Hiding From God.
Shame is the single greatest barrier blocking our experience of intimacy with God and others. Shame drives hiding and hiding hinders relationship.
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If you’ve been following along, then you know, we’re in the midst of a quest to further satisfy the ache inside us for deeper intimacy with God. From the moment one becomes a Christian, we hear that what we’re supposed to have is a relationship with God, but if we’re honest, it oftentimes feels like anything but a real relationship.
As we’ve seen, this demands not only getting more of God, but more specifically giving God more of us. So we’re learning to integrate our emotional lives into our spiritual lives by offering God the hardest parts of what we feel. We’re wrestling with the possibility that the very pain we’re prone to suppress is an important path to intimacy with God. We’ve spent the past two weeks talking about both why and how we learn to build barriers in life meant to block these emotions God wants us to invite Him into.
I want to spend the next two weeks looking at what I believe the Scriptures would say is the single greatest barrier to intimacy with God.
So, let’s get into it.
One of the things that helped Tami and I throughout COVID, was my friend and fellow pastor at Formation, Tyler (who in our family is Uncle Tyty) being kind enough to take our kids overnight a couple times a month. He would spoil them rotten and it gave Tami and I an occasional stay-at-home date night during such a long and difficult season.
One weekend in particular they had another epic sleepover and just before Tami and I headed over to pick the kids up, I got a text from Tyler that said, “Let me know when you’re on your way, cause we’re playing hide and seek and you have to find everyone when you get here.”
At first I was like, “He’s so fun. What a great uncle.” Then we walk in and it’s pitch black inside. So I’m like, “Tyler, why are all the lights off? How am I supposed to find everyone?” He just looked at me like I’d asked the dumbest question imaginable. He said, “It’s hide and seek. You have to play it in the dark.”
I have to tell you, this was news to me. I’ve been playing hide and seek for 40 years, I’ve never played it in the dark. I gotta tell you, I think it’s dangerous. Do you have any idea how many times I almost died trying to find my kids in the dark that day? Plus is makes it about a million times more difficult. Between their amazing hiding spots and the dark, I almost gave up and left.
Now, here’s why I want you to think about hide and seek today: I would argue that hide and seek is an apt metaphor for humanity’s relationship with God. Humanity is driven to hide from God and He’s determined to seek us out. You may hear that and think I’m exclusively talking about people who don’t follow Jesus and instead intentionally seek to cut themselves off from God. I am talking about that, but I also think this is such a massive part of what’s happening in the lives of so many Christians. It’s one of, if not the major reason so many of us aren’t experiencing anything resembling relationship and communion with God. Furthermore, this isn’t a new issue. In fact, it’s as old as humanity itself.
So I want to back up to the very beginning of the Bible for the next couple weeks, in an attempt to get our heads and then our hearts around this critical issue.
If you aren’t familiar with the Scriptures, the opening chapters of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, tell the origin story of creation. There’s endless debate about the nature of these verses. For instance, do they tell the literal story of how God created the world? Are they poetry and science puts flesh on the proverbial bones of what we read here? While I would never say those debates don’t matter, I would say it’s critical we don’t miss all that is clear in the midst of what isn’t. These verses tell us so much about God’s heart toward us, while shedding more light on the universal human condition.
Genesis starts with the story of God creating an idilic garden, called Eden. He then creates Adam and Eve and places them in that garden with two specific intents:
Connection and Creativity.
In the same way, God created you and I for deep, meaningful, and intimate connection with Him and with one another. God also created humanity to continue to cultivate and create within the world He has entrusted to us.
God gave Adam and Eve almost endless freedom within that garden and just one protective command: they were not to eat from one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He warned them that eating from that tree would sever them from the life-giving relationship God created them for, resulting in spiritual and physical death.
We need to understand this because it teaches us something we’re prone to misunderstand about what the Bible calls, sin. We’re prone to see sin as nothing more than breaking rules. We sin when we do what God says don’t do and we sin when we don’t do what God calls us to do.
While sin absolutely involves the breaking of God’s rules, it’s even more about a breach in relationship with Him.
That’s what we see play out in the opening verses of Genesis 3. Chapter 2 ends with verse 25 saying, “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.”
They were experiencing the very reality for which God created humanity: connection with God and one another marked by innocence and intimacy.
Tragically, this all ends in chapter 3. Adam and Eve believe the lies of the serpent, they choose to eat from the one tree God warned them away from, and failure of trust and breach in relationship changes everything. This is where we’re going to pick up the story.
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you? ”10 And he said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” 11 Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? ” -- Genesis 3:7-11 (CSB)
Jump back up to verse 7 and notice the tragic result of Adam and Eve’s decision: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked…”
That innocence they experienced in chapter 2:25 of being naked and unashamed was gone. That feeling of security in being totally exposed and completely vulnerable was no more. In it’s place was a crushing and overwhelming sense of SHAME.
I really want you to hear this:
Shame is the single greatest barrier blocking our experience of intimacy with God and others.
These verses tell us why: Shame drives hiding and hiding hinders relationship. So let’s chat about shame for a few minutes. Let’s start with some definition.
In his book, “The Soul of Shame,” Christian and psychiatrist Dr. Curt Thompson describes shame as “the sense that there is something wrong with me.”
Researcher, Brene Brown, who has given almost her entire professional career to studying shame defines it in her incredible book Daring Greatly as, “The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Often times we confuse the experiences of guilt and shame. The truth is, while they are in fact related, they are also distinct.
GUILT is the sense that, “I did something wrong.”
SHAME is the sense that, “I am wrong and will be rejected if found out.”
Do you see the difference? Guilt is attached to something we DO, but shame is attached to something we ARE. The former is about behavior, the latter about identity.
