Tuesday, September 30, 2008

SOTM 16: Shame vs. Guilt

21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

-Matt 5:21-23. . .again

As a pastor, I'm watched very carefully. In fact sometimes I wonder if people are spying on me. Every time I see a van in the parking lot outside my condo complex I lower my voice and duck down behind the couch hoping to avoid detection by the highly sophisticated cameras and microphones that I'm sure are pointed my way. OK, not really. In fact I've taken the very opposite approach. In an effort to show that I have nothing to hide, I don't have blinds on any of the windows in my living room. OK, that's not really true either. Well, it's sort of true. I don't have blinds in my living room, but it isn't out of an act of disclosure. I just haven't gotten around to putting any up. Anyway, In many respects I'm thankful for the added accountability. Knowing that moral failure will cost me not only my reputation but also my job gives me an extra incentive to keep my act together.

But Jesus would would not be happy with this perspective.

The fundamental difference between religion and the teachings of Jesus is that religion motivates through shame but Jesus motivates through guilt. I think I probably need to unpack and qualify that. We must understand the difference between shame and guilt. We experience shame when we feel like we've let other people down. We experience guilt when we feel like we've let God down. Though religion may talk a lot about God, in the end I believe what truly motivates "religious" people is the fear of letting others down. They fear that their reputation will be tarnished. This was the problem of the Pharisees. Jesus is drawing a distinction between fear of judgment at the hands of the civil authorities and fear of judgment at the hands of God. Jesus is saying, "Are you more worried about what other people think of you than what God thinks?" If you are, then you can play the game of hide and seek, ducking down behind the couch and putting up blinds so that others don't know what's going on. But you've forgotten that this whole deal is about God. And no matter how hard you try to isolate yourself--God sees what really matters. HE sees what's going on your heart.

And this should really scare us. This is what Jesus means when he says that our righteousness much surpass that of the Pharisees. It must be a righteousness of the heart. It must be a righteousness before God, not before people. Like I said, this should really scare us. Each one of us should recognize that we stand guilty before God. Only then will we truly see that we are really hanging by a thread. Only then will we see day after day our need for the grace of God.

So, like I said, I'm thankful that I'm being watched. It helps set boundaries. But the minute I start wanting to act a certain way in order to please others rather than to please God is the minute I shouldn't be a pastor. I do want to be a good person. But not so that I'll look good to others. I want a be a good person because doing the right thing is where the fullness of life is found, and because God loves me even I don't.