Guilt and Shame – What’s The Difference?

There is a very handy saying that differentiates between guilt and shame. Guilt is about what I have done – shame is about who I am. They are not unrelated, particularly in a culture in which what we do is often given as an answer to the question, “Who are you?” Traditional American culture has often been described as “guilt-based,” in that Protestant religious thoughts centered on goodness as responsibility for our actions. The legal system is an example. The theories of atonement popularized in Protestant theology are primarily about forgiveness for the things we have done wrong. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, is a commonly cited verse. Everyone is guilty of something and in need of forgiveness. This often overlooks the entire question of shame.

Martin Luther famously described a Christian as a “snow-covered dunghill.” The “snow” is the righteousness of Christ. We ourselves are but dung. By faith, we accept the righteousness of Christ as our own, and are “covered.” It is an image that treats guilt and leaves shame untouched. Thus, what I have done is “covered,” but I myself remain what I am (dung). I do not think this was Luther’s intent. Rather, it is an unfortunate example of a culture that externalized the self, confusing it with “that which we do,” or, more likely, forgetting it altogether.

Orthodox thought, on the other hand, tends to ground actions in the workings of the self. They are “symptoms” of an inner process. We hear this in St. Paul’s description of his spiritual struggle.

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” (Romans 7:15–20)

St. Paul wants to do the good, but something is at work in him that yields what is not good. This is sin – as process. Elsewhere, he will equate this process with that of death itself. Sin is death, death is sin.

It is, on the whole, impossible to separate these things (guilt and shame). In theological terms, Orthodoxy is described as holding an “ontological” view, a view which sees things in terms of our very being, and as the whole of our being. It is not juridical (viewing our actions as separate) because our actions are not properly seen as separate.

In terms of Luther’s image, Orthodoxy (and St. Paul) would describe the “snow” of Christ’s righteousness as transforming whatever there is about us that can be described as “dung” into snow. God became what we are [dung] that we might become what He is [snow]. In the words of St. Paul:

“He made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of Christ in Him” (2Cor. 5:21).

St. Paul’s cry at the end of the Romans passage is not that of guilt. Guilt says, “What have I done?” St. Paul cries, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” This is the cry of shame, the recognition on an existential level that who I am is in a state of wretchedness.

The Orthodox approach to salvation maintains this focus on the whole person (and, thus, the experience of shame). It is necessarily the case that an ontological approach (paying attention to the whole person on the level of being) will encounter questions of shame – precisely for the reason that shame is how we feel about “who we are.” Thus, questions of humility, and self-emptying are at the forefront of the Orthodox spiritual life. If our lives were measured in terms of guilt (the things we have done), it would be absurd to confess that “I am the chief of sinners.” It is only on the level of our very being that the commonality of our lives can be seen.

I have long thought that guilt is a problematic category, something that misses the point. If I had never done anything wrong, the actual condition of my soul would remain the same: it is bound by death. I have also noted through the years, as someone who hears confessions, it is never really guilt that drives someone to repentance. Guilt is not the traditional language of confession. Listen to this prayer in preparation for communion:

O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy nor sufficient that You should enter under my roof into the habitation of my soul, for it is all deserted and in ruins, and You do not have a fitting place within me to lay Your head. But as from the heights of Your glory You humbled Yourself, so now bear me in my humility; as You deigned to lie in a manger in a cave, so deign now also to come into the manger of my mute soul and corrupt body. As You did not refrain from entering into the house of Simon the leper, or shrink from eating there with sinners, so also enter the house of my poor soul, all leprous and full of sin….

This is not a recitation of terrible things that have been done, an admission of guilt. This is a voluntary acknowledgement of shame (“bearing a little shame”). I often warn those new to the prayers of Orthodoxy to be careful. These prayers are written by saints in a very poetic form that expresses the depth of our heart. Many of us, hearing such language, could fall into despair, or feel as though the prayer were trying to force shame on us. In such cases, I direct people to pray in their own words at first, simply saying, “I am not worthy. Help me.” In time, the holy words of the saints will become those of your own heart.

