When the car crash has happened – guilt, shame and grace revisited

In my sermon on Sunday I used the example of someone pushing the boundaries, taking risks with their faith being like a driver taking corners at speed close to the cliff edge. They risk plunging off of the edge into a deep ravine.1 Corinthians 10 offers a warning against taking risks, falling into sin and car crashing your faith.[1] However, as I also said, for many people, the car crash has already happened. It feels like we’ve already gone over the edge.

As I thought about this, I realised that we were back looking at the problem of guilt and shame again. What happens when we have completely messed up?  Our spiritual life is in tatters, our faith rocked, the consequences are all to plain and all too painful? What happens when my calling is put in jeopardy, my family torn apart, my home taken from me, my job lost and all because of my own failing?

Our natural response is to want to hide isn’t it? Shame and fear does this. Shame because we don’t want to let people see us for who we really are. We want to hide, run away, escape.  Fear because we believe (maybe even know) that still worse consequences are to come. Perhaps the worst consequence of all will be the look of disappointment and hurt we will see in the eyes of close friends, family, a pastor etc.  We fear the wagging finger; we fear the words that tell us there is no hope. We fear being told “I told you so, I warned you.”

So, we hide away with our pain. Sometimes we run physically, we move away, home, work, church. Sometimes we hide behind a mask, pretending everything is okay with a smile whilst we bury the guilt and pain deep inside where it eats away at us. Sometimes we blame others, they let us down, failed us, led us astray. Sometimes we blame God.[2]

I remember as a youngster going round to my nan’s on my bike. On route I took a bend too quickly and came off landing flat in gravel cutting my hand badly and getting grit in the wound.  I got to Grandma’s house and she put a quick bandage on it but told me I needed to get my mum and to have a look.  I didn’t. I went home and kept the wound under wraps. Why?  It all seems foolish now but I was afraid that when the bandage came off all of that grit was going to have to be removed bit by bit and it was going to hurt.  So I hid the wound away.  When the bandage did come off, they took one look and we were straight off to hospital. By hiding it away I’d made things worse increasing the risk of infection.

When we hide away in shame and fear, we make things worse. Guilt, shame and hurt consume us from the inside.  Relationships get more and more damaged. We become isolated from God’s people exposing us to further temptation.

Allowing those self-inflicted wounds to be exposed will be painful, it will hurt.  It may be embarrassing as we have to own up to our responsibility and foolishness. But when we do this, we find that God is the one who heals. God restores, God forgives.

So if you are hiding or running can I encourage you to stop.  That might mean sticking with a church you planned to leave. It might mean taking your house off the market and staying put. It will surely mean going and talking with someone, a responsible Christian you can trust. It will mean allowing them to speak God’s Word into your life.

But the important thing is this. Don’t allow shame and fear to overwhelm you.  The car crash does not have to be the end of things. God’s grace and mercy are abundant. God’s love is eternal. He is willing and able to forgive, cleanse, heal and restore.

[1] Paul elsewhere uses the more ancient metaphor of shipwrecking your faith.

[2] In fact, this is the point of 1 Corinthians 10:13 we can’t blame others because ~God does not test beyond what we can bear. We need to take responsibility for our own sin.