Disney’s Lion King has some great theological tie-ins, perhaps more than any other film I have seen. It is rich in content and many biblical life-lessons could be lifted from its script. For me, the main message deals with breaking away from shame and stepping into your God-given identity and destiny.
As the movie opens, we meet the Lion King, Mufasa and his jealous, evil brother, Scar. Scar counted on assuming the throne when his brother would pass on, but a son was born to Mufasa, a prince who would ascend to the throne as his father’s heir. The prince’s name was Simba. Simba’s arrival messed with Scar’s plan to become King, so the plot to remove him and the plot to remove his father, Simba, was set into motion.
Scar set the little prince up. He put him in harm’s way on purpose, in the middle of a wildebeest stampede, knowing that his Lion-King father would come to his rescue which would then put the Lion-King in harm’s way as well. The Lion-King managed to escape the stampede by slowly climbing up the side of a rock cliff, but when he reached the top and needed a final help up, his brother, Scar, pushed him off the cliff and he fell to his death.
Scar then found the young prince and made sure the prince believed his father’s death was his fault. He said he should be ashamed for putting his father into a situation that would have required his father to come after him to save him. The young, vulnerable lion, believing the lie that his father’s death was his fault, asked his Uncle Scar what he should do? Scar’s response was the textbook response to shame. This is what he said, “Run away, Simba. Run away, and never return.” And Simba did. He ran away. He ran away from the Pridelands. He ran away from his family. He ran away from the lioness who was intended to become his queen. He ran away from his calling to be the King. He ran away and lived in the shadows far away, draped in the cloak of shame.
As I see it, Uncle Scar is a lot like the enemy you and I face. He is a lot like Satan. We know from John 10:10 that Satan’s agenda is to steal, kill and destroy people, and one way he does that is through the shackles of shame. If Satan can’t destroy your faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, he tries to destroy your spirit, your potential by getting you to focus on yourself, your frailties and your failures and wants you to feel unworthy and disqualified to step into your God-given destiny.
This is no light and fluffy message. This cannot be passed off as a word for someone else today because the ramifications of shame are enormous. If you aren’t bound by shame, you still need to listen because one of the things we are called to do as Christ-followers is to free people who are bound in any way and every parent will need to be on the lookout for the sneaky way Satan will try to shame and shackle your kids. Every good friend needs to be on the lookout for the way shame creeps in to incarcerate your friends because
Shame has the power to isolate us from all that God intends for us to experience.
What did Adam and Eve do when they sinned and felt shame? They tried to run away. They tried to hide. They tried to isolate themselves from God.
Ed Welch, a professor and the author of “Shame Interrupted” talks about the difference between shame and guilt. He said this: Guilt’s message is, “I did something bad,” and needs justification and forgiveness. Shame’s message is, “I am bad,” and needs an identity shift and relational connection. Sin leaves both in its wake, and shame is what lingers even after forgiveness has been sought and granted. Shame feels like it’s welded onto you, but guilt feels like something outside of you.
I found Welch’s thoughts very insightful. If shame needs an identity shift and relational connection, how is that possible when we are isolated from God and from the people we need in order to experience freedom from shame?
A guilty conscience is a gift to redirect us to the right path. Guilt lets us know there has been a breach. It helps us see that we have crossed a line, but not for the purpose of pushing us further from the line like shame does. Guilt helps us see how we have failed and opens our understanding to what we are supposed to become. That’s a good thing!
As Paul was establishing churches and was helping to raise up young believers, he had to point some things out from time to time that needed correcting in their lives. I don’t have to tell you that we live in a time when it isn’t popular to correct anything anyone does, but how can we change if we don’t ever know something is wrong? How can we know we have missed the mark if the standard is never preached? And so Paul had to write some difficult things at times, and we see in II Corinthians 7 that it wasn’t easy for Paul to do. Even so, he was glad to point out the truth because those who were open to hearing what was true were transformed by it.
2 Corinthians 7:8-13 8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it–I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while– 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.
When we embrace the truth and are changed by it, it won’t harm us but will help us. There might be guilt for a moment, but it won’t be guilt to anchor us to our past, but it will propel us into the future. Appropriate guilt for wrong actions will help people move forward, but shame will take life and potential from us. We were not made to live in shame. Shame is what harms us. Shame disrupts our spiritual and personal growth.
