It would be wonderful if we moved in our walk with the Lord without stumbling and falling flat on our faces. After all He has given us and offered us, how wretched we feel when we falter or fall prey to a pesky issue or habit…again!
It is then that the noisy voice of the enemy taunts us the most. If his condemnation is not silenced, his taunts take root within us and to the guilt and shame we experience…contempt is added. And contempt weaves its web and entices us to try to soothe ourselves and deal with the shame.
“Contempt is condemnation, an attack against the perceived cause of the shame. The attack is laced with hatred, venom, and icy cruelty, though it can be as insidious as a warm smile and gentle rebuke. The condemnation can be against the person whose eyes are penetrating our façade or against the element of our being that is the cause of the shameful revelation.”
Dan Allender in The Wounded Heart
The levels of contempt vary, but we use it to try to protect ourselves from what has left us feeling undone. The Lord would have us quickly run to Him, but far too often we hesitate. We already feel vulnerable and our fear of feeling vulnerable before Him reinforces our hesitation. We begin to sense we are powerless to fix whatever has happened in the first place or to fix ourselves.
Our own inner voices get added to the enemy’s. We tell ourselves we are bad, stupid, a failure, unworthy of anyone’s love and care, and more. This “solution” adds to the problem, but the way we handle our failures has not changed much since the Garden of Eden.
When our ancestors in Eden fell, contempt was heaped on the serpent; but Adam also heaped it on Eve. Adam even blamed God by implication in Genesis 3:12 (ESV): The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”
Dan Allender identifies four ways that contempt serves us and makes us reluctant to confront it:
- It diminishes our shame
- It deadens our longings
- It makes us feel in control
- It distorts the real problem
Allender states that sometimes contempt “masquerades as conviction; other times it seems like righteous indignation.”
Whichever it is, contempt blocks how and where the Lord wants to restore and heal us.
Self-contempt can be hard for many of us because it means we must risk looking in the mirror of God’s truth, recognize the truth, own what has happened to us, and move toward Him when we would prefer to hide.
“Self-contempt is fundamentally a form of covert narcissism. What I am actually telling you beneath my manipulative jabs at myself is that I am more ashamed that I got caught than sorry about how my words may have affected you.”
Andrew J. Bauman in Stumbling Toward Wholeness
One of the most memorable examples of failure, shame, and contempt is evident in Luke 15:11-21 as Jesus tells the story of The Prodigal Son. Most of us know the story well. The younger of two sons is not interested in hanging around working the land of his father with his older brother and demands his half of the inheritance now. (In those days it is akin to wishing the father dead.)
His father gives it to him and off he goes to the big city to party and have a great time. Soon the money is squandered and since he can’t pay for the parties, he ends up in the pigsty trying to get just a bit to eat.
Luke 15: 17-18 (TPT) describes what happens to this young son as he looks around him:
“Humiliated, the son finally realized what he was doing and he thought, ‘There are many workers at my father’s house who have all the food they want with plenty to spare. They lack nothing. Why am I here dying of hunger, feeding these pigs and eating their slop? 18 I want to go back home to my father’s house, and I’ll say to him, “Father, I was wrong. I have sinned against you. 19 I’ll never be worthy to be called your son. Please, Father, just treat me like one of your employees.”’
What he cannot imagine is his father’s heart of love for him after all this. He cannot conceive that his father has been watching and waiting for his return (his father saw him coming when he was a long way off). He had missed his father’s love all along and now his father comes running to embrace him and throw a party for him.
“So the young son set off for home. From a long distance away, his father saw him coming, dressed as a beggar and great compassion swelled up in his heart for his son who was returning home. So the father raced out to meet him. He swept him up in his arms, hugged him dearly, and kissed him over and over with tender love.”
Luke 15:20 (TPT)
The Lord wants us to never forget when we have fallen, wearied of following closely, or wandered off that He wants to embrace us.
“I am convinced that absolute, unconditional, divine love is kryptonite for self-contempt. God’s love calls us back from isolation and into relationship. It is this goodness that begins to turn us toward home.”
Andrew J. Bauman
He wants us to delight in His embrace!