Good Friday or Ridiculous Friday?

For most of my life, I hated Good Friday.

The name seemed ridiculous to me. The event seemed ridiculous to me. For decades, I thought it should be called Unnecessary Friday.

My Shame

Photo Credit: bruckerrlb via Compfight cc

People way smarter than me used big phrases—like “substitutionary atonement”—and told me it was absolutely necessary. They said Man had sinned against God and now God needed a sacrifice in order to forgive mankind, so he sacrificed his son.

But I never completely bought it.

I mean, what kind of a God is so ticked off he can’t get over himself and his anger without killing one of his children? In the words of Richard Rohr, “Is God that unfree?”

I tried. Believe me, I tried for years to swallow it, but I could never get it down.

And I’m so glad I didn’t.

Because a decade as a psychologist has me wondering.

As a psychologist, you spend every day lowering yourself into the depths of humanity—the depths that exist in your own heart and in the hearts of others. You touch the bottom of existence and you claw your way back to the top and you want to shout to the heavens, “There is something beautiful down there!

It wrecks you. In a really good way. Because it deconstructs all the beliefs you’ve inherited about how people are basically rotten, depraved, and sinful at their core.

You realize people are, at their core, simply humming with beauty.

You realize grace is not just some benevolent tolerance of a corrupt creation.

You realize grace is the accurate reflection of the beautiful creatures buried within us.

And you realize, on a Good Friday, you have to write about it, because it may be essential to turning this whole bloody planet around…

Why Sin Isn’t the First Problem

In August 2012, during an Icelandic bus tour, a woman was reported missing and a search commenced. It was a false alarm. In all the confusion, the woman reported to be missing was actually a member of the search party.

Unbeknownst to her, she was searching for herself.

I think this is the story of humanity and there are three key elements—shame, sin, and grace—and until we get them straight, Good Friday isn’t good and the world doesn’t make any sense.

Shame is misinformation. Shame is the lie that our worthiness has gone missing. Shame is the belief that what is inside of us—the substance of who we are—is rotten and makes us unworthy of love and belonging. Shame is the belief that we must find something outside of ourselves to make us worthy of love.

Sin is the search. As a result of the lie, we search to find worthiness in perfection and achievement and status and the acquisition of resources and the accumulation of lofty experiences and the accrual of power. Much of religion has called this sin and deemed it the first problem, the main problem. But it’s not. Sin is our reaction to the first problem: our shame

And grace is the truth. Grace announces our worthiness was never missing to begin with. And it calls off the search. Grace proclaims, “You believed a lie, but the truth is you are beloved, exactly the way you are.” Grace isn’t preoccupied with sin like we are, because it knows sin is the byproduct of shame. It knows when the darkness of our shame succumbs to the light of grace, our sin—our search—dies with it.

But you don’t need to take my word for it. Or the story of an Icelandic tourist. Because this story of shame and sin and grace is an ancient one.

A Delivery Room, a Playground, a Parent, and a Friday Afternoon

There is an ancient poem that begins one of the most popular (and reviled) books in the world. It’s a powerful rendition of the development of humankind. In the Book of Genesis:

The Garden of Eden is like a delivery room—six days of chaotic, violent, majestic labor, concluding with the birth of God’s children. And he looks upon them and concludes they are good.

Good enough.

They are pronounced to be without shame.

But the babies grow up and the Garden becomes like a school playground and this bully comes along and we call this bully the serpent. And the bully hisses his lie: “You are not good enough. You are not like Him. You should be more than you are.”

And in the playground-Garden, we watch the first shaming.

And we watch as these two people—ratified as good by the Parent of all things—believe the not-good-enough lie.

We watch as they experience original shame.

And the bully continues his lie. He tells them there is something outside of themselves that will make them truly worthy, and he points them toward an apple-of-promise. He tells them, “Go do this, and you will be good enough.”

And like deceived children, they do it. They eat the apple,

and we watch the first search—original sin.

And the search plays out through the centuries: brother kills brother out of jealousy, Babel is built and wars are waged and humanity gets torn apart by its attempts to escape the shame-full lie. And what does God do? He just throws up his hands and gives up on the whole damned experiment, right?

Wrong.

This ancient story doesn’t end there.

Because like a parent with a bottomless love, he sees his rebellious teenage child—but he also remembers the good, innocent, infinitely worthy child he first cradled in the delivery room.

