Hurt People, Hurt People
I think it’s funny that we so often view Biblical characters as the ultimate role models. Sure, there are plenty of heroes demonstrating obedience, faith and love. But, more often than not, the majority of Biblical characters are much like the rest of us…human and flawed. No matter the character or their behaviors, we can both relate to them and learn from them. With that said, this past weekend, my church started a new series called, “Bad Boys of the Bible.” Catchy…right?

We started this series by looking at the book of Philemon…25 verses squeezed between Titus and Hebrews. I don’t remember reading this book, but if it offers an interesting story of shame and forgiveness. Here’s a brief overview of the story: 
  • Paul is writing a letter to Philemon from his prison cell in Rome. While in prison, Paul receives a visitor named Onesimus (a former slave to Philemon). Onesimus is a runaway slave who has fled to Rome after taking money or goods from Philemon.  
  • In meeting Paul, Onesimus becomes a Christian and they (Paul and Onesimus) develop a friendship. Although Paul would like to keep Onesimus with him, he has an obligation to Philemon to reunite a slave to his master. So he writes this letter.
  • In this letter, Paul commends Philemon for the loving compassion he’s shown to his fellow Christians. He then pleads that Philemon would treat Onesimus with that same compassion, knowing that slaves (such as Onesimus) who flee their masters were often killed under Roman law. 
  • Paul asked that Philemon would receive Onesimus as he would receive Paul himself…as a brother in Christ and fellow believer…essentially asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus.
The way I see it, slavery has a way of making anyone feel incredible shame. Shame creates hurt…and hurt people, hurt people. In fact, speaking from experience…when you feel hurt, it’s so hard to feel as though anyone loves you…let alone God.
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In order for us to live the lives we’re designed to live, we’ve really got to deal with our shame and allow ourselves to be forgiven. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to go about it the wrong way. Perhaps you’ve tried these ineffective approaches: 
  • Numbing. You look for ways to numb the pain such as drugs (anti-depressants even), alcohol, bad relationships, excessive spending habits, etc. Anyone? If you’ve been there (and I think we all have at some point or another…I know I have), you know that trying to numb the pain doesn’t work. Besides, you can’t selectively numb emotions. If you try to numb shame, you also numb joy. If you try to numb sadness, you also numb happiness. Nobody wants to feel numb.
  • Perform it away. I don’t think this approach describes me, but you might identify with this one. Essentially, you believe that God keeps a record of your rights and wrongs (Santa Claus?). If you screw up, you try to make up for it by increasing your number of “attaboys.” Even better, you try to make those “attaboys” public so everyone can see what a great job you’re doing. If you’ve ever seen the show Keeping Up Appearances, then you know that after a while, no one takes you seriously and people start to question your motivations. Thank GOD that our entrance into heaven isn’t based on our performance! I’m not sure any of us would ever measure up. 
The good news is that if we’re willing to hand over our shame (our guilt, our addictions, our hurt, etc) and allow ourselves to be forgiven, then God can do great things in our lives. You are NOT your sin, (Romans 8:2) “because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” But, until we deal with our own situations…we can’t possibly help others. 

So, if we are freed from sin and live in forgiveness…what does that look like? 
  • We joyfully obey rather than doing stuff for the sake of “trying” to earn God’s love. 
  • We consistently do the small things well: treat others with kindness, help our neighbors, etc. As a result, peace and rest will take over our lives and we can experience true love, patience, kindness and forgiveness.
***By the way, I am honored to be guest posting over at Then there were 5 by Kel Elwood today. It would mean so much to me if you stopped by to see me. Have a great day!***