Guilt, Shame, and Second Chances
Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 2 Corinthians 2:5-6
Even though I felt guilty about my addiction, as long as no one knew, I was probably never going to change. When my addiction came painfully and publicly to light though, I experienced an entirely different level of guilt and shame. When I got out of treatment, I knew I needed to go back to church, but doing so was horrible. I came in late, sat in the back, and left early so I would meet as few people as possible.
Fortunately, I went to church with gracious people who hugged me and told me how much they loved me. They could see the contrition and shame in my eyes, and they chose not to pile on the guilt by giving me the cold shoulder. It could have gone the other way though. In my public failure, I could have chosen a path other than repentance. If I’d have failed to go back and failed to show remorse, I suspect I’d have received a much different reception when I ran into those from my church.
In today’s passage, Paul provided direction to the Corinthians regarding those who’ve failed, causing pain and destruction to themselves and the church body. He said that for such an individual, the public shame is punishment enough. Paul instructed the church to show this individual forgiveness and grace. Assumed in such a one, is the act of repentance. It seems to be understood that Paul is referring to an individual who has failed, but then come back to the body in contrition and is ready to change.
I’ll often meet with those who’ve relapsed repeatedly who are frustrated that those around them expect nothing but failure from them. They feel they’ve found forgiveness in God, and they expect that everyone around them should immediately forgive them too. Their friends and family though, know nothing of them except repeated relapse. The problem is that their guilt and shame hasn’t led to any actual repentance.
If we want to know forgiveness and grace from those around us, it usually depends on our posture and behavior. If we’re willing to do what it takes to truly change, we’ll find that most of those around us are willing to love, forgive, and give us another chance. Forgiveness and restoration, it seems, is often up to us.