And he knows that child is still in there somewhere.

He’s like a parent with a bottomless love, waiting up into the wee hours of the night for the drug-addicted child to arrive home so he can wrap her in a hug and say, “If I could only convince you of your beauty and your goodness then you wouldn’t need to run away from yourself with all these drugs and all this violence.”

And like a parent with a bottomless love, he knows words will never be enough to get the message across. He knows he has to act. Sacrificially. Not as a reward for finally changing—but as an affirmation of the child’s worthiness, even in the midst of all the destruction and the mess.

And so the ancient story continues…

He comes and—in the words of Rachel Held Evans—he “straps on sandals” and he walks our roads with us.

And it’s no mistake he rebukes those who are searching for worthiness by establishing rules and hierarchies of power and judgment.

It’s no mistake he makes his home amongst those who have stopped searching and are keenly aware of their shame and are ready to hear: “You are worthy, just as you are.”

And, it is no mistake that in one afternoon of slow, agonizing, humiliating death, he transforms his culture’s ultimate symbol of shame—a cross—into an antenna, broadcasting the ultimate message of grace: You are worthy of love and you have a place to belong—exactly the way you are.

And the first viral message of humankind echoes across the centuries:

For a God

Who.

Is.

Love.

Reconciliation was never required, except in our own shame-filled minds.

Death and Resurrection

I still don’t like the name “Good Friday.” Because, these days, I think it’s the understatement of all time and history.

And the story continues.

With you. With us.

In the story of Good Friday, we have been given a timeless blueprint of death and resurrection. It requires three simple steps:

We must freely choose to venture into the depths of our shame—into all of the ways we have been deceived into believing our worth and our beauty are conditional upon anything—into all the ways we’ve been lied to by the words and actions of parents and teachers and friends and foes and powerful people of every kind.

We must confess the ways we have searched for worthiness outside of ourselves. We must be honest about the ways we have lived in the dark and the ways we have spread the darkness.

And we must embrace the relentless truth of grace: we are worthy of love and belonging, exactly the way we are—all weak and powerless and broken and raw and grieving and dying and scared and despairing and angry and lost…and beautiful.

It’s. that. simple.

I know, for many, this will seem like a bunch of fluffy-feel-good spiritual nonsense. But let me be clear: venturing to the bottom of our shame is the opposite of “feel good.”

It is to feel torn apart from the inside out.

It feels like death.

But to sink to the bottom of it and to touch the Beauty humming at the core of us?

Well, that is, indeed, a resurrection.

This post is not meant to be the “final world.” It’s meant to be the FIRST word. What do you think about shame, sin, and grace? Share your ideas at the bottom of this post

Loved this book: Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Mark D. Baker and Joel B. Green.

———

Free eBook: My new eBookThe Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. You can click here to subscribe, and your subscription confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook. As always, thank you for reading; it’s a gift. Sincerely, Kelly

Preview: My next post will be Wednesday, April 3, and is tentatively entitled, “Why Giving Up is Good,” or “Out with the Good, In with the New.” I can’t decide.

Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Steve Long

    Thank you, Dr. F !
    Christ Is Risen!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Indeed, Steve! Just can’t bring myself to say the full response until Sunday. : )

  • Zdenka Juric

    I really like the explanation of shame being the source of our sin. The shame of not being good enough, of not being worthy or loveble drives us to live a lie. Trough the death of Jesus on the cross, God is trying to reach to us with the message: ‘ I love you and you are worth dying for’. In my language (Croatian) literal translation of the “Good Friday” is actually the “Great Friday”. Good article, thank you!

  • Glenda

    Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and honor and glory, forever.

  • Sarah

    Awesome post! I also believe and wish to add that the good that He sees in us is not anything we should be proud of by our own achievements. It is still Grace that Jesus shed His blood for our sins and that is why our sins are all washed away and all God sees in us is Jesus. Thank you for sharing this post.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Sarah, I couldn’t agree more. We don’t earn our worthiness. It’s woven in from the beginning, and it can’t be extracted!