Years ago, as an Anglican, I learned the “prayer of humble access”:

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Even as an Orthodox priest, I continue to use this prayer before receiving communion. It long ago was united with my heart and has become a part of me. It is today used by some Orthodox in the Western Rite.

If you spend time thinking through the words of the New Testament, it will slowly become clear that very little of it is rightly described as concerned with guilt – with things people have done wrong. It is, instead, focused on the very state of our hearts, what we have become or “who we are,” and, is, thus, more accurately described as concerned with shame.

I will add in closing that it is possible to think of shame in merely psychological terms. That is well and good, but does not reach the deepest reality of the matter. The nakedness of Adam and Eve can be seen on several levels. It is, first, a literal matter: they had no clothes. Second, it is an emotional, psychological, matter: they feel shame and want to hide. Third, and this is a great mystery, they have lost the original glory with which they had been clothed, the likeness of God. This is a transfiguration of the fullness of our being. We hear echoes of it in St. Paul:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–5)

And so our shame will be dissolved. Glory to God.

39 comments:

  1. Thanks for another instructive blog. Very helpful. As for Luther, I’ve often heard him misquoted, misunderstood, and even denigrated by Orthodox Christians. He did believe in living a sanctified life. He also believed that faith without works is dead. I was a Lutheran at one point in my life.

  2. In the “progressive” protestant circles that I run in, there is an acknowledgment of the danger of shame, but it is treated only as a psychological phenomenon. This can do some good insofar as it helps to locate the effects of sin in trauma, but there is also an unfortunate inability to speak directly about the potency of sin. The “solution” is to affirm one’s goodness, which ultimately makes our salvation a matter of having a belief that we are good, rather than that God is good and makes us good. Against shame, the affirmation seems rather hollow. I think that this comes from a recognition that a juridical framework for sin is insufficient, but without the ontological framework that helps us to speak honestly about our condition.

  3. Dear Fr Stephen,

    How do we speak to someone who is aware of the shame and yet, because the judicial view of God has failed them, reacts to the shame by flaunting the shame with which they identify?
    It can be very disturbing to be around, and there have been times when I sense have failed others because I sensed something so wounded, I was out of my depth.

  4. Mary,
    “Shamelessness” (a sort of flaunting of shame) is a not uncommon response to shame itself. It is very uncomfortable to be around. Like so much else that we have no power over – we pray and put it in God’s hands. We are often out of our depth.

  5. Thank you, Fr. Stephen! Please bless! In confession I’m prone to express my sin in existential language. I usually attempt to mitigate this because I feel like I’m letting myself off easy if I focus too much on the big picture (shame?) and neglect the smaller realities (guilt?) It’s easy to lament that I am a sinful sinner, and yet be unable to name any specific sin from the past week or two! Bearing in mind that this is likely a question best answered by my own confessor, how should one generally approach confession in order to avoid both the tedious laundry list of sins on one side, and focusing too much on the big picture to the neglect of the specifics on the other side?

  6. Paisios,
    I suspect that we never quite get confession right. One monastic friend said that his confessor told him, “Be sure to say something that you think will make me think bad of you.” That sounds a bit harsh, I think, but it gets at the issue of shame. I think that looking at one small matter of shame per confession – or just now and again – is a possible strategy. “Bearing a little shame” should have the emphasis on “little.”

  7. I am starting to understand what you mean by bearing a little shame. These articles are helpful in exploring such a complex topic. I have experience in appreciating the fallenness of my human nature (e.g Total Depravity from Calvinism) but the distinction between what happens next is that God does not cover me with a change in judicial status but instead comes to dwell in my innermost being so my ontological status is changed by a synergistic process. Also human nature is corrupted but still ultimately good, hence we can strive to be restored to our original state or as to the likeness of Christ.

