Tragic Redemption by Hiram Johnson is a book that truly describes its subtitle: "Healing the Guilt and Shame." This book describes the dance around guilt and shame, which falters in fear and triumphs in the grace of Jesus Christ. This book describes the dance around guilt and shame, which falters in fear and triumphs in the grace of Jesus Christ. He describes a tragic accident, which occurred in his young life and resulted in the death of another. It was here that Johnson's fear, coupled with his past, served to entrap him into an addictive cycle of unhealthy guilt and toxic shame. In adversity, "hope can be found based in God's grace alone." In adversity, "hope can be found based in God's grace alone." In reading, I was reminded by the quote in the film Shadowlands from C.S. Lewis' wife Joy: "The pain then is part of the happiness now." In considering adversity and hope in Tragic Redemption, one could say, "The happiness to come is part of the process of pain now."
There were times where I had questions in the book. When Johnson mentions integration , he writes that it "incorporates both the good and the bad." This, to me, is realism. However, I ask if the balance between good and bad is really wholeness. Wholeness includes our flaws and shortcomings, but also our talents and skills. Having a realistic perspective of good and bad is part of wholeness for sure, but I would caution the reader: actual balance between the two is not wholeness. Johnson emphasizes that wholeness is ultimately found in Christ, but I would have liked to have seen him clearly state in this section that we are only complete in Christ and therefore integration is only found in Christ where the bad is addressed at the cross and His goodness received.
Johnson speaks a lot of truths to pocket and carry through the life journey: The attempt to control enslaves and one cannot change the past. Johnson speaks a lot of truths to pocket and carry through the life journey As he discusses his own past, he describes the role of alcoholism and abuse in his past. He mentions that alcoholism still involves choice. He describes how he used alcohol to avoid pain and adds "[w]hen I avoided pain, I avoided healing." Johnson also learned to put up with his father's abuse to also have his father's "love" as part of the dysfunctional family in alcoholism, a situation Johnson describes as being "frozen in fear."
Fear rears its head often in Johnson's journey as described in his book. He had a fear of moving ahead and even writes, "vulnerability scared me." Out of this fear, he attempted the ultimate act of self-hatred - suicide. He found that there was no peace in what he had done, but again, fear. Looking at fear as a feeling, he mentions, "Faith should be based on facts and not on feelings." I agree with the principle he states, but would mention that in faith, while we know something is factual, it may be unseen or cannot be empirically shown to be factual even though it is. Ultimately, though, Johnson reminds us that feelings cannot always be trusted.
Johnson writes a very helpful discussion of grace and shame. He describes guilt as pointing at what, while shame points at who. Yet, he contrasts between righteous guilt and false guilt, the latter of which, became an idol for Johnson in his darkest times of bondage. He found that out of guilt, he developed controlling behaviors to stave off rejection and as a result produced more fear. Out of that fear, he entered back into the cycle with controlling behaviors. This fear-producing pattern led to his distancing himself from others since he feared intimacy. Johnson found that he "thrive[d] on rejection" as a way to "confirm [his] own sense of paranoia and unworthiness." Guilt was an "illusion of control" and his feeling guilty became a twisted form of self-indulgence as he writes, "Clinging to my guilt became a form of idolatry."
In discussing shame, Johnson describes how healthy shame reveals our standing in view of God. He contrasts guilt as act-based, where it occurs when one makes a mistake, as compared to shame as self-based, where one feels like he or she is the mistake. He specifically mentions toxic shame, where shame becomes enmeshed with one's identity as one continues to demand justice over forgiveness." Yet, there is hope in that both shame and guilt are released via confession which brings healing. He writes that our worth is at the cross of Christ. Not only did Johnson become addicted to guilt, but also to shame, which Johnson writes can actually be "an invitation to grace." Johnson describes how a poor self-image is a self-centered focus as contrasted with humility, in which one has no opinion of himself or herself. He writes that our worth is at the cross of Christ. He emphasizes that one struggling with guilt and shame needs forgiveness and restoration as opposed to the approval of man. Otherwise, the struggler falls into isolation which perpetuates the destructive cycle.
As Johnson was on the road out of the darkness, he realized he needed to receive God's blessing. Johnson clearly states that heavenly blessing and grace are found only from God and that the value in the brokenness of guilt and shame is to see our need and receive God's grace. He describes blessing as being derived in authority and that we need a proper view of authority. He shares that blessing is based on our being, not performance as "conditional love breeds shame." He again brings it to grace where trust is restored. While at times I had questions at moments in the book, I often found that I sometimes wanted to jump to conclusion before the full context was captured. Johnson clearly states that heavenly blessing and grace are found only from God and that the value in the brokenness of guilt and shame is to see our need and receive God's grace.
