His point is well taken, and relates somewhat to my previous post ("Is My Baby A Sinner"). I am reminded of Paul Tillich’s concept of the “…tragic element in the transition from essential to existential being” (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology Vol. 2, 36-39). While Tillich affirms the moral element of this condition of estrangement (i.e. “sin”. Tillich, 44-47); immorality and transgression are not its chief characteristics. This condition of estrangement (the depleted self), shame, does not originate from a moment in time, a perpetration of an immoral act, but it is tragic insofar as it is involuntary, we suffer from it, we’re victims of the tragedy of estrangement as well as perpetrators of "sins." Framing everything in terms of guilt is inadequate, even if we don't want to let go of it (guilt language, may still be indispensable in some situations). We need a theology of shame. Shame gets deeper insofar as it involves the whole self. In my shame, I cannot say, "that wasn't like me, I wasn't being myself," as I can in guilt. In shame, I am what I did not (do not) believe I am or who I want to believe I am. It takes us by surprise. It is, unlike guilt, involuntary. I entrust myself to a situation that simply is not there and so I lower my face. I don't try to rationalize it, like I may my guilt, I try to hide from it or conceal it. The threat of shame is not punishment but abandonment. So to impose guilt language such as "forgiveness" to someone's shame is to miss it, to reserve it from the hope of healing, for forgiveness can't fix shame. As my professor, Dr. Robert Dykstra, said today, "the antidote to shame is grace... the antidote to shame is acceptance."
And so I believe that perhaps the deepest truth about the cross is not forgiveness, it's not "atonement" in the traditional sense. For while forgiveness only locates God in our guilt, acceptance and solidarity locates God in our unspeakable shame, a far darker space. If God only forgives us in our guilt and does not accept us in our shame, then our darkest places, the places we'd rather not go, the places in which our shame dwells, the places that are us, will be reserved from the hope of God's presence. Jesus' death was not only a death by guilt, "the judge judged in our place" (Barth, CD, IV.1, 211), but it was certainly a death in shame and failure as the supposed messiah was exposed before his enemies. Jesus is our companion in shame, the one who understands us, the one who accepts us, the one who offers us grace and says, "I do not condemn you."