    The Protestant emphasis on guilt over shame might in part be a result of the Calvinistic notion that we are always totally depraved despite God covering us and changing us, and through the spirit we can change what we do, hence an emphasis on guilt, and shame viewed as counterproductive because God doesn’t see us as we ontologically are, but instead sees Christ. Also we cannot change who we are, (that is completely up to God), however we can change what we do is a contradictory message often implicit in such preaching. Thus shame serves no purpose, but guilt does. Also because Protestants seperate salvation into justification and sanctification, the question of how to motivate others to do good works is oft answered by saying we should be doing good works out of thankfulness for the salvation already completed for us which leads to guilt as a primary motivator. The de-emphasis or ignorance of the interior life, also leads to a focus on guilt over shame.

    Pardon my obscure and likely fallacious theorising.

  8. Thank you Father for this new series on shame. I am finding it very helpful. Your articles are spot on, and many of the comments have been very helpful too. I found the Booth/Bradshaw poem quoted by Anonymo https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2020/10/09/beholding-god-face-to-face/#comment-195474 very pointed, and NSP’s reflection https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2020/10/05/grace-enough/#comment-195506 rang many bells some of which I shall expand on.

    One place all this has taken me is back to reflecting on John 21, which is many things, but surely one of them is the most worked out shame healing story in the gospels (?)

    Peter’s denial of Christ (especially the John 18 version) is one of the most chilling things I know, partly because it seems so easy and familiar. And in that version the thing that runs most deep is the particular words he uses, He is just reported as saying “I am not”. Twice. Although at the surface it is a response to questions, at a not too much deeper level, it speaks the truth. In denying Christ he does negate himself (“I” “am not”, and maybe even negates the depths of reality itself, given that St John’s is the “I am” gospel (“I AM” “not”). Whether or not that is conscious, his guilt/shame when he realizes what he has done, especially when he had so proudly defended himself to Jesus when Jesus foretold this simply must have broken him. I can’t see how his sense of who he was a person could have survived a shame earthquake of that magnitude. Aftershocks of the cross …

    Which leads to the question of, well, how did his recovery happen, to the point where in Acts he leads the church?

    The account in John 21 is pointedly NOT filled with him confessing his sin and being forgiven. I can’t see even at the level of basic psychology that would of worked. And it would just have been way too superficial for the scale of damage to himself he had caused. The problem, as you point out, is not a question of juridical guilt. I can’t imagine that Peter would have wanted at this point just to get God’s forgiveness so that he could avoid going to hell … Rather, I suspect that he would have thought that he was scum and deserved to go to hell for what he had done, and what he was now revealed to be … His problem was that his actions revealed to him that he was not who he thought he was. And those actions resulted in him betraying the person he loved. It cannot get much worse than that. While we’re not told whether he thought those things, but I can’t see how it could have been otherwise.

    We are told what some of the symptoms of the damage were: at the beginning of John 21 Peter just says to the other disciples that he is going fishing. So they go out on the Inland Sea, and catch nothing. That has to be one of the consequences of shame. It does infect and deaden everything. I was struck by this extremely well-expressed comment by NSP “I cannot stop myself looking into the future, and a lifetime of living in the present moment seems like a dreary succession of humiliating groping about in the dark for something valuable, and I am not even sure what this valuable thing that I am searching for looks like. I also cannot stop myself looking back into the past and wondering how the shame of the past can ever be healed, even by God. What about the wrong choices, the missed opportunities, the sins, the clock that can’t be turned back, the hasty words which cannot be taken back, the impulsive actions, the poor judgement, the accusations of others?” Oh yes. And no doubt Peter would have liked to have turned back his clock too, but couldn’t – what was done, was done.

    So …. how did Jesus deal with the “Peter situation”?

    Firstly, the risen Christ is just there one morning. He doesn’t come, he is just there, at the dawn of a new day, on the shores of that same inland sea where the unsuccessful fishing expedition is taking place. Which maybe suggests that such inland sea fishing, even if not successful in the way anticipated, is not pointless?

