Almana Ger Yatom

Widows, Strangers, Orphans: Journeying with the Poor

Fear shame and guilt, are what moves us


Genesis spells out 3 dynamos inside of us. These are fear, shame and guilt. When Adam and Eve, our first parents sinned, for the first time, we see these three dynamos at play. When they hear the footsteps of God approaching, they flee (fear). And when they saw they were naked, they hid (shame). The third one is guilt and it is not apparent here but it is apparent in all the treatment of sin in the Bible, which is always characterized by sacrifice, the atonement of our sins in order to remove our guilt.

All people have the three but usually one is more dominant than the others. Shame is most dominant in me. When something wrong happens, what kicks in usually is that feeling of shame – being defeated by an opponent or adversary, exposed as weak or incompetent or stupid, or felt as a general feeling of being undressed or naked or demoted to a lower status or rank.

Shame refers to the issue of exposure, being shown a failure. It comes from being overcome by a bigger and smarter opponent; that sense of being outmaneuvered or outsmarted.

Fear on the other hand refers to the danger of harm and the threat of extinction. A woman staying alone in a cabin in the woods fears that she could be assaulted and killed. Although in this example, it could also be shame, when the feeling is that of being outwitted in the sense of being stupid. So many victims of rape will blame themselves and say they were stupid for not being careful or for hanging out in a dark alley. She might say, “Why did I not see it coming?” “Why did I stay alone or walk in the dark?”

Fear however is different from shame. It refers more to the existence of the person than his or her dignity or status. It is very ultimate and absolute. It refers to the life of the person, although it can be of varying degrees. The person can fear for example being hospitalized and not be afraid of dying. He can also fear speaking in public or being in a small room even though there is no apparent threat or danger to his or her life. The fear or dread may come from the past and is triggered by the present stimulus such as the public or the smallness of the room. In the past, the fear was very real and it continues on until the present. Maybe as a child, he was placed in danger, abandoned, with no hope of rescue or escape. Even if he did survive, the trauma leaves a mark on the soul, fear.

Guilt relates to the condemnation and judgment of breaking the law, of becoming enslaved and penalized. Guilt is about becoming liable and having to pay. Survivors have feelings of guilt when all the rest of their friends or family died. Guilt says, “why did I survive and not my son or daughter?” “We were on the same boat that sunk and only my wife drowned. Why is it that I was the one that I survived?”

There was at the beginning godly fear, godly shame and godly guilt. They are part of how God made us. Shame, fear and guilt are natural parts of our divine make up, or design but sin has turned all three upside down. We have become depraved, so instead of fear, the fear of God which makes us run to God, we have a depraved fear which makes us run away from God.

Shame too has been twisted. We are ashamed of the way God made us (pango, pandak, bobo, tanga, maputi, maitim, kulot). We are not ashamed though of our sins. We are not ashamed of cheating, lying, stealing, fornication, pornography, fighting, or our rage.

Godly guilt moves us to submit to God’s grace and to hide behind Jesus. Grace is free but instead we fight grace and we aggressively work to make ourselves worthy. We want to perform, and we want to pay and not be in debt (ayaw ng utang na loob). Grace in fact is violent to our souls.

What is the action of the three dynamos? Fear runs, shame hides and guilt pays. And what is the message of each one of these? Fear says there is something wrong with God or with other significant persons, shame says there is something wrong with me, and guilt says I have to pay. These are the messages inside our hearts.

These three are not emotions merely. Calling them emotions trivializes them. They are dynamos that move us, dictate to us. We have always worked with the fallacy that people are logical, that they behave according to reason. It is a fallacy to think people act base on their reason or logic. Experts have shown conclusively that people act and decide mainly based on their feelings. We always have this false notion that we are rational people. We are not. We are always moved not by our reason but these dynamos, fear, shame and guilt (and until disarmed, our rage). We are very emotional people. The most developed part of our brain is the right brain which is almost entirely emotions. The most undeveloped part is the rational part, our left brain.

Rage covers these three. Rage insulates us from fear, shame and guilt. These three are buried beneath a thick layer of anger or rage and many times, we are not able to connect with fear or shame or guilt. The goal of true discipleship is to identify and then to disarm that covering layer of anger. Before we can start work on these 3 dynamos, we have to disarm our anger. True discipleship starts only when we have reached these three, and only until we have gone pass our rage. Until anger is disarmed we have no real discipleship because we cannot even see what moves us (our fear, shame or guilt).

Anger covers the three dynamos. Outward or other directed anger is very easy to spot. The person is outwardly angry, screaming, throwing a tantrum, or is violent but inward or self-directed anger is hard to spot or notice. The person could be calm, mild mannered, shy even. We have to have good eyes to see the bruises (mga sugat at pasa) on the person due to inner directed anger, inflicted by rage.

