales in comparison to the joy you will receive. 

Don’t let shame keep you sick any longer. Step into the light. Confess to God. Share with a friend. Seek out a spiritual mentor. You won’t regret it. 

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