    Second Jesus firstonce the beloved disciple points him out (and there is that echo back to John 1:35 of someone pointing Jesus out, and Peter “hearing” this), Peter’s (and only Peter’s) instinctive reaction is to put on clothes “because he was naked” (Adam …) and then jump in the water. Which is a bit weird except that it is exactly what a shamed person would do. And there is that little flavor of baptism too …

    The disciples together bring the boat to the shore with all of the fish that they were unable to catch themselves, but the Risen Christ had gently pointed them towards. He tells them to bring the fish to him, with a simple invitation “come and have breakfast”. Hmmm. Then He feeds the fish back to them, cooked by Him. All the while, the other disciples cannot bring themselves to ask Him who He is, because they know. Shame at work there too, but not as intense as Peter’s. Peter who is there eating with the one he has betrayed. No discussion. Just eating to start with. Maybe that is “bearing a little shame” enough?

    It is only once they have finished breakfast that the ‘discussion’ starts. And no-one mentions the denial explicitly. Presumably because they do not have to. Both Jesus and Peter know what has happened and words would be pointless? There maybe reaches a point in all this shame stuff where confession itself is transcended? Peter does, however, have to respond to Jesus’ questions. Which are not about “Repentance” with a capital R. But rather variations on “Do you love me?” and then when the answer comes back yes, “feed my sheep”.

    Which has me thinking that maybe one way through the deep shame trap is not just to traverse the old shame in therapy mode but rather to transcend it via love of the Lord and service? The question of course gets asked in variation three times, which mirrors Peter’s denials – and indeed this is, as John goes out of his way to point out – the third time Risen Jesus has appeared. Peter seems to break on the third question (where “love” is no longer philia but agape) – he is back. “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.” The past has not disappeared, but it has been transcended by Peter’s inner noetic realisation of both his own feelings and of his realization that Jesus’ knows this. And it is now that Jesus is able to deliver a new message “when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” Onwards.

    It’s as though the way the healing of the shame was done by going towards love has taken their relationship to a new level. And now, maybe Peter’s denial and shame make some kind of sense? It was through those things that he died and was able to be born into a newer, deeper relationship and face newer and deeper things? This is Peter’s life being shaped by and to Pascha.

    Just in case we are in any doubt about the betrayal thing the next item in the story that talks about the beloved disciple, identifies him as the one who had asked about betrayal … With the “follow me”.

    Sorry for the length of all that. I may be wrong or missing the point about much of it (and there is a deeply noetic dimension to it all), but having sat with it for a while I really find the whole thing just profound, and particularly in the context of the recent discussions here. But even if so, I do think it simply must be true that it is the worked out example of spiritual shame healing.

    I always liked that line in 1 Peter about the morning star rising in our hearts. I wonder when it rose in St Peter’s?

  9. Anonymo,
    I think you’re pretty much on target. Slowly, thinking in this manner (shame, etc.) helps us get deeper into the experience of Orthodox ontology and is very therapeutic and liberating.

  10. I have far too many coincidences in my life for them to be merely that. It is in God’s providence to lead me to these articles on shame at this time. I think shame is something I must particularly pay attention too at this point in my life. I could probably write a whole book on my life analysed through the lense of shame.

  11. Exquisite reflection Ziton. Your thoughts really brought out that our shame can lead us to greater love. Also the emphasis on new life, and the shedding of the old nature. One need only look to Paul who considered himself to be the least of the apostles, received grace to overcome his shame such that he lives a life of great service and love always straining towards the perfection that is to come and forgetting those things that are behind him. I think Paul may have experienced ‘greater shame’ then Peter, hence by God’s grace he received a vision of heaven to enhance his life of ministry.

    Amazing how bible verses come to life when approached from a certain frame. I found Philippians 3:7-16 to really address both my and your ponderings.

    7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain[b] to the resurrection from the dead.

    Pressing Toward the Goal
    12 Not that I have already attained,[c] or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have [d]apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

    15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already [e]attained, let us walk by the same [f]rule, let us be of the same mind.

  12. Is it guilt or shame, fear or simple boredom that makes trying to read the tea leaves of eccelesial politics so fascinating for some.

  13. Father and Anonymo, thank you for that encouragement.

    At the risk of you now regretting that 🙂 a few more ruminations on the same topic. (That’s the problem with ruminations, they keep on, well, ruminating! Benedictine cows come to mind … 🙂 ).

