Shame is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” Feeling ashamed can take us in one of two directions: restitution and redemption or perpetual defeat. It can be a force for good that leads to healthy living, or it can knock you down and keep you there.

Let’s consider today how guilt and shame can work together to become a strength that propels us forward. For example, we see King David who, at the height of his power, blew it in a spectacular way. Married himself, he seduced Bathsheba, wife of the mighty military leader Uriah the Hittite. When Bathsheba became pregnant, David sent Uriah into battle to be killed so he could marry Bathsheba and cover up his sin. The beloved psalmist, shepherd and now King fell far and fast, doing incalculable damage to his family.

God’s response to this sordid drama was to send the prophet Nathan to confront David, and confront he did. As recounted in 2 Samuel 12, Nathan bluntly conveyed the Lord’s displeasure and harsh judgment: the child would die.

This is where things could have ended badly. David could have waved Nathan away and hardened his heart against God, but he instead owned his guilt. He bowed his head in shame and repented, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13, NKJV). The boy who had communed with God in the Judean hills knew that God cherishes a repentant heart. As we read in Psalm 51, after his meeting with Nathan he poured out his soul in repentance and thanksgiving. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). This is our perfect model for approaching God when we have sinned.

Redemptive shame carries us through failure into restoration. Its hallmark is an understanding that God views us with kindness and mercy, and that he always has our good in mind. His passion is always to draw us back into intimacy with him. Our contrition freely given is the catalyst for that restored relationship and for genuine, long-term, healthy change.