Fear, guilt and shame, the three great manipulators. I’ve been wondering about these three in the last couple of days and especially why guilt seems to be so prevalent in the church, so here are some of my thoughts.
As a Christian we are told not to fear, to be courageous, to be very courageous. If we are to fear anything or anybody it is God and even there our understanding is limited as to what that actually means. We are very familiar with fear and can experience it in relation to the future, the past and even the present. We have endless things to fear and worry about but we also know without a shadow of a doubt that fear is something to be conquered. It is something bad and not part of God’s plan for us and so we work on trying to deal with our fears. We pray to be released from them, we look for root causes and try to dig them out with various techniques and we ask for help facing our fears. It is all part of being victorious and living in more freedom. As a manipulation tool of control it is excellent. It can keep us locked down, make wrong choices and cause us to be suspicious of others, ensuring that we huddle together for safety.
So is fear always bad? Not necessarily, I think it is an emotion given partly to protect us from harm, to heighten our awareness of a real danger not a possible danger. It certainly is not there to control our decisions and it must always be subject to the spirit of God that is within us. We have not been given a spirit of fear but of sonship. If fear is being used to manipulate us we should always deal with it by using truth. My own view is that fear can only be dealt with by truth; it is not a process or a technique or about digging out something. It is slam-dunked through belief in what God says about us. He tells us to be courageous because he is with us. Can it be as simple as that? Can we deal with all our fears through simply believing the truth that God is with us? I think so, simply believe.
Shame we also recognise as something not to be tolerated. We know it is linked to the fall, at their creation Adam and Eve do not feel shame; they eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and become the first to feel this emotion. They don’t appear to be ashamed of their behaviour in disobeying God; they feel shame because of their nakedness. They rapidly sew fig leaves together to cover it. We know that God does not want us to feel shame in any form. He has rescued us from the fall and any experience in our life that causes us to feel shame needs to be looked at, prayed through, forgiveness needs to be forthcoming – either accepting it or working through forgiving others. If someone can make you feel shame about your actions or your person they can manipulate you. I think there is a key to overcoming shame shown to us in the garden. Shame needs to be covered but it is not by our own efforts, it needs to be covered, not with fig leaves but with the blood of Jesus. Allowing him to cover our shame with his blood is I believe, the only way for it to be gone forever, for it to be dead and buried and not to haunt us and used against us. Even from the beginning the shame needed to be covered by a sacrifice!! Again it is for us to believe the truth over and above our experiences.
We know that fear and shame can be used, to restrict our freedom and therefore we know and are taught to control these feelings/emotions and to keep them from causing us harm. My thoughts have wandered to whether the same applies to guilt. As Christians are we taught with the same gusto to deal with guilt? Could it be that guilt is such a good manipulator we want to keep it in the church or do we believe guilt comes hand in hand with being a Christian, as it helps us to identify our sin? Making congregations feel guilty, as a control tool, is not unheard of and I think is pretty rampant. It is can be used in most churches to make people turn up, tithe, follow the vision, contribute and behave as a good member of the church as long as we follow the set rules. As we are so familiar with the feeling of guilt, and possibly even believe that feeling guilty is ok, we can be manipulated really easily and therefore controlled really easily. If we can put somebody on a guilt trip they can be manipulated into believing they are doing a service even if it is detrimental to them and possibly their calling. How many Christians have been manipulated into doing things that they really don’t want to do, feel guilty for not wanting to do it and then out of a sense of duty will do what they have been asked or is expected of them?
If we believe that we have been given guilt as an emotion to help us identify sin we will not deal with it in the same way as we do fear and shame. We will not want to annihilate it from our lives and in fact will be suspicious of people who say they don’t feel guilt. Whilst Romans 8:1 tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, we still think that only applies once we have confessed our sins and only for a very short period of time until we sin again. I’m satisfied that condemnation and sin go together but I’m not convinced that we should be in a constant battle with sin and condemnation/guilt. Paul is drawing out in Romans the difference between life under the law and life in the spirit and in Romans 8 it is clearly stated that there is no condemnation for those who live in the spirit. For those believing in the gospel of grace and not under the law, that did condemn, a life without condemnation is a possibility. The gospel sets us free from the law, into a life of the new covenant where all our sins are forgiven already, where now we choose to sin rather than being controlled by a sinful nature and we can choose not to sin. We can remove guilt from our choices and whilst some of those choices may make people unhappy, we are not responsible for others reactions and this certainly cannot be considered sin and therefore warrant guilt. I don’t believe in being sin conscious which leads to guilt conscious which makes us susceptible to manipulation through guilt. I do believe in God consciousness which leads to freedom from manipulation.
From the moment that we are dead to sin we are dead to guilt. To simply believe that this is true may make us a less easy target for manipulation in any setting. I think the answer to manipulation in any form is to simply believe the truth.