    1. I have been feeling my way into Jesus’ foretelling of Peter’s denial at the last supper. Just to see this as an example of Jesus’ uncanny powers of clairvoyance or worse kind of setting Peter up can’t be right. Instead, I am thinking of two implications.

    First, that foretelling is made in an almost nonchalantly non-judgemental way. “You are going to deny me” and then following protestations “three times” are just given as statements of what is going to happen, without any hint of accusation or condemnation. I kind of get an almost ‘I just know this partly because I know you better than you know yourself.’ vibe. Which is interesting because so much we beat ourselves up for having done shameful (in our minds) things. They may be shameful, but it seems that shamefulness on the scale of Peter’s denial does not seem to have in any way turned Jesus against him – presumably he tells Peter this because it will be useful to Peter (see below)? Another mark against the idea that sin is the breaking of God’s law and His Eternal Wrath will forevermore be turned against us, or that we will forever be sent into oblivion for what we have done. Maybe for God it’s more or you behave this way because that’s who you are and it is incapable of fazing eternity, and I will turn it all into something beautiful …

    Which leads onto a second thought. Which is that while Jesus may know what Peter is about to do, He does not do anything to stop Peter from doing it. Given Peter’s inevitable shame response (which as I have said I think must be at the level of brokenness) that raises the question of why did Jesus just step in. The answer surely must be tied in with the Paschal nature and meaning of Peter’s later healing. Maybe Peter had to go the crucible of his deep shame so that he could come out the other side, with Jesus’ foretelling both acting as a kind of God-to-Cain like warning (which like all such warnings never seems to be heeded by broken humanity) and a kind of in-fairness-based shame intensifier. It is a completely deepening experience, which will leave Peter broken, but, if he is open to it, capable of resurrection into a new life. All of which suggests that our shame maybe operates in a similar fashion. The deepest shames – that most broken part of our lives – really are what God will use to bring us into deeper relationship.

    2. That thought leads onto the realization that it is interesting that John’s gospel ends with a story of the deepest shame being healed into new relationship. If humanity’s story starts with shame (Adam’s hiding) then for St John maybe it ends with the last fetter on freedom being broken – or loved-out by the amazing depth and sensitivity of a super-profound encounter with the Risen Christ. That last fetter is maybe not physical death (already taken out in the resurrection) but that the final prize is shame healed as the gateway to true salvation into new life of other-centerdness?

    3. A minor thought, partly triggered by the discussion on the “Grace Enough” thread from NSP’s witness. (Thanks NSP, As others have said, your articulate honesty is humbling and appreciated.) First, the unsuccessful fishing of the inland sea takes place at night. There is a ‘dark night’ vibe to all of these depressive things, and I rather suspect they are things that kind of need to be endured, although that is hard. I have previously mentioned Jacob’s encounter with the dark stranger too (another night time encounter) in which the dark stranger is constantly trying to throw Jacob to the ground. It goes on and on. And again in that story, it is at the breaking of the dawn that the stranger tries to leave. “You have contended with God and man and prevailed …” Jacob does receive and injury from which he never recovers. (I rather suspect that Peter’s denial was an injury from which he never recovered from either!). Both Jacob and Peter were open to transformation, though.

    4. The other minor thought was that when Jesus addresses his “do you love me?” questions to Peter, he each time does not call him “Peter”. He uses a formal invocation “Simon, son of John …”. which both has an almost liturgical feel to ir, and by invoking his full name is a question addressed to his whole person. Maybe that is an element of the healing of shame process too. The whole person becoming involved ain an integrating noetic process which takes that whole person and points it to its true ends, which is not the shame, but love.

    I am SO looking forward to Fr Stephen’s book on shame!!

  14. Dear father,
    I liked the fact that you said that when it comes to bearing a little shame, the emphasis should be on “a little”. Then again, maybe the emphasis should be on “a little” in everything. Except for patience. Patience we need a lot. Everything else we just need a little. After all, it’s all we can fit in a human heart.

