I was raised with shame, were you? It was a pervasive style of parenting. I doubt if my parents even knew it. It was a way to control behavior–how they had been raised–change behavior by making you feel bad about what you did.
The emotional punch was “not good enough,” that’s how it felt. And it left a residue that covered you like slime or sticky dirt. You felt like you couldn’t get rid of it, would never be good enough, would never make it, never measure up. I very much doubt they could have changed it if they had seen it. It was how you raised children then–slime them with your feelings of anger, disappointment, discontent, disapproval.
I do think it changed behavior, but the high cost was self-doubt and self-loathing that caused paralysis and second-guessing; or anger and acting-out. And it seems the internal conflict of brokenness gave us all that as a starting point. The first effect of being separated from God in Eden was recorded as shame. It is a natural bent. A propensity, a tendency we all have now.
It explains why God has had such a hard time parenting us. It’s our default setting. And God doesn’t deal in shame. He is extremely direct, modeling honesty for us, dealing with facts and consequences–telling us what they will be so we can turn around and make a course correction. Always trying to help us minimize shame by accepting our guilt and dealing with it redemptively.
Interesting that shame and guilt don’t go together with God. He simply says, “Admit what you’ve done, and I’ll help you find a way out of it.” He doesn’t criticize, doesn’t condemn, doesn’t shame us. He deals with facts and treats us with respect, leaving us free to choose how to handle our indiscretions and missteps. No, He doesn’t come personally to us the way He did with Cain; wouldn’t that be neat! But it didn’t help Cain. He already had an attitude set in place that prevented good choices.
But look at how God dealt with him. First, he comes to him. Understanding that Cain doesn’t know death. The whole universe has only seen death of animals and plants at this point. He was jealous, he was angry, and now he is a murderer. He should have been horrified, and maybe he was inside, but he doesn’t go to God, he doesn’t even respond to God who comes to him and says, “Where is your brother?” giving him a chance to own what he has done. And Cain gives him attitude: “How should I know? Am I his babysitter?”
God ignores that and goes on with facts, “What have you done?” Imagine God’s pain. The first murder in this broken world that started out so perfect. He loves Cain. And He knows he doesn’t know what to do, can’t think straight after realizing what he’s done. But maybe there is an opportunity to reconnect with him now. He’s been blaming God and growing hard feelings.
“Your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground.” (I know what you did. You can admit it.) God had made man from ground, given him life and blessed the design; now Cain in killing Abel has returned him to the ground, bringing the curse of death to himself personally. So God describes the effects, “The ground is ruined for you, and your guilt will drive you away. You will have no peace.” (Can’t you just feel God longing for repentance. Just ask me what you should do! Please turn to me for help! Together we can fix this.)
But Cain blames God for the curse that isn’t from God. It is from Satan, God’s adversary who activated the law of sin and death. Cain knows this–he’s heard the story a hundred times. But it made him angry with God.
And here is his chance for change. His opportunity to make another choice. To turn around and go towards God.
But instead he says, “My punishment is more than I can bear.” (He may have been the first narcissist. It’s all about him, and he blames God.) “You have driven me out. And I will be hidden from your presence, and be a restless vagabond. And whoever finds me will kill me.”
Uh, who said anything about punishment? And weren’t you listening? The curse of sin and death has driven you out–your own guilt. God doesn’t want you to go but to fix it with His help.
So, God says, “OK then, I will put a mark on you, and anyone who kills you will have seven times the retribution” (life for life).
Why didn’t God let him be killed? He could have stopped a whole bunch of evil people from being born. One, He loves him, two, its important for him and the universe to see the development of the curse of sin–maybe pain and suffering will bring him back, three, Cain asks God to intervene for him–and He does! He touches God’s father-heart that wants to give us good things more than we do to our children.
What could God have done for Cain? With Cain’s request He could have changed his heart, forgiven him and reinstated him in his family, taking his shame and guilt so he wouldn’t have had to leave.
Jesus favorite topic was Abba’s father-heart of love for broken humans. He showed us how God parents. He promotes and protects freedom and dignity. He won’t force us to make the right choices, but He would so like to be invited to help us sort them out. He doesn’t protect His kids from everything bad, but He goes through everything with us. He is always with us if we want Him to be. That is the ultimate parenting. Always available, always caring, never intrusive or taking over. He deals honestly, but not harshly.
After writing seven books of the Bible trying to understand and tell the story of God as a good parent, dealing with dysfunction in His family, one thing I see is we don’t understand God or His goodness because of preconditioning and language, and because of the brevity of the stories in scripture.
I invite you to read the series and fall in love with a new picture of God. He’s not a pushover, anything-goes grandparent, but He is a good, good father.