10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
Satan wants us to live ashamed of what we have done and of who we are so that we will view ourselves as disqualified, as tainted, as unworthy to love or be loved by God and others.
When we discipline our children the message always has to be, “I love you so much that I want better for you. I love you so much that I want you to walk in the truth, to walk in the light. I love you so much that I don’t want you to continue to do anything that will harm you or break your fellowship with God and our family.” Discipline always has to be exercised in the context of love so that no element of shame takes root in our children’s mind and hearts. What they have done can be separated from who they truly are and who they are meant to become. We are all learning. We cannot make life about perfection and performance. Children and adults need a safety net when they fail.
In 2008, Contemporary Christian Artist, Steven Curtis Chapman’s family suffered a great tragedy. Their 17-year-old son, Will, accidentally ran over their 5-year-old adopted daughter in their driveway, killing her. I found a transcript of an article that speaks to this truth about how important love is when shame seeks to isolate and destroy people. Here is the transcript:
Steven Curtis Chapman was standing on the front porch of his home in Franklin, Tenn., May 21 when he saw his 17-year-old son Will Franklin coming up the driveway in an old SUV. Chapman said he believes it was providential that God allowed him to see that Will was driving uncharacteristically slow and wasn’t talking on his cell phone.
Will drove around to the back of the house, and as he was turning the corner, he didn’t see his little sister run into his path. Immediately he knew he had hit something, and he stopped, only to find something that would forever change his life.
“Right after the accident, I started just running because I just didn’t know what else to do,” Will said, referring to what he did after making sure other family members were responding to Maria. “I just wanted to run and just be away — as far away from the site of the accident as possible — and just started running and was planning on just running as far as I could.
“And then Caleb, not too long after that, just kind of ran and tackled me and just kind of jumped on me,” he said of his 18-year-old brother. “… And it was just like, ‘You can’t leave, you can’t leave,’ and just — was just on top of me saying, ‘Everything’s going to be OK. We love you. You can’t leave.’ And just — it was just that — that was super important.”
Will needed to hear the truth that even though something horrible had happened, even though it was an accident, he needed to know that he was loved and wanted and would be pursued so that he couldn’t run away and be isolated in shame. If he hadn’t been embraced by his family in that moment, how different would his life had been?
The Bible says that Godly sorrow leaves to salvation, but shame leads to us feeling sorry for ourselves and feeling sorry about ourselves. As our wise worship pastor has said, “God doesn’t want us to live sorry. He wants us to live free.
Appropriate guilt will lead to transformation, but shame leads to a trap. Appropriate guilt will bring restoration to you and will reunite you with God and others, with your destiny and calling. It is a good thing to feel sorry if you have done something wrong, but it is a bad thing to live sorry instead of free. Shame is isolating, but godly sorrow, appropriate guilt is empowering for transformation and for reuniting us with God and others.
At one point in the movie, when he met some new friends who started to ask some questions, Simba told them, “I did something terrible, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
Part of Satan’s strategy is to keep people quiet, to oppress them and silence them. He knows that healing comes through confession. James 5:17 tells us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another and that we will be healed. Healing comes from admitting the struggle. It comes by opening up about the pain that is in our hearts and minds. If Satan can silence you, he can sideline you. So, he does whatever it takes to keep us quiet.
Simba’s new friends said something wise and profound. They responded to him with this: You can’t change the past, but you can change your future. They were so right, but for Simba, it was a risk. If he told “his truth,” if he shared his story, would he be shamed twice? Would he be rejected? In the hit duet in the movie, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” you hear Simba’s thoughts as he is wrestling with opening up. He is wondering if he can start over, and we hear him say:
So many things to tell her
But how to make her see
The truth about my past, impossible
She’d turn away from me
Isn’t that the voice of shame? “If they really knew who I was, they wouldn’t want me. If they really knew the truth about me, they would reject me.” We tell ourselves all kinds of things to keep us from getting close to people, close to our dreams, and close to God because we want to spare ourselves any more pain, but in the end we are keeping ourselves from the power and purpose that God created us for, the power and purpose that come in and through a right relationship with God and others.