  • Scott

    Because of our shame that we are feeling and our attitude towards how God relates to us in this shame see the link attached. So helpful in God’s total acceptance of humanity.
    http://baxterkruger.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-holy-spirits-descent-into-hell.html

  • arka

    Well! Thanks! I find this post in the line of searching and authenticate with the self, but on the other hand, many examples are found nowadays of people that live their lives with integrity and are being persecuted for doing so. I guess not many things has changed since the times of Christ, as the system and even, the collective consciousness (talking within the Western World frame and elsewhere?), have the tendency, generally speaking, of sacrificing and literally kill pioneers. That could be said, in the sense that it is easier to erase a threat than to change their social structural system or personal atomatic modus operandi. (frightened of loosing a job? of talking to you boss?) (In the context of understanding ‘God’ as the system that sacrifice pioneers, and thus Jesus Christ …In my humble opinion, he was a John Lennon, and this last one, was also killed a few decades ago.) But hope! Yes! o_0

  • Jen Street

    Dr. Kelly, I discovered your blog about a year ago on Facebook and have been reading it ever since. Your series on ‘Marriage is for Losers’ is truly God-inspired. I have benefited greatly from your insight and even saw a close friend delivered from shame after reading your post about you showing up at your kids’ school in a costume, but there was no costume party. I have nothing but the utmost respect for you.

    I have reread your post this morning over and over to make sure I have not misinterpreted its meaning. If I appear to have done so in my response, please let me know so that I may reevaluate my statements. Let me just say – and this will serve as kind of my disclaimer – that I am but a humble student of the gospel; an impassioned follower of Jesus – I am not perfect, but my desire and hope is to accurately represent the word of God in all that I am and all that I do. I know this is painfully long; I hope you will bear with me.

    You define grace as being “the accurate reflection of the beautiful creatures buried within us.” I can see that as being truth; however, it’s more of a side-effect of grace. An equivalent to that would be – after being baptized, I go around proclaiming how wet I am. Yes indeed I am wet; hopefully a bit more than just wet. Baptism is to represent openly our coming into covenant with God, our acceptance of his son as our Savior, and represents our journey from death into eternal life, where we commit, on this side of eternity, to die daily to ourselves in order that we might live in Christ.

    You have freely attributed love as being who God is; yet you have not done the same with grace. Grace is one of the many facets of who God is – grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve because he is always good (mercy is NOT getting what we DO deserve). Grace is displayed in the beauty of humanity; indeed. We are beautiful. Not because of anything we do, but because of who God IS. We are beautiful because he assigns value to us. We are worthy because he first loved us.

    I don’t believe anyone has ever been so right and yet so wrong about what shame, sin and grace are.

    Shame is the lie. But there is a difference between shame and guilt. Guilt is an emotion inspired by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of bringing about a change in our thinking that leads to a new direction of action in the truth of Christ; repentance.

    Sin is the search. I believe it would be more accurate to say that sin leads us to the search. But what IS that search?

    Grace is the truth. Again, what truth? Everything you have described indicates that each of these is a product of man and therefore its solution can also be found in man.

    God created us innocent and perfect and blameless and a stunning reflection of his beauty. But he also created us to have free will. In order for love to exist, there has to be the option for a person to NOT choose love. God is love. God created us with the OPTION of whether or not to choose HIM. We were made to dwell with God in his presence forever. God gave us everything we needed; he made us rulers over the dominion of the earth and gave us every good thing. God gave us everything and then gave us only one restriction – not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then came the serpent. He is called the deceiver, the liar, the accuser. He accuses God to us – “did God really say this?” causing us to question God’s own words and authority. Then he appealed to their dormant pride – “you can be equal to God if you eat of the fruit”. Then he misrepresents the outcome of their actions – “surely you will not die”. Adam and Eve were innocent; but they made a choice. God demonstrated his love and care for them in everything he did for them and gave to them. They chose in that moment to doubt God’s love and intention towards them and to believe the voice of a stranger. Their choice is what introduced sin into the world, which led to the separation of humanity from God. But for love to be love, the choice had to be there.

    Why couldn’t we stay in the presence of God after the introduction of sin? Because he is holy. He is holy and blameless and pure and righteous. The bible is clear – light and dark cannot exist in the same space. We chose to separate ourselves from God when we desired to be equal with him. Idolatry was the original sin against God; and every person is born into that state of idolatry, where our natural tendency is to consider ourselves equal to him. And I believe that your post this morning reflects just that – a way to grace without repentance, without the acknowledgment of sin and our fallen state with God. I hear nothing in your post that celebrates God as the source for all that man is and can choose to be.