Here’s a big problem with this: when shame is the lense through which we perceive ourselves, everything has a way of reinforcing it.
Let me give you an example. One of the most painful areas of shame God has been kind enough to both help me see and in turned applied His healing presence to in my own life, was this deeply felt sense that I was bad for people. It was complicated and went all the way back to my own childhood, but I constantly had to fight allowing that shame to color the way I saw everything.
For instance, moving to Utah was understandably difficult. Moving is always hard. It’s normal for people to struggle when they move to a new place. But when my wife, or my kids had hard days, or weeks after moving here, I internalized all of their struggle as one more example of how I was bad for them. Their struggle was my fault. Every time our friends who moved here to help us start our church struggled, or experienced even the normal challenges that accompany moving to a new place, I internalized it as my fault. Every difficult day reinforced my “shame script” that I was bad for people. When shame is the lense through which we perceive ourselves, everything has a way of reinforcing it.
What we see playing out here in Genesis 3 is far more shame than it is guilt. They didn’t just feel guilty because of what they’d done, they felt shame because of what they believed they were. They were naked.
What’s fascinating to me is that nothing in their outward condition changed. It’s not like they were comfortably clothed, something stripped them naked, and then they felt shame. They had always been naked, but because of sin, something broke internally. It’s like their souls tore in two. The peace they’d known was gone. The security they’d enjoyed was gone. The trust they’d felt was gone. The harmony they experienced was gone. And all that was left was this all consuming sense of shame.
In response, they did what we all do when we’re consumed with shame - they tried to hide. They started by trying to hide the source of their shame. V7 says, “…they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” The problem is, this act that was meant to cover their shame, also had the effect of blocking them from the oneness, or intimacy they’d once experienced.
Furthermore, notice how shame has a compounding effect. V8 says, “…they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”
When I was young, I used to find this humorous. Who on earth tries to hide from an all-knowing, all-seeing God? But the older I get, the more heartbreaking I find it. It’s an agonizing picture of desperation.
When God calls out to Adam (which we’ll focus more on next week), notice how Adam’s response reveals the condition of his heart and mind. God says, “Where are you?” Adam says, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked.” Think about that for a second.
1. It doesn’t answer the question God asked. God just asked about his location and Adam answers with his condition.
2. Adam doesn’t say, “I was afraid I was going to be in trouble because I broke your rule.” He’s afraid because he’s naked. It’s not guilt because of what he’s done, but shame because of what he now feels and believes himself to be.
If you keep reading, the hiding doesn’t end in the trees. Even when Adam steps out from where he’s hidden, he immediately gets defensive and hides behind blame. Adam blames God and blames Eve. There is no sign of contrition. This is in no way confession. There is no attempt at repentance. All of that requires vulnerability and humility and Adam is caught up in a storm of shame, so he hides.
Shame fundamentally shifts our instinct when it comes to God and one another. The deepest longing we possess is one for connection, that ache for intimacy we talked about a few weeks ago. Shame attacks that longing like a virus, bombarding you with the unconscious, or conscious sense that if you are known, or seen for what you truly are, you’ll be abandoned, you will be rejected, and then you will be alone. That was Adam’s fear. “If God sees me in my nakedness, He’ll reject me.” As a result, he hides and humanity has been hiding ever sense. So let me just say this again.
Shame drives hiding and hiding hinders relationship.
Now, here’s the great irony in all this. Shame drives us away from the very remedy for it. It drives us to hide, because shame thrives in the shadows. But here’s the good news, in John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” See, when Jesus stepped into human history, shame ceased to be safe. He came to seek and save those lost in shame.
Our challenge is, we always want everything to happen in a moment, but almost everything good happens through process. Shame doesn’t disappear in a moment. So what we have learn to do, is live in open and honest vulnerability with God and each other. As we take that courageous step, something amazing begins to happen. When we begin to open up about not feeling like we’re enough, shame looses ground in our minds and intimacy with God and others grows. When we begin to open up about areas of hurt and weakness, shame looses it’s grip on our hearts and intimacy with God and others increases.
Every time I’ve read Genesis 3, I’ve been so focused on the massive mistake that was the sin of Adam and Eve. But you know what I can’t shake right now? I would argue that the only mistake that rivals their sin is their response to it. Don’t get me wrong. Their sin was tragic. Our sin is tragic. But allowing shame to have the final word over the grace offered to us by Jesus, might just be worse.
So we have a choice.
We can run to God in our shame, or we can hide from Him. We’ve all tried the latter and it doesn’t do anything other then drive us deeper and deeper into a tsunami of shame. So why not try the former?
Next week, we’ll focus our attention on God’s response to Adam and Eve’s shame and ours, but let me just give you a little spoiler: you’ll never bring God anything He can’t handle. One thing God has never experienced is, surprise. He already knows the worst you’ve done and the worst that’s been done to you, and with that knowledge, God calls you out of hiding.
So will you step out into the light and begin the process of inviting God into your shame?
I love Brene Brown”s work. I read her work before I became a Christian. Hell, I read many self-help books before surrendering myself to the love of God.
I just read the final installment of Brown’s series (The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and finally, Rising Strong: The Reckoning).
I’m in the reckoning right now. I’m being vulnerable to God and others. And right now, I don’t feel as heavy. There is a giant weight lifted from my mind and heart. There’s still pain, but I pray everyday I can make it to the next without spiraling into a mental tornado.
When we work on ourselves first, I think our capacity to be there for others increases dramatically.
I have been experiencing the profound effect of living openly, and it gives lie to all my shame would tell me. There has been mercy, resonance in others at feeling the same way, and FREEDOM. Freedom to be broken, knowing it allows God to be big in my stead. Freedom to be known and in turn really know others. ♥️
What an upside down kingdom. And thank GOD for it.