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Shame, Regret, Remorse and Bitterness

Genesis 42-45


A. Dan Schaeffer tells this story: A number of years ago in a small town in Spain, a man and his teenage son had an argument. The falling out led to deep feelings of bitterness and unforgiveness on both sides. The son soon left for the city. The father regretted the way he had treated his son and began to search for him. After several months, he still had not been able to locate the young man. Finally, as a last ditch effort, he placed the following ad in the classified section of a Madrid newspaper: "Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father." By twelve o'clock the next day, there were over 800 men named Paco gathered outside the newspaper building. Every one of them was looking for forgiveness from his father. [Pursuit, Vol 3, No 2, 1994. Page 10.]

B. There are four things that plague mankind and retard Christian growth: shame, regret, remorse, and bitterness.

I. Shame

A. All normal people have felt shame. Webster defines shame as a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, short coming, or impropriety. A condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute. Something that brings strong regret, censure, or reproach.

Romans 6:21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! (NIV)

B. Misdirected shame.

1. American culture has begun stressing the individual. This has made us a very shame-prone society, a fact which is reflected in child-rearing practices. In the past, parents would typically emphasize the skills they wanted their children to learn, but nowadays the focus is on helping youngsters to grow up as well-adjusted individuals. This leads to over complimenting the child, causing him or her to learn to focus on self. At the same time, when the child makes a mistake, parental criticism is directed at the child himself rather than at the wrong action, thus producing a feeling of worthlessness (shame). Murder and suicide, the two top causes of death among children in America, are both shame-driven.

2. Shame today is usually concerned about how we make our selves look. We feel shame after we have done something wrong. Shame may not focus on what we have done wrong, but rather how we are perceived by others.

3. There are two kinds of pride: one being the opposite of humility, and the other being the opposite of shame. The first is not acceptable for Christians, the second is. To develop the second kind, sort out the possible and important from the impossible and unimportant, then give up those things that are unimportant and/or impossible.

4. In an article on guilt, S. Bruce Narramore illustrates these two responses. Although the example he cites is only a social mishap, the principle is the same as for a serious sin. Says the writer, "Two people are chatting over coffee. Reaching for the sugar, one of them accidentally knocks his cup in the other's lap. A typical guilt reaction would be, 'How stupid of me. I should have known better. Look at the mess I've made. I'm sorry.' The offender continues to berate himself and feel like a social idiot. The focus here is upon himself and his misdeed. Constructive sorrow is very different. The offender might say something like this, 'I'm very sorry. Here are some napkins. I'll get the table cleaned up.' And later he might offer to pay the cleaning bill."

5. We see the spiritual side of this in the following verses.

Job 42:6 Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (KJV)

C. Shame is the exposed self and is a very common human feeling. Far from being a contemporary phenomenon, shame is one of the powerful emotions at work in the story of Adam and Eve.

D. Shame before God.

Ezra 9:6 And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. (KJV)

Job 40:4 Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. (KJV)

Jer 3:3 Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore's forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed. (KJV)

Jer 3:24 For shame hath devoured the labour of our fathers from our youth; their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. 25 We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us: for we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God. (KJV)

Jer 8:12 Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the LORD. (NIV)

Jer 31:19 Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. (KJV)

E. Some time ago there was a young foreign student who flunked out at the University of Michigan. In shame he decided to disappear. For the next four years he hid in the unused attic of an Ann Arbor church. Taking great pains to conceal himself, he quietly prowled around only at night, living off food and water from the kitchen. He never left the building or spoke to a soul. No one ever suspected he was there. Then one day a slight mistake gave him away. Accidentally the young recluse made some noise, the police were called, and he was finally discovered.

1. In a way that poor dropout is like many believers who are ashamed because of spiritual defeat. Overwhelmed by a sense of failure or embarrassment, they hesitate to take a stand for the Savior and may even try to conceal the fact that they bear His name.

2. Such lack of courage renders them useless to the cause of Christ and deprives them of the joy of sharing their faith with others. How unlike the psalmist who publicly praised God for His greatness and goodness! His relationship to the Lord was so wonderful that he couldn't keep it hidden; therefore his lips openly declared the many mighty acts of his Creator and Redeemer.

Psa 40:1-4 I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. 4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. (NIV)

3. Adopt Philippians 4:13 as a rule. Realize that failure is part of a learning process.

Phil 4:13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (NIV)

 II. Regret.

A. Webster defines regret to be very sorry for mistakes. An expression of distressing emotion.

Romans 6:21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! (NIV)

1. Regret over hasty decision and lost opportunities. A man who gave up the chance to play professional baseball to enter Christian ministry tells how he used to struggle with bouts of depression and anger. He finally realized that what was bothering him was regret over his hasty decision and lost opportunities. Through a two-year in-depth Bible study on regret, he gained some practical insights for how to cope with the joylessness that comes from focusing on what might have been:

a. Regret stems from disappointment. Disappointment may be caused by a tragedy we experience, someone else's treachery.

b. Closely associated with regret is remorse for our own wrong choices (sin). Even small disappointments can breed resentment and remorse unless they are specifically turned over to the Lord.

c. Most regretful people tend to blame other people or circumstances for their pain, but the underlying cause of on- going regret is typically a person's failure to forgive himself.

d. Mentally arguing with yourself and rehashing the past doesn't solve anything. It just keeps you feeling sorry for yourself. Joseph's brothers had experienced this regret all their lives.