    God is not so ticked off he can’t get over himself and his anger without killing one of his children. In his infinite wisdom, he knew before the creation of the earth and man that a sacrifice must be made to reconcile his creations to him; and still he chose to create us. God isn’t this angry old man waiting to nuke us; the nature of holiness is that is wipes out darkness. We now have darkness in us – it was God’s compassion towards us that moved him to separate us from him. Reconciliation is what is needed to restore relations between ourselves and God.

    God’s first way back to him was through covenant. The first covenant introduced by God was marriage (Gen 2:24). The nature of covenant is where two become one – their needs, wants, hopes, dreams, desires are all shared and no longer individualized. One purpose. One agenda. The goal (and invitation) of covenant is to restore what was once separate. In 1 Cor. 6:17, God invites us, “but he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit”. To enter into covenant requires a sacrifice of blood and cannot be broken except through death; the only way into covenant is through the sacrifice (the flame of the Lord passes through the animals). Through covenant, everything I have becomes yours and vice versa. When we enter into covenant with God, we agree to give up everything we are and have to gain everything he is and has. He already gave us himself for us and died for us, and reconciliation is contingent our correct response to that.

    God knew because of our sin, we would be unable to keep our covenant perfectly with him. God didn’t send the law to torture mankind, but because in our fallen state he knew our born tendency was to count ourselves equal to him, which is the ultimate sin. All of those sacrificed animals in the Old Testament were required because death is the price of broken covenant. The law was sent to show us the gap between God’s holiness (light) and our sin (darkness); he needed to provide opportunity for revelation that on our own, we are incapable of closing the gap through our own strength and efforts. (We are now seeing the effects of the death of the family and of fatherhood in our society by breaking and defiling over and over again the covenant of marriage).

    God sent his son Jesus to fulfill perfectly the covenant we were unable to keep – so that no more blood sacrifice was needed. God’s judgement was perfectly satisfied through the perfect sacrifice – the blood of the holy lamb of God. So that now a new covenant could be made, one that only requires us to acknowledge that God is who he says he is, that we give him his rightful place, above ourselves. And that we believe we have the forgiveness of sins through his son Jesus – that he is the way, the truth, and the life – that there is no other way to the Father but through him – and that we commit to love God with all our hearts, our minds, all our soul, and all our strength.

    Without an awareness of our sin and separation from God, there can be no reconciliation, no covenant, and no repentance that leads to life. You propose that we overcome the shame of the devil through a mind acknowledgment and agreement of what it is, where it came from, and confronting it in our own power. We can never overcome the power of sin, death and satan WITHOUT the power of God. Gods grace is him enabling our weakness with his strength to overcome (2 Cor. 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness”).

    I can think of nothing good-er than celebrating the sacrifice my God made for me to draw near to him again; a sacrifice I neither earned in my own strength nor deserved. All that you said about freely choosing to venture into our shame is good, correct, wonderful stuff. But I feel like in your effort to bring the truths of the gospel to the secular world, you are leaving out the most important thing, the one who inspired it, created it, created us – our creator, God. We are valuable because of who God says we are, not because of what we think we are in our own strength. Our giftings, our intellect, our desires, our heart – those are all from Him. We were born denying who he is and at what place in our lives he belongs. He came after us long before we EVER thought of him. Today is a day of testimony of the love of a God so good and so full of grace and mercy that he made a way back to him, through his own pain, his own blood, his own sacrifice. Today is a day of remembrance of our journey back to him; to honor with deep mourning and overwhelming joy the sacrifice it took to reconcile us to our God, through the blood of the spotless lamb, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

    I pray that my words are received in love, as they are intended – and my deepest hope is that the Lord will speak to your heart His truth – not mine or yours. I bless you and your family and thank you for your heart and your desire to help others. Good Friday to you, and Happy Easter.

    • Risé

      Jen, I felt the same as you … your comment was long, but good. I too got the impression that Dr. Kelly left out the most important thing, which is that God Himself became a man to die, to become a living sacrifice, that He might be able to reconcile us to Himself. Good Friday is about God’s amazing mercy and grace, and incredible love for mankind. Good Friday?? No, its Amazing Friday … Glorious Friday … ‘good’ doesn’t even BEGIN to cover it.

      Happy Easter!

