Read This Week’s Passage: Psalm 139

Guilt and Shame

The terms shame and guilt are often used synonymously, but they refer to slightly different experiences. While both may result from acting in an inappropriate manner, shame is directed inward, while guilt is directed outward. Shame makes a person feel terrible about themselves, even questioning their sense of worth and value, whereas guilt makes a person feel terrible about what they did. Both involve a negative evaluation, but the difference is in the focus. The focus in shame is on oneself, whereas the focus in guilt is on the wrong action.

If you have ever felt as though you wanted to dig a hole and disappear into it after you said or did something inappropriate, what you were likely feeling in that moment is shame. On the other hand, if you felt sorry for how your actions affected others, that’s guilt. To the same situation, you may react with either response. One response inclines you to destructive behaviors in an attempt to escape the negative feelings about yourself. The other response inclines you to corrective behaviors to rectify the situation for the sake of others.

In a sinless world, neither shame nor guilt exist, because no one behaves inappropriately. And it is God’s desire to return us to a state devoid of guilt and shame. Until such a time, though, we will inevitably experience these two powerful emotions. How are we to navigate them, particularly with respect to our sexuality?