Submitted by Jan on Thu, 13/02/2014 – 17:07
Bible Book: Genesis
Chapter: 3
Verse: 7 – 21

And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin, and clothed them (Genesis 3:21)

In his book “Hope against darkness”, Richard Rohr, the well known spiritual writer, makes an interesting distinction between guilt and shame.

Guilt he writes, relates to specific responsibilities that we have neglected or turned away from. Also certain misguided and shameful deeds that we have committed and which contravene God’s will.

They are deeds that weaken our moral fibre, leave our integrity in doubt and plunge us into guilt before God and others – similar to what happened to David after his adultery with Bathsheba.

The effects of shame however – according to Rohr – go deeper. It touches not only our outside appearance and behaviour. It goes to the very heart of our humanness, our identity – who we are, how we view ourselves and especially how we feel about ourselves.

Shame is often the result of guilt, but also of social neglect, ill-treatment and exclusion. This causes people to feel permanently bad about themselves, even stupid and unworthy.

Rohr describes the difference as follows: “Guilt, I am told, is about things we have done or not done, but our shame is about the primal emptiness of our very being. Not what we have done, but who we are and who we are not… It is not resolved by changing our behaviour as much as by changing our very self-image, our alignment in the universe. Shame is not about what we do, but where we abide.”

It is against this background of shame that God’s action in Genesis 3:21 is such a surprising and even moving moment in the history of salvation. Because shortly after the Fall, when we are told how the first humans hid themselves in shame from God (Gen 3:7-8), God came not only to reveal their shame and guilt and punish them accordingly. No, God also came to cover their shame, offering them in this way a new dignity, self confidence and future.

Read again this very moving and touching episode (Gen 3:7-20). How God like a concerned mother and meticulous seamstress sewed leather garments for them. And how God then lovingly clothed them (Gen 3:21).

And even when homo sapiens had to leave paradise shortly afterwards, God’s action is an overture to the love and care which God would later offer so lavishly and unconditionally through his Son. That is to take away our guilt and to cover our shame.

So that we no longer have to feel unworthy and shameful before God and others.

Written by: Dr. Carel Anthonissen (Centre for Christian Spirituality)

Author: Anthonissen C (Dr)
Language: English