In response to Simba’s words we hear the thoughts of the lioness that is singing as well:
He’s holding back, he’s hiding
But what, I can’t decide
Why won’t he be the king I know he is?
The king I see inside?
Shame keeps us from seeing the truth.
Once it was known to those back in the Pridelands that Simba was alive and once he was invited by the lioness to come home, it was a real struggle for him to make the decision. He wrestled with if it was impossible. Though he knew something was awakening inside of him, he said, “I don’t need her. I don’t need anybody. I’m nobody. Leave me alone.” Have those thoughts ever gone through your mind? If so, you might be dealing with the heaviness and suffocation that comes from shame.
He was taken by another character in the story to a place where he could look at his reflection, and he saw his father in the reflection of his face. It was in that moment that he heard his fathers voice say, “You must take your place. You must remember who you are.” to which he replied, “I am Simba, son of Mufassa.” Today, can you hear your Heavenly Father say the same to you? Can you hear Jesus inviting you to come out of hiding, to reconnect in relationship, to risk coming home?
On the heals of Peter’s failure to follow Jesus to the cross, when Peter, out of fear for what would happen to himself, pretended he didn’t even know who Jesus was, the Resurrected Jesus invited Peter to remember who he was. He invited Peter to take his place again as a Christ-follower and to walk into his destiny. Here’s what I know: God doesn’t want to hold anything against you. He wants to hold you and help you to recover from whatever you have done or whatever you think you have done.
Even though Simba made the decision to go home and to live out his destiny when he got there, Uncle Scar who had taken over as King of the Pridelands, brought up Simba’s past and forced him to tell the rest of the lions that he, Simba, had killed his father. And because he had always believed that, Simba confessed that his father’s death was his fault.
The reality was that Simba’s life had been defined by a lie. How often does that happen to us? How often do we believe something and own something and are shaped by something that isn’t true? How often do lies complicate or feed the shame we feel? Uncle Scar, in further tempts to discredit Simba and keep him from trying to take the kingship said, “Why should believe or follow a son who takes his father’s life?” And he looked at Simba and said, “You are what?” to which Simba replied, “I am nothing.”
Shame reduces people to nothing.
But what is the truth? What does God say about us? God says we have been created in His image. God says we are the “apple of His eye.” God says we are beloved in Christ. God says we were worth dying for. God says He will redeem us. God says all things can be made new. God says that victory is ours in Christ Jesus.
Simba believed a lie and believing that lie bound him in shame. The Bible says that Satan is a liar and is the father of lies (John 8:44). It’s all he knows. Satan cannot tell the truth. If you are living with shame today, if you have been reduced to a feeling of nothingness today, I guarantee you that somewhere Satan has gotten to you with something that isn’t true. Today he is being exposed for what he is; a liar.
Scar and Simba began to fight and during the fight, Scar let the truth slip out. It wasn’t Simba who had killed his father; It was Scar. Simba’s whole life had been shaped by believing a lie. The truth gave Simba the courage, the authority, and the power to fight and overcome Scar. The truth gave him the permission to throw off the shackles of shame. And I love what he said to his Uncle Scar as he sent him packing. He said, “Run away, Scar, and never return.”
The Bible tells us we can know the truth. We can be freed by the truth. God is giving you authority and permission to throw off the shackles of shame by the truth of God’s Word. You are not what was done to you. You are not what happened to you when you were a child. You do not even have to be defined by what you have done. God can bring healing and transformation to your life and give you a brand new identity and help you discover the identity you were born to assume. Simba was born a prince, but he lived ashamed and unable to occupy the place he was meant to occupy in life until he took three steps:
- He willingly shared his story. What you confess cannot have power over you.
- He took the risk to come home. Community, a Christian community has healing properties to help you recover and rediscover God’s love.
- He replaced the lies he had believed with the truth that set him free. What you have done may be part of your story, but it doesn’t have to control you or your future. Christ came to set us free, and as we go through life, we may need freed more than once.
Don’t you think it is time to end the shame game? You have power and authority to tell Satan to run away, to tell shame to run away and to never return.