    • Morielle

      Dearest Jen Street,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful and loving comment. You put into words some of the uncomfortableness I felt while reading this post. On the one hand, I was thrilled by insights like the serpent’s use of the “not good enough” idea in his temptation and the way shame motivated Cain’s murder and the tower of Babel. Also that Jesus spent much of his ministry arguing so vehemently against self-provers and showing so much love to those who had practically given up any efforts to create self-worth.

      But on the other all so important hand, I felt like something about what happened on Calgary was being cheapened.

      My first thought was, “I wish Dr. Kelly had said the only way to be worthy of belonging is by reconciling with our Creator. And that the only way to do this is to face the ugliness of our rejection of Him AND take the way made for us by Christ. Because, if all we need to do is to find our inner beauty, I guess I don’t see how Christ’s death helps at all.”

      Kelly said Christ had to die to prove God’s love for us. But I think that if we were beautiful at the core and just needed to dig through that inner darkness down to the beauty deep down, why did God have to send His son to the death? Radical self acceptance is far from the same as God’s grace as preached in the Bible.

      The more I think, the more deeply I appreciate your words, Jen. Kelly’s insights on shame in the story are remarkable, but I don’t think I can accept for myself this narrative that leaves out the purpose of the law, the nature of covenant, the extent of our weakness, the sheer purity of God’s holiness, and the importance of relationship with our father.

      Thank you both for making me think so hard on this one! This was especially valuable to me, because it showed me just how big of a deal it is when aspects of the Bible’s narrative are left out. I tend to unconsciously skirt around things that I don’t quite understand or that I know others will find offensive when I am sharing the gospel – I will have to be super conscious to fight this tendency in future.

      love,
      Morielle

      • drkellyflanagan

        I so appreciate all of the comments today, and yet there is something particularly special about this thread. My desire for this growing community here at UnTangled has always been that it be a place where people of differing perspective and ideas can meet each other gracefully and build each other up in the process of dialogue. Jen and Rise, I’ve always valued your contributions to the conversation and I’m grateful for your courage in engaging today, rather than disconnecting. You, too, Morielle. There is so much here, so I’m going to share the first three thoughts that come to mind and then be done with it. : )

        First, I want to apologize if it feels like I cheapened anyone’s view of the Cross. My intention was to share my own struggle, not to discredit anyone else’s experience. In a way, I guess this post was more for people who are struggling with what they believe, rather than for those who are more settled. Ironically, I would have disagreed with this post five years ago! And I have to concede, in another five years, I might disagree again! : )

        Second, I couldn’t agree more that the Cross was about radical grace and love. I think that is something that has been fairly well agreed upon through the centuries. Yet, I think different people groups and different cultures have had incredibly different interpretations of what grace means in this context and what the specific “saving function” of the Cross was. The book I recommend at the end of the post is a great review and analysis of these different perspectives. For instance, in our contemporary Western culture, which is very transactional in nature, we have an inclination to think of the cross in transactional ways (e.g., a cancellation of debt). I hoped to bring a more relational perspective to it, instead. That’s the therapist in me! I thought of my daughter and all the bad decisions she is probably going to make over the years and how she will always be to me the pure, loving little girl she is now. My act of grace toward her will be my insistence that, no matter how much she messes up, rebels, etc., I will still see her as my lovely little girl, who has a part of me in her.

        Which I guess brings me to my third and last thought! I think much of the debate about the Cross ironically has to do with how we think of human beings. If we focus on the brokenness of humanity, we tend to feel more comfortable with a substitutionary atonement theology of the Cross. If we tend to focus on man created in the image of God and therefore, in theory, carrying something of God at the center of his being, then penal substitution theologies feel less compelling.

        Thanks to all of you for going on the journey with me. Let’s all keep pushing back with love here at UnTangled. It’ll take us all to a better place.

        • Jennifer Newell

          From first thing this morning after I read this post I found myself struggling with parts of what was written. It really felt like something was off. It really became clear in your response. I believe we are all born with God’s moral code written on our heart. I think we know right from wrong because of that. However, we are all born into a sinful world, and we have a sinful nature. Therefore we have need for a Savior. Due to the Law, we will all fall short alone. Perhaps I am one who believe in the brokenness of humanity that points out the fact that we will never be able to be 100 percent true to the LAW. Therefore we need Jesus to bridge the gap. For me as a Christian, Christ lives in me, so I can see how when you strip away all the shame, it becomes easier to accept the Love from God which will allow the Holy Spirit to wrap us up in Grace and Mercy. Faith is a walk with hills and valleys, and I am certain that the struggle so many people have is God’s way of getting us to desire to know him more. It is in this personal relationship that we grow to love God more. This weekend is the Celebration of the Risen Christ, that provides us with the certainty that through faith in Christ Jesus we can have eternal life.

