How Guilt and Shame Can Bring Us Closer to God

by Scott Sauls January 4, 2023

When Adam and Eve rejected God’s goodness and authority by eating the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened and they suddenly recognized that they were naked. This new, hyper-self-conscious reality set in motion a series of actions, each one a strategy to hide the shame that they felt over what they had done.

The more they hid themselves, the more distant our first parents became from God and each other. Their nakedness, once a symbol of freedom, self-expression, and mutual enjoyment, suddenly became a symbol of shame. No longer feeling safe about being seen, they sewed together fig leaves to cover themselves.

To keep up the façade, Adam ran and hid from God. When God found him, Adam proceeded to make excuses and shift blame toward both God and Eve. To God, he says, “I was afraid when I heard your voice, so I hid.”

Quite audaciously, Adam continued, “The woman you gave me, she presented me with the fruit, and so I ate it.”

Eve also deflected responsibility, declaring that she ate the forbidden fruit because the serpent deceived her (see Genesis 3:1-13).

This theme of deflecting, blaming, and hiding has remained with us since Eden. Painfully aware of our own nakedness and shame, we, too, have become masters at cover up. Instead of fig leaves, we use other, more sophisticated strategies to cover the things about ourselves that we don’t want others to see. If anyone really gets to know us, if the real truth about us is exposed, surely no one—not even God—will love or desire us. If we let our guards down, we will surely be found out, abandoned, and forgotten.

And yet, we may be surprised to find an opposite dynamic also occurring in Scripture. Instead of running and hiding and creating masks with which to cover their nakedness, the Bible’s most exemplary saints shed their masks in favor of transparency and self-disclosure. Not only do they confess their sins, blemishes, and weaknesses privately to God; they also openly confess the worst things about themselves to each other and the world.

In the telling of his own story, Jonah reveals himself to be a grumpy, entitled, selfish, and hate-filled man (Jonah 1-4). Paul shares openly about his ongoing battle with coveting, bellowing out, “Wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:21-24) He also reflects on his prior life of being a blasphemer, persecutor, and violent man and concludes that he must be the worst sinner in the world (1 Timothy 1:12-17). Psalm 51, a beautiful and painfully transparent confession of sin, is introduced with the words, “A Psalm of David…after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” With these words, David admits his lust for Bathsheba and how he had adulterous intercourse with her while she was the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers and friends.

Jonah, Paul, and David were not seeking attention through melodramatic over-sharing. Rather, they saw the value of sometimes putting their worst foot forward as a way to show a watching world how long, high, wide and deep is the love of God. They wanted their readers, whoever they would be throughout the world and through the centuries, to become convinced that where sin abounds, the grace of God abounds even more (Romans 5:20). In other words, they viewed the transfer of grace as not only something that happens between a people and God, but also between people and people. It’s a community affair, not a private affair.

Their confessions are a setup for celebrating grace and for reassuring people everywhere that if God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness can reach and transform the likes of them, it can also transform any kind of person.

They wanted to convince the world that the one, true God forgives not just once or twice, but repeatedly, and that he forgives not just so-called “little” sins, but also supremely shameful and significant ones.

God, these ancient saints want the world to know, is above all gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8).

As Brennan Manning has written, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

So how about us?

Do we believe these things like Jonah, Paul, and David did?

Do we believe them enough to shed our fig leaves and come out of hiding?

I pray we can go there.

Because the health of our souls depends in it.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at  

Enter to Win the Puritan Paperbacks This July!

Charles Spurgeon once said, “By all means read the Puritans, they are worth more than all the modern stuff put together.”

The Puritans offer their readers a comprehensive, gospel-centered view of the Christian life where all of Christ matters for all of life. In recent years, Banner of Truth has published a 49-volume set called the Puritan Paperbacks where Christians today can glean from the Puritans of the past.

During the month of July, we’re giving away the entire 49-volume Puritan Paperback series for free to one providentially favored participant who enters. Enter today for your chance to win!