Thoughts from the Sukkah 2019/5780 Day 7

I was up far too late last night and didn’t get this posted so I made some notes and then wanted to tackle it first thing this morning. Today I want to talk about how our understanding of shame vs guilt plays into and is influenced by our theology.

A lot of people are really focused on trying to make sure they have the correct theology. I get it – no one wants wrong theology. The problem is, there is no one correct theology. This is because theology is man’s best effort to understand God and God’s Word. As soon as you realise the “man’s best effort” part you begin to see that there is no one perfect and correct theology because no one person absolutely has the corner market on understanding God. This is why a lot of people choose to be “red letter Christians” and focus on doing as the person who understood God best and came to properly interpret God’s Word for us did and taught. I think that is beautiful and that approach to theology will get you a fulfilling and great life. It’s also limited by your understanding of what Jesus meant in everything he said (captured in red letters in many Bibles, thus the name for this approach to theology).

Am I suggesting that we shouldn’t bother trying to understand? NO! Not at all! I believe there is benefit in the very effort to understand and connect with God. I think that the value is in the effort and that things like prayer and studying God’s Word will greatly impact the way we treat others, and the way we treat others will greatly influence how we pray and how we study God’s Word. I don’t think we are ever done with this because as we change and grow so does our understanding of our two-fold focus in the Greatest Command:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength


Love your neighbour as yourself.

These are not stagnant commands – and the command is not to “know” or “understand” but to LOVE! Love is engaging, it is interactive, it is dynamic and it evolves. As we truly study and seek to understand God’s Word we will become more humble, more loving, more aware and how little we will ever understand. That is the point! If you read God’s Word and become more arrogant and sure of yourself then you are reading it wrong.

Because while there is no one right theology – there are many many wrong ones. As soon as someone tells you they have it all figured out, assume you’ve found a wrong one.

One of the things I’ve seen growing more in Christian circles – especially in the American circles I’m most familiar with but I’m seeing it in other countries as well as things on a global scale escalate and more and more people are speaking out – is that how a community teaches about (or uses) shame will reveal a lot about them and their theology,

We are warned in Scripture to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Wolves are abusers who come to devour the sheep – how else do you think they got the sheep’s clothing in the first place? Yet bad theology has allowed, and even escalated the practice of, more and more wolves being in places of power and authority inside the church. Once you realise that wolves are abusers you will see that their tactics are the same and this is why so many churches are invested in protecting and promoting abusers.

Abusive church environments will do things like:

hyper focus on the punishment of children, especially with spankings. They may even tie this to your salvation as a test to whether or not you are really saved and they will always link the avoidance of this practice to the fear of sending your child to hell

insist that abused spouses stay with their abuser and believe their words of apology. They will focus on verses of forgiveness and submission but speak nothing about accountability and the ceasing of sin to the abuser.

demand tithing while simultaneously connecting any lack of money in your life to the state of your righteousness with the idea that money is a reward from God for being righteous and any lack you have is because of your condition before God, not because things go wrong in life. They will never tell you that the church leaders are supposed to be in the position of taking care of you when things are down. They do not seem to understand that the words in Micah about there not being enough in the storehouses because “you” steal from me are spoken to the leaders, the priests, not the congregants.

I could go on but these are three main wrong theologies I encounter on the regular. And the one thing they have in common is a focus on shame in order to manipulate and control you and keep you in the position of being a victim.

Turns out, if you really look at it, if your theology equates sin with action then your theology will address sin with a focus on how to handle guilt. If your theology equates sin with a state or condition then your theology will address sin with a focus on shame.

Turns out the Bible does not teach that you are “just a sinner saved by grace.” It teaches that you are a creation of God, who God declared Good, who lives in a world affected and infected by sin and therefore you will sin, but God took care of the problem of sin and you are saved by grace – by nothing that you do or did or will do. It’s a gift.

Of course the thousands of theologies out there will jump back in at this point and say, “But this is what that means!” I’m not going to do that. I’m going to leave that hanging there. I’m not diving into theologies of eschatology, or even sharing what I think it means. Why? Because these are all just ideas from people about how we’re supposed to respond to God. And I know far too many people trying to claw and beat their ways out of bad and controlling theology to heap more on you. I’m more concerned that more and more people are just walking away from it all.

So in an effort to bring you only Gospel today – only Good News – let me speak what I believe are some basic truths from Scripture, and then encourage you to wrestle with what they mean to and for you.

God is good.

God is love.

God loves you.

Forgiveness is about choosing to live as though the person who wronged you doesn’t owe you a debt. Even if you have wronged God, God has forgiven you. You do not wrong God merely by your existence.

God does not shame us, and those who are doing even a decent job of representing God won’t shame you either.

God created and embraces diversity.

God is inherently inclusive.

If you have walked away from bad theology, good. If you have walked away from toxic christianity, good. If you have walked away from spiritual abuse, good. If you have walked away from shame, good. God is not the father of those things and I am grateful that you have removed yourself from the bad news that distorted who God is.

If you are still wondering who God is, I share with you the prayer of the centurion that has brought me great comfort at very dark times in my own faith journey . . . “I believe. Help my unbelief.” And if you need to stop putting all of the effort in, it’s okay to rest. God will be there too. Your spiritual journey may not look like mine, may not sound like mine, and may not progress like mine, but if God is at work in your life I will see you loving people. And if you are loving people, I believe you are loving God. I don’t believe you can do one without the other.

If you are actively loving people, I would be honored to walk and work with you in bringing heaven to earth.

*** I’m back to add a link to this beautiful story of how one Rabbi explained all of Torah while the potential convert stood on one foot.

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