Paradise Lost

Today I made a mistake, a major mistake. I was working from home tonight and needed to send an email to the whole church. Being at home, I did not have access to the all church email. So, I came up with what I thought was a solution. I looked at my sent emails, found one I had previously sent to the whole church, and used that to send out the email I need to send tonight. However, I did not change the subject line. Which normally would not be that big of an issue. After I hit send I realized that the email I chose to use as the template was sent to announce the passing of a beloved church member. I felt the floor drop out from under me. I felt sick and shamed.

I sprung into action and immediately called the family members of the person who had passed away to apologize for my mistake. They were gracious and assured me that they had made similar mistake with emails before. I then sent out another email to the church apologizing for the mistake. That should have been that. I was forgiven by those who should have been the most offended. But I could not forgive myself. I was stuck in a cycle of self-shame. Shamed people learn early to shame themselves when others are not around to do it for them (more on this topic on a later date).

Today I believe shame is the original sin. However, I was taught at church growing up that original sin was disobedience to God and that sin was anything that separated us from God. I learned from the pulpit and in Sunday School class that when we sin our Holy God removes himself from our presences. But Romans 8:30 tells us, “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Maybe sin does separate us from God, but not that God separates God’s self from us. Rather, our shame causes us to try to run away from God.

The “original sin,” or at least the first sin recorded in the Bible, is not the guilt of disobedience, but rather the shame of feeling “othered.” While Adam and Eve disobey God and eat the “forbidden fruit” God doesn’t separate from them. The opposite happens, God comes looking for them. Adam and Eve feel shame at the realization that they are different from one another and God. The Genesis narrative records, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” (Genesis 3:7, NRSV). Shame caused Adam and Eve to hide and lose paradise. It is the shame that causes them to hide. It is the sin of shame that “separates” them from God.

Shame occurs when we open our eyes inwardly and don’t like what we see. We shame ourselves with an internal stare. We, like Adam and Eve, try to disappear. We hope the floor will drop open and swallow us. But the story of Adam and Eve doesn’t end there. While they run out of paradise, the rest of the Bible is a story of God chasing after humanity through the patriarchs and matriarchs, through the prophets, and through the life of Jesus. God is still chasing us. Every time we experience shame and take off running, we can be sure that God is chasing after us. The problem is not that we make mistakes, but rather that we self-shame or allow others to shame us for being different (a perceived mistake to them).  The Psalmist reminds us “God has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12 NRSV). God gives us grace to make mistakes and be different. We should too!

My challenge for myself tonight, and my challenge for you, is to stop hiding inwards and losing paradise. Give yourself the grace God gives you. If you run, God will chase you, but it is much better for you if you just stop running.