Gen 42:21-24 They said to one another, "Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us." 22 Reuben replied, "Didn't I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn't listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood." 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter. 24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then turned back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes. (NIV)

B. We need to learn to see a greater purpose behind our difficult circumstances. Especially when our regret stems from a mistake we made or a sin we committed, we must realize that "our God is a God of second chances."

Gen 45:4-5 And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. 5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. (KJV)

C. We all have regrets but we can also rest in the assurance that God is sovereign and He can use even our failures to work in our lives.

Rom 8:26-28 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

Gen 45:8 "So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. (NIV)

III. Remorse.

A. Webster defines remorse: A gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs: SELF-REPROACH. The etymology of the word is to bite again.

1. No distress is more intense than the pain of remorse, and nothing on earth can remove it. This bitter reality is seen in the life of the famous British painter George Romney. As a young man, he was so determined to be a success that he was willing to pay any price. Therefore, when he heard a prominent person say that marriage spoiled an artist, he deserted his family. His devotion to his work brought him fame and fortune, but in his later years he was broken in body and mind. His wife took him back and cared for him, but terrible feelings of guilt and depression swept over him.

In Tennyson's poem "Romney's Remorse," she is pictured as lovingly trying to cheer her husband by saying that he had contributed much to mankind through his art. But he sadly answered, "The best in me that sees the worst in me and groans to see it, finds no comfort there." His achievements meant nothing to him, for neither earthly glory nor riches could lighten the burden of his guilty conscience.

2. It is turning to God that we find relief.

Gen 42:21-22 They said to one another, "Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us." 22 Reuben replied, "Didn't I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn't listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood." (NIV)

Gen 45:4-8 Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." When they had done so, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 "So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. (NIV)

Gen 50:15-18 When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?" 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, "Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 `This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father." When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. (NIV)

Gen 50:20-21 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

B. God's children still pay a high price for worldliness and often end up grinding at "the devil's mill of remorse." A letter read in part: "Will you please help me? The agony I feel in my conscience is like an awful grinding, grinding, as I reap the results of my wasted years. I became a Christian at an early age, but later because I was told I was attractive and had a natural singing voice, I took a job in a nightclub. At 17 I married a man I met there. Christian friends urged me to use my talents for Christ, but I ignored them. I now have a girl 14 years old with an incurable disease. And listen, she has never been to church! God seems so far away, and I don't know how to reach my daughter. Please help me stop the terrible grinding of remorse!" The letter was signed, "A Brokenhearted Mother."

2 Cor 7:10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (KJV)

C. Both Joseph and his brothers were able to work through difficulties by following God.

IV. Bitterness

A. Webster defines bitterness: Marked by cynicism rancor.

Isaiah 5:4 What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? (KJV)

Romans 3:14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: (KJV)

Eph 4:31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: (KJV)

1. The context of Hebrews is suffering. They were becoming bitter about suffering for Christ.

Heb 12:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; (KJV)

2. Joseph

Gen 40:8 "We both had dreams," they answered, "but there is no one to interpret them." Then Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams." (NIV)

Gen 40:14-15 But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon." (NIV)

Gen 41:15-16 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." 16 "I cannot do it," Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires." (NIV)

Gen 41:51-52 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, "It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household." 52 The second son he named Ephraim and said, "It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering." (NIV)

Gen 45:9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, `This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don't delay. (NIV)

a. You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.

b. In The Interpreter, Henry Van Wesep tells of a woman whose rather drab life was brightened by an unknown "secret pal" who remembered her birthdays and anniversaries, and in other ways filled the days with sunshine. Offsetting this pleasure, however, was a growing animosity toward a former close friend. As time passed she became more antagonistic and sour. Finally the person died whom she had constantly criticized. In spite of the long-standing bitterness, she thought common decency required that she make a neighborly call and help the grieving husband straighten up the house. In the process of aiding him, she came upon an unmailed letter addressed to her. Opening it, she discovered that the secret pal who had brought such encouragement to her life across the years was really the one she had maligned and misjudged! Looking back, she sadly regrets that she harbored resentment toward the very person who actually had been her friend; but now it is too late to seek her forgiveness.


Robert Moeller says that letting go of past hurts can be difficult: "After the Civil War, a woman entertained the distinguished Robert E. Lee in her home. She pointed out a once-beautiful oak tree that had been burned and disfigured by invading armies. "`What should I do?' she asked with bitterness in her voice. "`Cut it down and forget it,' the general replied. "That same advice applies to letting go of past pain. Don't allow yourself to live in the past. Surrender your painful memories and experiences, and with a decisive act of your will, get on with your life." [Pursuit, Vol 3, No 2. 1994. Page 15.]

Phil 3:13-15 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. (KJV)


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