Sacrifice, as the anthropologists and psychiatrists have been telling us for some time, lies deep within the human aware that things which are wrong have to be put right; and the way in which they are put right involves the CONSCIENCE and the WHOLE LIFE of those involved. There is an irony here. A generation ago, liberal thought managed to get rid of sin; and, with sin, most theories of atonement were dismissed as odd and unnecessary. But in our own generation we have rediscovered guilt; we have plenty of shame and violence; we have alienation at all levels. And we don’t know what to do with it, either at a personal [or community or national] level. Cleansing of the conscience is what is required; and the only way to do that is by the total offering of the human life to God. But the total offering isn’t something we can do for ourselves. If we try, we are merely trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That’s why the Old Testament, pointing forwards, teachers that God himself provides the sacrifice necessary to cleanse the conscience.
-N.T. Wright, sermon on Hebrews, from Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship
We are buried up to our eyeballs in shame and guilt today! Turn on the TV (or don’t). It’s just people yelling back and forth trying to make feel each other ashamed about not caring for this or not supporting that. Fire up Facebook and hear all about how you are such a terrible parent or human being for (_________ fill in the blank). Then the comment thread gets deleted and friends leave in a huff. Rinse and repeat.
We live in guilt and shame city. The passage I quoted from Wright is from 1995. The amplification of shame in our culture is dramatically higher than when that observation was made. The awareness of sin is back in our face with a vengeance. But, if we will not name it, if we continue to call it something else, holding out false hope that enlightenment and “raised awareness” amongst our neighbors and ourselves will result in peace, then we cannot fully discern our inadequacy. We cannot deal with it and our deep need for forgiveness.