Experts say that the not-clinical depression is anger turned inwards. Imagine a person beating him or herself up. There are bruises and cuts from punishing the self, working too hard, and being so demanding of self, or being a perfectionist. With people like these, even their spirituality and intimacy feel scathing hot and scary. The smell of the person’s spirituality is intimidating, harsh and cold.

Anger is usually our best friend, in the sinful sense because it makes us feel together and intact. We need to realize how the depravity of sin makes things look upside down or inverted. For example, why would anger be our friend or best friend for that matter? Why would people shoot themselves in the foot? Why would anxiety attack be better for me than not having one? Why is pornography safer?

In what way is anger my best friend? When we don’t get angry, and we choose instead to grieve or beg or apologize (manuyo), it will feel weak and sometimes it feels like our arms are falling off the shoulders. Anger holds us together and we feel stronger. Without anger we feel naked, vulnerable and weak.

Many people who are numbed and insensitive have actually switched off their hearts so they can no longer feel. There are two problems here. When we shut the door of our hearts to pain, pain cannot come in but also joy and intimacy cannot come in. What we don’t realize is that there is only one door to our hearts so when we shut out one we shut out all – bad things can’t come in but good things also can’t come in.

The second problem is after some time, we will no longer be able to find the switch to turn on our hearts again. When we want to feel, when we are married and we want to love our spouse, or when we have children and we want to become intimate with them and find a need to switch our hearts on again, we find out we cannot find the switch anymore. It’s a terrible tragedy. For some, it will take a lifetime recovering that heart that can receive both joy and pain.

How do people switch off their hearts? By anger. Anger makes the heart cold. When we disarm anger, then we can feel everything again, including fear, shame and guilt. We also can feel our longings, our desires which are dangerous. We constantly wage war against our hearts because our hearts always lead us to trouble.

As we said, outward directed anger is easy to spot but inward anger is harder to see. We need to discern anger turned inwards. Many think that they are mild and shy and passive but underneath there is this great rage that has taken hold of their hearts so they will not feel pain, they will not get hurt, they will not get disappointed.

The Psalms point us to the core of our anger – God. If we are ever to be angry at the right person, it would be God for He has the power to help us, he is able to do something but He did not. He could have saved our papa from dying of cancer but he did not, he could have saved our sister from being raped but he did not. Inside of us is this deep-seated rage towards God and Psalms releases all of them in a mélange of grief and praise, resentment and worship, anger and surrender.

When anger is disarmed then suddenly we are faced with great terrors, and the demons of our hearts will arise. The dominant one, shame, fear or guilt, will haunt us day and night.

There is a place for anger. The bible says there is a kind of anger that does not lead to sin or an anger that is not sinful. What we are talking about here is the sinful anger, anger that is principally for ourselves. Godly anger is anger for the sake of others, to protect others without anger there is often no justice. When we are parenting small kids, we cannot spank them out of anger, the kind that is only for ourselves, for our benefit, to protect us. Anger that is not for others is a sin. We have to notice if the anger is for us or for our child before we can impose punishment. If the anger is for our sake, when we spank our kids, we sin.

God allows us to be angry and yet not sin and this happens when we are angry for the sake of others, in order to protect the weak and oppressed. Almost all our anger is sinful and we need to disarm it so we can enter into the core of our hearts and start working on the ungodly fear shame and guilt.

Once inside, we must distinguish between godly fear, shame and guilt and ungodly fear, shame and guilt. The false self will always lead us to ungodly shame, fear and guilt. We need to learn to be in solitude, to discern God’s presence in order to know the difference. Whenever we have fear, we must ask ourselves, “Is this fear coming from God or from myself?’ If it is from God, we must be alarmed and be on the lookout. There are many legitimate things to be afraid of and the biggest one is sin. Immorality or adultery is a common one. But anger or rage is a big concern also. We need to be afraid that we will fall into sin or cause others to sin because of us or because of what we do.

Shame is more difficult, sticky and messy because it is so intermingled with who we are, our self-identity. Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, gave a very clear sermon on what this is like. He said, who we are is simple and we don’t have to work for it. We just simply have to fall back into it. It cannot be taken away from us. Our false selves on the other hand are concerned with additions to who we really are. We can know who we are by remembering what we were before we became a lawyer or a doctor or a President of a corporation or a holder of a PhD. All these things will pass away.

Guilt is easy to study. By focusing on grace, we can see how false guilt or ungodly guilt works. I think the pharisaical legalism is the outworking of this sinful guilt. The more control, the more legalistic one gets; and the less control, the more grace is present. One can always spot legalism from a mile away by measuring the amount of control present. Grace on the other hand will always feel like falling off an airplane from a thousand feet, without a parachute.

