Saturday, November 10, 2012

Where Is Heaven? Guilt and Shame

Where Is Heaven? Guilt and Shame.


In Psalm 39, we read And now, what is my hope? O Lord, my hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions and do not make me the taunt of the fool. I fell silent and did not open my mouth, for surely it was you that did it. Take your affliction from me; I am worn down by the blows of your hand. With rebukes for sin you punish us; like a moth you eat away all that is dear to us; truly, everyone is but a puff of wind. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears.



In a blog earlier this week, I lifted up the story of our people that holds that God, as ruler of all, has conquered the power of chaos. Yet, we also read that on occasion the power of chaos rears its ugly head. At those times, our people look evil in the eye and challenge God to intervene.



Our ancestors in the faith give room for another understanding of God and the power of chaos. This understanding holds that God has conquered the power of chaos, and at times of dire necessity, God uses the power of chaos for divine purposes. Chiefly, God uses the power of chaos as consequences for the sins committed by God's people. This belief is expressed powerfully and painfully in the excerpt from Psalm 39 used above. And, God uses the power of chaos to test people. This belief is expressed in stories such as that of Job. Walter Brueggeman raises this concept in his work and draws the conclusion that "Israel can live with this view of God and is neither in wonder or embarassment about it.



I urge readers to visit some of the following passages from Scripture: Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 45:7; Job 40: 15-24 and 41: 1-34. Also, please see Leviticus 26: 16, 23-25, 28.



In our time, this concept of God is terribly difficult to accept by many, and I fear, many times pushes people away from God. To help unpack this belief of God using the power of chaos, I want to draw a distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt, in scripture, is a legal term and connotes that a person has broken the law and stands convicted of that crime. Shame, however, is a feeling that is ever present in human life. Shame can accompany a guilty act ( I am both guilty of breaking the law and ashamed of myself for doing so.) but, shame can also speak about the overwhelming feeling we have that takes responsibility for actions and consequences that are not our fault. (I witness a man slip on ice on a sidewalk at distance from where I am standing and ask myself repeatedly througout the day why I did not do more.)



The poet, Wendell Berry captures the essence of shame.


The times are disgusting enough,

surely, for those who long for peace

and truth. But self-disgust

also is an injury; the coming

of bodily uncertainity with age

and wear, forgetfulness of things

that ought to be remembered,

remembrance of things best forgot.

Forgive this fragmentary life.



If we accept the story of our people, we have a deeper expression of faith that gives us the strength to face making difficult decisions that include risk to self and pain to others. We have a deeper expression of faith that helps us live the reality of one person losing a house in a hurricane while ours is still standing.


The most difficult challenge this belief poses is a challange to human capcity. It challenges the trust we have in our systems and our capacity to cope through ingenuity, resolve, and mustered inspriation. This belief poses the possibility of a power, a force, a divine presence that is outside the system, that breaks into the system, and has the strength to restore the system. In doing so, we are reminded of our weaknesses, our failures, and our temptation to put trust in powers that cannot conquer death. We, as Christians, call the divine presence God. The metaphysics that come with this belief is called heaven.

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