          • drkellyflanagan

            Jenn, thanks for sharing this. In a way, it’s kind of refreshing that we are at a bit of odds with each other for a change. No one gets formed when everyone around them is identical to them, and I respect your insights, so I take your comment above seriously! I was just listening to a book this morning that argues the Law is a necessary part of our formation because it helps us develop a sense of a self–a fallen self–that we then spend the rest of our lives dying to, with the help of God’s grace. I kind of liked that way of thinking about it

        • Morielle

          I’m gonna have to check out this book, Dr. Kelly. I tend to want things to make sense logically, and to be honest substitutionary atonement didn’t make a lot of sense to me either – which is why I like Jen’s explanation so much. It seems much deeper than the “substitutionary atonement” idea so often thrown around, and more focused on the relational aspect of God’s reconciliation to us. Covenants! Guilt vs. Shame. And it makes more logical sense to me than your explanation, where I still don’t see the need for the death of the son of God. But, I want to think and learn more about this….sooooo: book!

          This could take a while, but I will get back to you. Thanks a bunch.

          • drkellyflanagan

            Thank you, Morielle, for the dialogue! The last 24 hours have been incredibly formative for me, as I’ve wrestled with all the responses and comments. I’m grateful for the role you and other have played in that. This was indeed meant to be a “first” word! I’ll look forward to hearing your reaction to the book.

        • Lisa-Anne

          I would just like to share that my years of experience of ‘self elevation’ through positive affirmations, loving myself, expressing my God-given beauty etc., left me much further from God’s presence than when I finally admitted my brokenness. When I humbly fall on my face in the presence of my King: when I admit I am NOT GO(O)D, not even close: when I quit my insistent plea that I am worthy – these are the moments I experience the fullness and the beauty and the relentless love of my Saviour. And in those moments, I am lifted up and made beautiful, not by my own innate worth but by the act of laying myself down and receiving Him. The wonderful part is that we can do this daily, and display the truth of who we are by dying to ourselves and receiving our new identity in Christ, which truly does make us beautiful. It’s a grace-filled paradox.

          • drkellyflanagan

            Thanks for this, Lisa-Anne. I agree with you, “self-elevating” is the work of the ego and we always end up crashing and burning anyway. I hope it didn’t come across that I was recommending self-elevation. I think it’s actually the reverse: to go into our shame and all the dark ways we have avoided our shame is to go into the darkest and most broken places of our selves. It is truly to die to our “self,” not elevate it. Thanks again for pointing this out.

  • Jennifer Koski

    “You touch the bottom of existence and you claw your way back to the top and you want to shout to the heavens, ‘There is something beautiful down there!'”

    I love your way with words! And I love your emphasis on resurrection of the soul.
    I’m trying to find words to describe the wonder and awe and hope of it all, but I can’t.
    No words.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You cut right to the heart of it here, Jennifer. It’s not about acceptance of the self, but resurrection of the soul. Love those words.

    • peter walhout

      The one word that may apply is ‘sublime’! In philosophical aesthetics, it has been used to mean “a representation of the unrepresentable.” Maybe “Sublime Friday” is the most apt name for this holy day.

  • Catharine Phillips

    I believe I shall always be learning the meaning of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, in my life, and in the lives of those with whom I walk this world. This year the happenstance (grace) of things has my birthday on Good Friday. In my tradition, last night*s commemoration of the Last Supper, the washing of feet, and Jesus in the Garden are particularly powerful. Last night I sat with a client in my office located directly beneath the sanctuary, and heard the stripping of the altar from underneath. Again a different perspective. I like your take on shame and sin and grace. This year I think everyone should have the opportunity of figuring out how to celebrate their birthday on Good Friday… completely celebrating both at once.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Catharine, for your comment here and on Facebook. : )

  • ruby

    Oh my goodness. What a blessing to read this on this year’s Good Friday. What a sliver of light through a crack in the cave of darkness. I pray that I can allow the same capital-G-Grace that inspired this post to help me believe in my own and others’ true worth. Thank you and joy to you!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ruby, thank you. I hope the importance of your last statement comes through in my post. Identifying with the beauty within us is not an individual endeavor. Once touched, it can’t help but be generalized to every person we meet. Touching the Beauty within us becomes an act of true community.