  15. „The small heart cannot break. The ecstasy of its penalty solaces the large.” Very enigmatic “little” Emily Dickinson. I wonder what she meant. I always wonder what she means. 🙂

  16. Ziton – I think your meditations on Peter are compelling. In Becoming Human, John Behr has written about the Gospel of John as being a continuation and completion of the creation story started in Genesis. He also writes about martyrdom as being our way of participation in our creation and healing, following the way marked by Jesus. It mirrors your idea of self-giving love as being the way through our shame.

  17. Given Peter’s inevitable shame response (which as I have said I think must be at the level of brokenness) that raises the question of why did Jesus just step in. -Ziton; October 15, 2020 at 11:56 pm

    Since childhood I have wondered why God didn’t tap Samson, or David on the shoulder at an appropriate moment and growl, “Women weaken the legs!” at them.Might have saved Israel a lot of grief. After all God was capable of sending Nathan to David after the event. Why could He not send Nathan beforehand (perhaps when David decided not to go to war and linger at home instead) to tell David that he’s slipping and should watch himself?

    But then I happened to notice in the First Book of Kings that God does explicitly warn Solomon twice before He declares that the consequences of his sins will be that his son will lose the kingdom.

    Recently I read about The Gospel in Chairs in Bradley Jersak’s book “A More Christlike God” that God is always looking for a way to break through to our hardened hearts.

    So, all I can think of for now is that God must have warned David and Samson, in the depths of their hearts at least, but they were not paying attention to the “still small voice.” But some people (like Solomon) get more explicit warnings. Why is that? I don’t have an answer for that.

    Also,

    The answer surely must be tied in with the Paschal nature and meaning of Peter’s later healing. Maybe Peter had to go the crucible of his deep shame so that he could come out the other side, with Jesus’ foretelling both acting as a kind of God-to-Cain like warning (which like all such warnings never seems to be heeded by broken humanity) and a kind of in-fairness-based shame intensifier. It is a completely deepening experience, which will leave Peter broken, but, if he is open to it, capable of resurrection into a new life. All of which suggests that our shame maybe operates in a similar fashion. The deepest shames – that most broken part of our lives – really are what God will use to bring us into deeper relationship. -Ziton; October 15, 2020 at 11:56 pm

    Perhaps some of us are God’s Kintsugi bowls. But there are also those whom God preserves relatively unbroken till the end like St. John the beloved disciple. (though I assume he must have felt some shame when his Mom embarrassed him in front of Our Lord by trying to get cushy positions for him and his brother St. James the Greater in the coming Kingdom. 🙂 ) So once again, some questions remain…

    -NSP

  18. God works through our weaknesses not despite them. I prefer or should prefer to meditate on the words of scripture than my own hence here is passage from 2 Corinthians 12:

    Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

  19. NSP, Anonymo, et al
    Anonymo’s on point in this. Our modern world is driven by utility: less pain, more pleasure, easier, etc. It has, I think, changed how we think about almost everything, as if the shortest and easiest route is always the best. I drive a fair amount these days (filling in for other priests in my deanery and diocese). Interstates are convenient, fast, easy. They’re also boring. I get off of them from time to time just for the sheer joy of the scenery.

    There’s a small book called Blue Highways that celebrates the smaller roads.

  20. Fr. Stephen,
    Over the years I’ve read Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon at least 3 times. I especially relish his description of small towns, such as Dime Box, Texas. We often take the “blue highways,” the roads less taken. I don’t like being “route” bound! 😃

  21. Father your thoughts about utility can be applied also to scientific theory. Utility and efficiency rather than beauty are often the qualities that are sought and expressed. I have heard it said in my sphere that such utilitarian and efficient theories are beautiful. But I’m less inclined toward Occam’s Razor and more open toward multifaceted exuberance.

    Sometimes that puts me at odds with fellow scientists.

  22. Anonymo, thank you for both of your Scriptural quotations. Yes, apropos, and deepening on all of this.

    NSP, funny you should mention David. I almost mentioned him myself, but (uncharacteristically 🙂 ) held back (!)

