Guilt, shame, insecurity, doubt, fear, even self-loathing – no one is immune from the consequences of our own brokenness and sin, current and past. How does God practically help us here? ◊
While many people put on a pretty good front, there is insecurity, guilt, shame, fear, and a lack of confidence in all of us. Certainly some more than others. Many people are unfortunately crippled by their own self doubts and insecurities that stem from past events, actions, circumstances, and levels of real trauma. The health and sturdiness of our own psyche is a function of these inputs, regardless of cause or source, and our reaction or response to them.
Beyond actions, some doubts and insecurities derive from merely comparing ourselves with others around us.
That is invariably a losing proposition, as there is always someone else that can do things, or has things, or knows things better than you. One can feel small, lost, or inconsequential. If one is not careful, your day can be effectively ruined by what is actually only played out in your own mind. Often the person held up as a high standard highlighting your insufficiency is not even aware of the sad and damaging comparison game you are playing.
Ironically, your intimidating lofty target will also always be able to find someone else that reaches far beyond their own poor power to measure up.
We all may as well accept our own foibles and limitations as humans who fall short; or as the Bible says, as humans who have “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
Sin Will Do It Too
Yes, we have to bring God into this. Our own sin and how we deal with forgiveness issued and received will impact our own mental state of security as it even impacts our faith and daily engagement with God and the world. Yes, both sin and guilt go a long way in contributing to our feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy.
When we sin, in any way, we lose stature in our own mind (at least we should feel some sorrow and regret!). Particularly if we are Christians, we feel the burden of failing God in our succumbing to sin. It seems worse, or so the thinking goes, because we tell ourselves we should have known better.
While we know we’re forgiven by God, nevertheless the weight of guilt is substantial and can render one neutered in all aspects of life, particularly in relationships and ministry.
There’s a very good case study on this matter of personal sin, guilt, shame, doubt, fear, even self-loathing, in a brief but fascinating episode found only in the last chapter of the Gospel of John in the Bible. The case involves the Apostle Peter.
We’re told in John 21 of an incident one morning at the Sea of Galilee. We’re not told how long after Christ was risen that this happened, but we are told it is the third appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Peter and six other disciples at the sea of Galilee one morning. We know that Galilee is at least a 3 day walking trip straight north from Jerusalem, so we know that this is after the dramatic events of that first “Easter Sunday” when Christ rose from the dead and first appeared to Mary and the disciples.
Peter therefore had plenty of time to carry the weight of his very big mistake that no doubt brought him great guilt, shame, and even hatred of himself and his actions. Recall that he boldly and very publicly denied that he knew Jesus or was with Him upon His arrest. In Luke 22, we read that Jesus heard his denial and turned to look at him directly just before the rooster crowed, as Jesus had predicted at their earlier dinner when Peter had boldly claimed that he would never leave or forsake Jesus. After all Peter had been through and experienced with Jesus, it would be hard to be guilty of anything worse, apart from the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.
When he later sits down with Jesus for breakfast at the seashore, Jesus has a very odd dialogue with him:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
It has been speculated by some scholars that Jesus was reinstating Peter back into good standing as a disciple by confirming his love for Jesus verbally 3 times to match the 3 times of denial. Perhaps. I see it simply as an example for all of us of the gentle and forgiving touch and ways of the living Lord for a man who needed reassurance, love, and guidance back to his confident self.
Peter of course would go on from this point for the rest of his short life to not fish again for anything else but lost and broken people through the delivery of the Good News of the resurrected Christ.
We too, all of us, are like Peter in many ways:
- We know Jesus as friend and Lord; or we know of Him as a religious leader
- We’ve had some experiential evidence of Jesus as God in our life; or we’ve heard of this from others
- We’ve had great joys as a follower of Jesus; or we’ve seen and heard of this from others
- We’ve sinned against God/Jesus and our fellow man in thoughts and actions
- We’ve lived and carried guilt, regret, shame, even self-loathing, for current and past sins.
Yes, pretty much covers all of us.
But Jesus died for all of us – for our sins and failures past, present and future. That is the Good News: great love and mercy bestowed on us; amazing grace so undeserved to save wretches like Peter, and in comparison, all of us too. And it is the gentle and loving Jesus that brings no condemnation to us but merely asks for our love and devotion in return.
It’s enough to change us for the rest of our lives.
Have you allowed Jesus to forgive you?
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9