  • MofE

    I will attempt to nutshell this: I was raised an evangelical Christian, and nearly left Christianity because the substitutionary atonement thing had stopped making sense. Around this time, a friend introduced me to Eastern Orthodoxy, which is where I now find myself. A big part of what drew me in is that Orthodoxy does not have a “sinful nature” doctrine — it teaches that people are good and created for virtue, but we are vulnerable. And I think this has helped me process/understand shame, because it helped me see my damage as damage, not inherent badness, and gives hope for a turnaround. There’s a line in the funeral service that goes, “I am the image of your inexpressible glory, even though I bear the wounds of sin.”

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for this. I think it speaks to my comment above, that different peoples and cultures–even within Orthodoxy–have settled in very different places theologically. I love the last quote.

  • Julia Wheeler Jenkins

    One day I was over at a friend’s home lamenting a horrible parenting moment I’d had earlier that morning–I’d lost my cool, and disciplined out of anger and frustration. I was so ashamed of the way I’d reacted, certain that I’d somehow scarred my daughter for life. My friend smiled at me and said, “You know—even in that moment, you are worthy. You are worthy to stand before the throne of Christ, and he sees only his perfect glory in you.” As the mama of three-year-old twins and an almost-three-month-old, I remind myself often that I am worthy—-it’s not an excuse to behave poorly, but rather a balm to my soul, which often despairs and agonizes over the challenges of parenting my children to know Jesus and to reflect that with grace and unconditional love. I can’t do that perfectly, but I am still worthy.

    • drkellyflanagan

      “Not an excuse to behave poorly, but rather a balm to my soul.” Well said, Julia, and hold on to that friend! : )

  • Chris

    Perhaps what we really struggle to understand is that the truth is far less simple than we’d like to make it. Pilate said to Jesus, ‘What is truth!’ It wasn’t a genuine question, it was more a rhetorical point. Truth would be what he, Pilate, chose to make it. The truth was, Jesus would live or he would die according to Pilate’s decision.

    Yet he didn’t really understand that the man he was talking to was Truth embodied. He almost understood, I think, but dimly and vaguely. Maybe he did fully understand later.

    Pilate’s confusion is often ours too. We sort of get it, but through a fog.

    I love what you wrote here, Kelly; you helped dispel the fog a little. And I love the responses – all of them. And I love your reply to those responses. There is truth in all of this, and only Truth himself can fully comprehend it. Praise Him!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Your comment dispelled a bit of my fog, Chris. Deeply grateful as always for your ability to hold it all with a sense of mystery.

    • Meghan

      I so appreciated this comment. Especially the last paragraph – “There is truth in all of this, and only Truth himself can fully comprehend it. Praise Him!”

  • catesongbird

    Thanks for this post. It was enlightening, especially to think about sin and shame in the order of shame first and sin after. Your assessment of shame, sin and grace helps a lot of us who tend to err on the side of self-incrimination. I’m still having a very hard time being convinced about my inherent goodness (apologize if that is not the phrase you would use but I interpreted it that way) – that I’m worthy of being loved and accepted. I’ve been taught for so long by the church and various teachers, and even scripture at times, that I am not worthy, in any sense of that word. (I’ve since developed my own understanding about this topic.) To say that I am seems entirely contradictory. I think “worthy” is a tricky word. I understand what you’re saying about the hidden goodness in all of us and it makes sense since we have been created by God. But isn’t depravity also inherent, especially since we are able to experience shame? I’ve not studied theology but my pursuit of God has led me to the understanding that perhaps this is another one of those “both/and” concepts, so hard to reconcile (in our finite minds, it’s impossible). That because of our history, we are both inherently good and inherently sinful. And to ignore one or the other would lead us down a detrimental path. To relate it back to your post, I’m not so sure that these natures exist in such simple layers; that if we do the hard work of peeling off a layer of shame that we would find an unadulterated layer of lovable goodness. I think that in reality, these layers coexist and are interwoven, so much so that the only way to get to a place where we are acceptable to a holy and perfect God is through Jesus. And I don’t believe Jesus was God’s last resort. I think he was his first and best, because he is loving, beyond words can tell. What do you think?