    David’s Bathsheba moment is another one of those great turning points. David’s story to that point had been up and up, with some notable instances of extreme moral conduct, including not killing King Saul who was trying to kill him. But then, once he has it all, one golden evening, as the middle aged king who had stopped going to war himself anymore, looks out, he sees Bathsheba bathing on the roof and is entranced. His crash is notable for many reasons, but chief among them for me is simply the ease with which it happened, his almost total lack of self awareness during the crash (and that lack of self awareness is one of the points of Nathan’s big reveal), and the train wreck nature of the lies and murder and whatever that followed. If God had stepped in, yes Israel (and indeed David) may have been saved some pain. But we would not have Psalm 51, Solomon (whose mother is that same Bathsheba), and maybe even Jesus, since (as Matthew goes almost out of his way to note in the genealogy), was descend from th line through “the wife of Uriah” (which is a pretty impressive slap in my book!). And yes, David does die pretty sad and broken with Absolom dead and his kingdom in a mess after having almost fallen apart in a civil war, but maybe he was a deeper person at the end with far fewer self delusions. And even those consequences are kind of providentially instructive too. I can’t help but think that one of the problems with being among the Chosen People (or kitsugi bowls or whatever) is that you are not guaranteed an easy life … And let’s not forget although Peter might have been healed of his deep shame, he does end his worldly life (as Christ prefigures in John 21) crucified upside in Rome on a Cross. All this may be for our good, but if it is it must be along the lines Jordan suggests per John Behr re “martyrdom as being our way of participation in our creation and healing”. All that said, Christ – and St John – seem both aware of the uneven treatment problem, and pretty much address it directly in John 21 : “When Peter saw {the beloved disciple], he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’

    As Scott TX so starkly pointed out, maybe real test in all of this though is Judas. Particularly – and very confrontingly – as it is precisely at the point at which Christ feeds him at the last supper that satan enters him, and then, when he is given his dismissal “Do quickly what you are going to do” he heads off into a night which seems pretty eternal. Yes, I find Judas problematic. Maybe premeditated betrayal and its antecedents is in a class of its own? (Iago is a complex character too ….)

  23. Hi Father Stephen

    Do you have a source for that Luther quote? The reason I ask is that I have often heard it quoted, but have not yet found anyone who can find an original source in Luther’s works. I have a Lutheran friend with the complete works of Luther electronically who said he searched and was not able to find it. I’ve come to wonder if that quote is legitimate or more like an urban legend. Do you have a source for its accuracy / truthfulness?

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

  24. Ziton, Judas is someone who is difficult. With Iago though, I have no such difficulty. He is simply one of those people who likes to destroy because it gives him power. He is a carrion eater feeding off of death. The reverse of the Euchrist. In modern day parlance he is a true sociopath devoid of empathy-disconnected from his own humanity. How people get that way is beyond my competence but people do get that way.

    I do not understand Judas at all despite all the times I commit lesser betrayals. I do not get his place in the spiritual economy.

  25. Ziton, I wonder if there is not a clue into Judas from Macbeth. In the end Macbeth’s betrayal, freely chosen, leads into a state of darkness that fuels a sense of inevitability. His famous soliloquy: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle. Life’s but a walking shadow that struts and frets its hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by am idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” expresses it so well that it has been the source of countless book titles, most notably Faulkner’s The Sound and Fury.

    That book with its treatment of time in the human soul reveals much about Judas.
    The inability to be thankful even in the presence of great beauty and even — in Judas case the very source of such beauty and joy–is the point. We have know and control everything including God. Thus we go down into darkness even in the presence of great light.. Ironically as both Shakespeare and Faulkner point out it is the unreality of being able to control the outcomes of history that leads us to our doom.

    A situation, I daresay, we are seeing writ large in US politics.

  26. Anne,
    Interesting that you brought this up. I was using the quote for a chapter in my book, and got curious about the same thing. Seems that there is no source for it – meaning that Luther likely never said it. Something similar can be found in some Calvinist sources – but it’s not Luther. In the chapter, I noted that it had been long attributed to Luther, but seems that it was not him. So. You’re correct. Urban legend…

  27. Fr. Freeman,

    If this article is accurate, Luther seems to have said something a bit similar to that, but not exactly the same. The article has a citation. You could look it up.

