If you listen to any of the deluge of political ads we are suffering through right now you will find one trait in common. The candidate in question is absolutely perfect, and his or her opponent is the incarnation of evil who will bring total destruction upon the world if elected. There’s no grey area. There’s no humility in politics at all. It’s the forces of evil and darkness against the forces of light, and who each side is depends upon the perspective of the political party. But to a lesser degree the same pressure is on the rest of us. Society teaches us to be dishonest. We have to pretend to be perfect. We have to pretend to have it all together. And sometimes the stress can become unbearable.
It’s not that we are inaccurate in our assessment when we try to present ourselves as strong and confident, because in our world if we admit to being wrong, if we admit to having failed in any way, there is a very real danger that “the jackals’ will come out. Humility equals weakness, and weakness is to be destroyed. It’s a primitive and ugly part of human nature. But God has always called us to rise above our lowest base instincts, to transcend them and become the creatures we were meant to be—made in the image of God. We may have a primitive side focused on conquest and survival but we also have a higher moral nature. Jesus said, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” And there are people who really believe that they are better than everyone else. They do exist. But most of us are just trapped in a relentless cycle of social survival in a hostile world. And we believe that God, along with everyone else, will reject us if God sees the truth.
External social pressure presses in on us. But the internal pressure of shame closes the trap, and most of us try to counteract shame with activity. Some even become compulsive over-achievers. And the shame we feel might not even belong to us. We can feel shame because our family of origin struggled financially, because our parents divorced, because are not as gifted as a sibling. We can feel shame because we have been blamed for things that are not our fault. And of course, abusers always use shame. It’s the most powerful tool they have. But we can also feel shame for our own actions or lack of action when we should have done something but failed to do so. There are legitimate reasons for shame, and events of the past can haunt us. But shame does not have to destroy us. We don’t have to remain captive to every mistake we have ever made. Shame can be washed away when we are totally honest with God. God can sort out what belongs to us and what doesn’t. And God can cleanse and forgive. What others will sometimes not let us forget, God will refuse to remember.
The irony is we don’t have to be perfect in our relationship with God. We can be a complete mess. All we have to be is honest. God respects honesty. God can work with honesty. God is NOTHING like society. God will not attack us for admitting our imperfections; God will embrace us. God doesn’t want to hear how good we are and how noble we are. God just wants to hear how we are.