Many books, perhaps the majority of books dealing with psychological issues from a Christian perspective, tend to focus on the sins of those who have the condition being examined. Ed Welch's Shame Interrupted is a little different in that respect. While he doesn't ignore the sins of those suffering from shame, he does spend a lot of time looking at shame that arises in the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of sin.
In his typical blunt-yet-graceful way, Welch begins by characterizing and describing rather than explaining shame. He connects it primarily to three feelings: rejection, nakedness, and contamination. These three conspire to make the life of the one living with shame a living hell in which suspicion, fear, pretense, and self-loathing dominate.
Welch is careful to distinguish between guilt and shame. Guilt is (or can be) private, while shame is public—a key component of shame is that whether the shamed individual sinned egregiously or was sinned against egregiously, there were witnesses to the event and these witnesses now see the person differently in light of what happened. Interestingly, he notes that shame is much more prevalent these days than guilt.
Shame is itself harmful, but it also leads to unhealthy habits and attitudes: eating disorders, cutting, thoughts of suicide or actual suicide, and even a repetition of the behavior that induced the shame in the first place can all crop up in the life of someone experiencing shame. But to succumb to these is to buy the lie that the judgement and respect of other people is more important than God's attitude toward us.
It may not seem immediately relevant, but Welch early on begins to introduce the idea that we can be freed from shame in part because the very God who made us was himself shamed during his earthly sojourn. But Jesus didn't merely experience shame—he redeemed it, and turned it into something which can in fact please our Lord.
This isn't to say that shame is good. It's to say that Christ redeemed shame and modeled humility and servanthood for his people by condescending to the most despised members of society, from lepers and the lame to whores and government officials. He was further humiliated on the cross by dying a death reserved only for the worst social outcasts of the day.
But this humiliation and humility were not self-destructive. Rather, they exemplified a life lived entirely to God's glory and in the knowledge that God's love extends even to the most humble who call on him in faith. This is the core of Shame Interrupted, that the Cross of Jesus Christ shows us the way beyond crippling shame to a life lived in full dependence on the Savior. So while Welch spends less time addressing the sin of victims directly, he also shows that only the forgiveness of sin can free us from shame.
There is a lot here, some of it difficult to read (especially for those suffering from shame), and some of it surprising. For instance, because Welch grounds his thesis in biblical truth, he presents a theology of touch that many would probably not even consider. He says that much of the Bible is about touch, particularly the Old Testament law and the New Testament ministry of Jesus, and he navigates an approach that takes into account the negativity shamed individuals often connect to touch while showing how Christ redeems even this simple human action.
If you or anyone you know suffers from feelings of shame, this book is must reading. For anyone else (probably a smaller demographic), it's highly recommended both as a way to empathize with those who have been wronged or who have wronged others seemingly irredeemably, and as a way to minister and witness to such people—the people we meet every day.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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