    I said before that our righteousness is dung in the sight of God. Now if God chooses to adorn dung, he can do so (Luther’s Works, Vol. 34, page 184).

    Michael Baumann,

    It’s interesting you brought this up because personally, I have more trouble with Iago than with Judas.

    I suppose any one of us could be Judas (I’m certain I could be) if we allowed resentment and bitterness to fester in our minds long enough and if we were closed upon ourselves and brooding upon the lousy hand that other people and life have dealt us.

    But psychopaths like Iago, however, are another story totally. If I understand the popular literature (Robert Hare, Martha Stout, Baibak, and others) on psychopathy right, they are usually born this way, indicated by difference in their brains, which can be observed empirically. There’s even the famous case of a neuroscientist James Fallon who discovered when examining his own brain-scans that he himself was a psychopath! He even wrote an entire book on it.

    So here’s my difficulty with these Iago types, spiritually: It looks like these people basically go through life with a “get out of jail free” card, spiritually speaking. They can be extremely nasty to other people, but are probably not really sinning, because with their brains working against them, how much culpability do they have in their actions, really? They are probably way ahead of the tax-collectors and prostitutes in the line to heaven.

    But even that can be accepted, to an extent. After all, what is it to me? My work is to follow Christ, isn’t it?

    And C.S. Lewis does say:

    The bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured. And by the way, that is very important. Human beings judge one another by their external
    actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has
    shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness,
    or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life
    itself for a friend.

    It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom
    we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of
    Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge.
    – Mere Christianity, Bk. III, Ch 4: Morality & Psychoanalysis

    But there’s another deeper problem: Some recent research seems to indicate that the clergy is one of the top ten avenues that psychopaths are most drawn to. From what I can see around me, I am inclined to believe that there is at least a grain of truth in this. But what does this mean? Does God really call such people to the priesthood or to monastic life? Or are they gate-crashing on their own initiative? That such people manage to get into clerical positions is especially painful and confusing for us Catholics due to our ongoing vocations crisis – not only do we have to deal with the lack of good priests, we also have to deal with harmful ones. You Orthodox are really blessed that liberalism and modernism haven’t infiltrated your clergy as much as they have ours in the Catholic Church.

    (By the way, this is not idle speculation. People of the Iago type have had a large impact on my personal life. So I cannot help pondering the implications of this topic.)

    In the end, this is just one of the questions that is too big for me to figure out….. ….. I can only fall back upon the admonition “What is that to thee? Follow thou me.” and keep my mind on Christ.

    -NSP

  28. Michael Bauman. Very interesting re Macbeth. Thank you for reminding me of the full quotation, which to me seems relevant to Father’s article in its own right. All you say sounds right. The whole play is a great example of guilt metastasizing into full blown shame and its consequences for many of the characters. (Hamlet is interesting also, with shame around every corner.) Unredeemed shame does indeed lead Macbeth into oblivion, as it did for Judas as they both walk out into Endless Night (as far as we know).

    I still creep out at the idea of satan entering into him at the moment when Christ feeds him the bread though. That one runs much deeper. And Father’s quotation of the Anglican prayer of humble access only accentuates it. While it’s possible to speculate, my intuition is that there’s a truth there that can only truly be sensed noetically at a different stage of the path than me..

  29. Michael Bauman. Interesting and certainly worth pondering. I still feel like I don’t understand it yet. Which I think I’m ok with. My suspicion remains that I may realize more of its significance when the time comes. My feeling with Scripture is that it often keeps on deepening and taking on new significance with new and often unforeseen circumstances and pondering- a bit like has just happened for me with John 21 and Father’s articles. Or at least I hope so – although betrayal is a particularly scary subject to want to know more about.

  30. Fr. Stephen,

    Thanks for the article. I’ve been waiting on this. As you mentioned in the intro, the popular idea is that guilt and shame are two different things…which they are…but then we find them very closely linked. Thanks for making the connection.

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