    • drkellyflanagan

      Catesongbird, I hope you stick around here at UnTangled and keep talking! These are incredible questions. I haven’t studied too much theology, either, so maybe we’re the blind leading the blind here, but somehow it doesn’t feel like it.

      I think you point out something fundamental to the post–we are created by God, according to scripture “in the image of God.” The last time I refer to the beauty within us in the post, I capitalized it. Is it possible that even amongst our brokenness and sinfulness, the image of God lives on within us? I think maybe. If that’s the case, it’s not about radical “self”-acceptance, it’s about touching the image of God within us. It is the opposite of “selfish”ness.

      And I think you’re right, it would be easy think of the goodness within as not all tangled up with the rest of our sin and searching. But if it was that simple, I think we’d all have to struggle a lot less.

      Lots more I could say, but I’ll let others chime in if they want to!

  • Janneke Marquez

    So if sin is not the first problem but merely a reaction to the REAL problem, then what brings people to freely choose to venture into the depths of their own shame? What has been your experience? I know what mine was and it was because the pain of life made the pain of discovering the shame (the lies or negative beliefs) a salvation. Is this universal? I would like to know if there is another way.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Janneke, thanks for your honesty and for a GREAT question. I think we could spend a long time plumbing the depths of that answer, but I have a couple of quick thoughts and then would be interested in hearing the thoughts of others. First, my gut reaction is that although sin/searching may not be the first problem, the EFFECTS of it are absolutely devastating. Usually it brings us to our “bottom” (a term used in AA), and at that point, as you say, venturing into the shame becomes the only viable option. Second: Is there another way? I don’t know. I think what you have described is the most common and powerful mechanism for leading us into our shame.

  • KC

    Dr Kelly~ I came across your blog when a friend posted one of your writings on facebook. I really appreciate how you articulate things both in your blog writing and in your responses. I am so thankful you choose to share in this forum and feel blessed to be the beneficiary of this experience happening here in this little place on the internet. So very thankful.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, KC. I’m glad you found this little space. : )

  • exile fertility’s husband

    So I shared this post on FB (as I often do with your posts), and it’s spawned a week long conversation with a number ofindividuals- about 75 comments, with added emails and private messages. What a great conversation starter! In keeping with Untangled, it has been a very generous and grace-filled conversation especially considering the medium as well as seemingly opposing paradigms exploring together. I had no idea what I was getting into in posting something that said “Reconciliation was never required, except in our own shame-filled minds.” I feel like I’ve been enriched this week on a lot of fronts – being challenged in my thinking, learning to assume the best in people, and finding my own voice on thoughts that matter to me. On the liberating theology side of things, in researching a response I came across a fantastic article–maybe a bit theologically thick for some, but so liberating and deep. It’s on comparing an atonement theory (psa specifically) to an atonement Liturgy, something we actually move through our whole lives. I’m just beginning to understand the implications of the thesis he outlines, but it smells of integrous freedom and a whole lot of beautiful God. It’s from a talk in 2004 so maybe you’ve come across it already. I think it’s a development off of the René Girard scapegoat mechanism stuff (not that I’ve got much knowledge on that). Peace! http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng11.html

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m glad to hear the dialogue around the post has been enriching! That has been my experience, as well. Now, nine days out, I’m thinking the only way to cheapen the cross is to assume we completely grasp its implications! I haven’t come across this resource. Thanks for passing it along; I look forward to checking it out.

  • Ontario

    This is the most moving spiritual text I have ever read. Thank you for writing it. Truly inspiring.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ontario, that is an incredible affirmation. Your words are, ironically, grace. Thank you.

  • BibleGenRev

    OK, I wanted your free ebook but after reading the psychobabble garbage above I don’t think so. It is an offense to God. And His cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.

  • Hey Kelly, Chris here. Was hoping to play the audio file for this peice in a class Becca and I are teaching this week, but can’t find an audio recording of it – is it floating around somewhere in cyberspace at all, and could you pass us the link? It’s so good! 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      Hi Chris, thanks for your kind words and your interest in sharing it in class! Unfortunately, this was the second to last post before I started recording audio. : ( Feel free to print it out and share, though!