I heard someone recently say to another person, “I don’t have to justify myself to you or to anyone else!” The irony of that statement is that everyone in the world is striving to justify themselves. It is the human predicament.
Christianity teaches that humanity was created by God in a state of perfect integration with no imperfections or flaws. Humanity decided that God’s plan was insufficient and believed the lie of the Evil One and everything began to disintegrate.
The Bible teaches that when humanity rebelled the first effect was, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made for themselves loincloths” (Gen. 3:7).
A new character entered the scene – Shame. Shame says, “You are not enough.” It reminds you that you are flawed and imperfect and broken. It screams in our minds and hearts and emotions that we will never be enough. We don’t have what it takes.
It is the soundtrack of our lives and experiences. Each moment of our days, shame is the constant attendant to our every thought and emotion. We cannot allow ourselves to believe it so we sew fig leaves together to cover our brokenness. The fig leaves have evolved in time and resemble careers, diplomas, cars, cosmetic surgery, spouses, children – anything we can find to mute the internal dialogue of shame.
There is a haunting conversation tucked into the 1981 classic movie, “Chariots of Fire” that comes back to my mind again and again. Harold Abrahams, an Olympic sprinter who is running for the gold medal, is asked by another runner why he trains and pushes himself so hard. Abrahams responds, “And now in one hour’s time, I will be out there again. I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor, 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my existence. But will I?”
In a tragic moment of desperation, he is trying to silence shame’s loud voice and justify himself to himself, to his family, to his team, to everyone he ever met. We are all like Abrahams.
After Matt Damon won the Academy Award for “Good Will Hunting,” he described that evening: “I remember very clearly looking at that award and thinking very, very clearly… Imagine chasing that and finally getting it in your 80s or 90s with all of life behind you and realizing what an unbelievable waste of your life. It can’t fill you…. If that’s a hole that you have, it will never fill it.”
What Damon realized was that no award, no matter how prestigious, can justify our existence. It cannot fill the hole in our souls where shame speaks.
What is the solution? Where can we go to silence shame’s incessant voice?
The answer is found at Easter. Jesus Christ came into the world and lived in our place and died in our place and was raised from the dead: “Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
We can never justify ourselves, but Christ can. When we believe in Him by faith, we receive grace and mercy, and God looks at us just-as-if-I’d (justified) never sinned. Christ now speaks and says that you are perfectly loved and accepted and safe, based on His work on your behalf. “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
Rev. Bill McCutchen is lead pastor of Hilton Head Presbyterian Church. firstname.lastname@example.org or hiltonheadpca.com