I need to push back just a tiny bit here. I’ve recently had several conversations with people who say, “religion made me feel bad about myself.” Or “why would I want to live in perpetual guilt, shame, and condemnation?”
Let me tell you, if you’re living in perpetual shame, guilt, and condemnation, you’re in the wrong religion and you’ve missed the entire message of grace, the gospel, the good news.
And that happens too, that is real enough. There are some appalling things being preached in the name of Jesus Christ, some toxic people within the church as a whole, but that is actually few and far between. That is not the norm, and the reason why we are so often outraged about it is because we know it is not the norm, it is a perversion, a distortion.
Religion made me feel bad about myself. Does anybody ever say those words about their heroin addicted peer groups? Their dysfunctional parents? Their toxic family members?? Public schools? Their own poor choices? The enemy, the world at large? Like, my extremely dysfunctional toxic family of origin left me feeling bad about my self?
The enemy then went on to pick my bones, to take advantage of me by farther instilling feelings of unworthiness, shame, and confusion, in an attempt to separate me even more from the possibility of a healthy relationship with my Creator?
I’m a firm believer in, “nobody can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission.” That can be hard for people trying to escape toxic situations, abuse, and dysfunction. But it is still the truth and it begs some painful questions like, why did you give them permission? That question is so infused with grace and forgiveness, with understanding, but still it’s a question that people must address at some point.
Nothing in this world should ever “make you feel” anything. God doesn’t even do that to us, God gave us freewill. The Lord of the universe Himself grants us the autonomy to feel and believe as we choose. Then we allow mere humans to “make us,” think, feel, and believe certain things? I think not.
I suppose I am coming at this from a completely different perspective. I come from some really dark places, I spent most of my life hearing about how good people were and it darn near crushed me, because I couldn’t see any “good people.” Reality did not match the narrative. It created some cognitive dysfunction. That sounds terrible, but it is true. There wasn’t much goodness in my childhood, just an endless stream of broken people trying to take advantage of one another.
People are bloody mercenary, self-serving, and often downright evil. I just saw that truth validated over and over and over again. Still do today sometimes.
I have to laugh, because the idea that people are “not good” was a major revelation to me, a lanced infection, a healed wound, the solution to a riddle that had long baffled me. It was so healing and freeing. I grew up hearing endlessly about the goodness of humanity while bearing witness to the precise opposite, so I assumed it must just be me. It must be my fault, I must be the defective unit, my perceptions must be off.
I really did assume that all the chaos, toxicity, and dysfunction in my family was totally my fault, my problem, and I was the cause of it all. In part because people actually said that to me, but also because everyone was allegedly good and I knew I wasn’t good at all. So apparently I was the only one in the entire world who was actually “bad.”
It’s a very lonely place to be. On the other hand I developed a powerful relationship with Jesus Christ.
Whatever words you wish to give it, original sin, total depravity, damage, brokenness, wounding, discovering these things was the best day of my life. It was like a Jenga puzzle falling over, a stack of lies crashing to the floor. It is kind of amusing, but today I am a sin enthusiast. Like, praise the Lord, I am not alone in the world! It is not all my fault. I am normal. We are all just sinners who fall short. And right on the other side of sin is the most amazing grace, unmerited favor, forgiveness, mercy, inconceivable, unconditional, endless love….
I often have a desire to soften the gospel, to reach out to hurting people, to bring them past that wounding and right into the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. I don’t want anyone to feel bad, especially not in the arms of Jesus, and yet there is just no way to mercy, grace, redemption, without that recognition that we can’t do it all, that we aren’t just good people, that we just aren’t good enough to save ourselves.
And yes, that truth can sometimes feel bad, but if feels bad in the way childbirth feels bad, it is the new birth, it is what being born again is all about.
So as this little meme suggests, “before you can find the truth you have to recognize which lie is holding you hostage.”