The Jews had God and the law and when Jesus came, Jesus showed them how they had owned God, made Him a national religion but God did not own them. Jesus also showed them that they knew the law, by heart but it was enslaving. Jesus said, if you hate someone in your heart, you have committed adultery. Jesus did not change the law. He only showed us how the law was a liberating force, not something that would enslave us.

It is very clear with Jesus in the matter of the Sabbath, which was the center piece of Jewish spirituality. Jesus almost said he could break the Sabbath by saying He was Lord of the Sabbath, Sabbath was made for man and man was not made for the Sabbath. It was that perspective, that world view that made the Jews under the law because they read the Bible to control it, not to be controlled by it. In the end, it was human tyranny that powered the implementation of the law and the law became harsh. When people go to the Bible to be surrendered to the Word of God, then what they find is that God is now Lord and King and not some tyrant human being, not themselves, imperfect human beings.

NT Wright discussed this also. The People of God were precisely called to be vice-regent, to rule in God’s place. The political theory of the Divine Rights of King was correct and precise but the reading and perspective was wrong. Jesus had to show them how to read power and authority. He told them that he who wants to be first must be last, he who wants to rule must be servant of all. The King (Queen) of England derives his right to govern indeed from God but without this element of servant hood, his authority instantly becomes spurious and illegitimate.

We will continue to struggle with ungodly fear, shame and guilt, perhaps, until we die but each moment we recover even fleetingly, the godly form of these dynamos, we also show a glimpse, no matter how fleeting, of God to the world. When men are willing to be ashamed of their sins and not for how God made them, and when they are afraid to run to God instead of away from Him; and when men will not resist grace but hide behind the cross, maybe, in those moments, at last, Christ will feel like he indeed dwells among us, incarnate, Immanuel.


We can also categorize parenting according to these three dynamos:

Fear parenting: one of the parents is very fearful and over protective and may even be obsessive compulsive. The other parent may just be tagging along, completely unaware of the dynamics being played out by the other spouse. What is happening is that the parents manage and manipulate the external environment so carefully to prevent any surprise attack or crisis. Of course, nothing can prevent those attacks or surprises but still, the atmosphere is that of super carefulness, out of fear of being attacked or destroyed. OCD people will super micro-manage the family, interfering into such small details as the color of the handbag of the child, the placement of the chair or electric fan in the house, the way the hair is combed, etc. the children and even the other spouse will generally feel suffocated. It will feel very caring and kind at the beginning but in the end will amount to a grave abuse that will destroy the freedom and creativity of the members of the family.

Guilt parenting: when my wife hears about our youngest son having a hard time in school, she immediately turns into herself, muttering to herself, it is my fault, I have not been a good mother. Children who hear this, even though not uttered explicitly (just heard from the heart), will grow up with a great ambivalence about their own responsibility. Bad kids will learn to manipulate their parents to blame them rather than look at their own responsibility and not try to work harder. When the bad kids blame the parents, the parents go deeper into guilt creating a vicious cycle inside the home. The kids also grow up and get married, doing the same thing to their children and even to their own spouses. Everyone in a guilt parenting home will always feel exhausted, feel they need to work harder and become more worthy. Everything also needs to be paid. There is no love given freely. Grace is violent to their souls. The parent could be a perfectionist so that nothing will ever do or satisfy, she will never be qualified, she will always fail so that this way, she could always blame herself and become guilty and thus, have to always pay. This is safer than walk in grace because grace is very dangerous.

Shame parenting: this is more difficult to identify as it will appear more like fear or guilt. Filipino culture is mainly a shame-based culture. There are words and gestures and facial expressions or looks that have Muhammad Ali like knock-out punches, that send kids cowering, shivering in shame or running away with their tails tucked under their crutches. Everything is internal but with the same ferocity as when kids are spanked or even abusively kicked or punched. The attack goes directly to the value and worth of the person, negating even the value given by God who loved them and gave himself for them on the cross. Salvation and spirituality also become very artificial as people have no sense of self-worth or dignity. Kids either feel they have to hide, wear bland ordinary clothes to be intentionally unnoticed or else, the opposite, engage in an ever wearying parade of the latest fashion, vulgar colors and wild hair-dos. They are never content, never finding their own beauty and value, which are elusive. They wear make ups or go to the body building gyms to correct imaginary faults and deformities. They always want attention but they do not know for what. The eyes of the parents which are supposed to form their self-worth through affirmation and delight, instead are deathly lasers that deform and deface. It distorts sin also because while there is much shame over how God has made them, there is almost no shame for the shaming or the unloving gaze or other sinful things. Spiritual values for the kids when they become Christians will be used more to shame others, to put down others, than to build others up.

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