Johnson is so passionate about grace that he spends an entire chapter on the topic. He defines grace as "a free and abundant gift unearned by guilty sinners…God's most generous gift to us." In reading Johnson's book, one can stop beating himself or herself up and realize, as Johnson points out, that healthy self-confidence is really Christ-esteem. Johnson quotes Donald Barnhouse: "Love that goes upward is worship; love that goes outward is affection; love that stoops is grace." He mentions that we all have a daily need for grace and that "[g]race isn't grace if it is given or withdrawn in respect to human behavior.…Grace has nothing to do with me!" Johnson shows that the perception that one cannot be forgiven is rooted in pride, which antagonizes grace. In reading Johnson's book, one can stop beating himself or herself up and realize, as Johnson points out, that healthy self-confidence is really Christ-esteem.
Johnson does not stop with the individual. He brings up community, namely the church whose membership "is based on unworthiness." Both within and beyond the walls of the church, Johnson points out how we all have human dignity as image bearers of God. He mentions how joy occurs in the context of community since joy is relational, not based on circumstances. First, we find joy in our relationship with God and then in relationship with others.
Part of healthy relationship(s) is forgiveness. Johnson emphasizes that feeling is not the basis of forgiveness. However, he goes further (or deeper as he often does in the book) in describing forgiveness as one-way, while reconciliation is two-way. It was at this point that I had a question and initially a disagreement with Johnson's writing. He writes, "Through Christ's death on the cross, God forgave everyone, but not everyone is reconciled to Him, because He made His will dependent on our choice(s)." God's will is that we all have a fulfilled life with purpose and meaning; yet so many people have not reached that elusive goal. Johnson brings focus back to God and urges us to get the focus off of ourselves We cannot choose Him without the Spirit moving us to. The dependence is totally on Him, not me (or my choice). Johnson fully makes his point as he writes, "We don't bring reconciliation about our own; it is God who ultimately reconciles." Johnson brings focus back to God and urges us to get the focus off of ourselves in describing how personalization (taking all things personally) is a form of selfishness, while our need is to think outside of self and focus on God.
Johnson seems to capture this in the chapter entitled "Confronting ourselves at the cross." He writes, "The cross sheds light on our wounds, giving us a new perspective." After describing his deep wounds in this book, he writes "[d]eep wounds require deep healing." Johnson seems to confront various unhealthy vices many of us use in our times of despair and uses the truth to put them in their proper place. As if taking inspiration from Isaiah 53:5, Johnson instructs the reader to "rely on His wounds." In confronting all of the performance and approval-of-man bases of toxic shame and false guilt, Johnson reminds us that the cross reveals God's opinion of you. Now that God has offered the healing, he mentions that we must want to be healed (which involves change). He found that he feared change, which flies in contrast to "successful living," - described as "continuous adjusting" in view of the constants of change and Christ. Johnson could have gone further and mentioned more clearly the Resurrection and our new life and identity in Christ. Yet, Johnson does bring it back to grace and God Johnson seems to confront various unhealthy vices many of us use in our times of despair and uses the truth to put them in their proper place. He describes how unforgiveness competes with the cross, while the truth is "His forgiveness is final." Johnson had to come to the end of himself to arrive "at the point of surrender" where his self was crucified. He said that forgiveness of self is losing self in the "grandeur of God." This would have been a good place to echo how the cross shows God's opinion of us - He crucifies our sin. Johnson could have gone further and mentioned more clearly the Resurrection and our new life and identity in Christ. Yet, Johnson does bring it back to grace and God (as he does with his various topics): "I couldn't forgive myself any more than I could save myself. Salvation and forgiveness are rooted in His grace alone."
Johnson had opened the book with adversity, setting the stage. As he moves towards conclusion, Johnson spends a chapter discussing positively responding to adversity. He writes that adversity is where character is built and revealed, and it can provide strength, which comes only from a personal relationship with God in Christ. He mentions that "Adversity forces us to dig deep." Amid the discussion of adversity, Johnson encourages: while we cannot change the past, we can change our perspective. He cannot change the adversity he faced, but he can choose to encourage the reader.~ He cannot change the adversity he faced, but he can choose to encourage the reader.
Johnson concludes the book offering all sorts of hope and purpose. He mentions that no one can take away your attitude or hope and calls us to find meaning instead of practicing the pain-pleasure principle (flee pain/seek pleasure). Johnson offers an insightful perspective in stating that if one wants his or her journey to be able to impact others, then one doesn't need complete closure, adding that closure takes a lifetime. He outlines that the goal of God is to focus on Him, and adversity and joy keep us "dependent on the sufficiency of Christ." Johnson offers an insightful perspective in stating that if one wants his or her journey to be able to impact others, then one doesn't need complete closure, adding that closure takes a lifetime. He offers hope in writing, "God never wastes pain," but is honest about the mystery of it. Johnson goes even further (deeper) in mentioning how adversity can be used in ministry "for the sake of others." He writes that his own recovery is summed up in this: the "Holy Spirit's triumph over my own circumstances and humanness." Johnson shares that hope and purpose are found in Christ. He mentions how Jesus' birth, suffering/death, and resurrection are all part of the story and adds "Our journey can actually parallel His.…God is not through with you yet. Expect to be changed." Johnson finalizes the book with the "signature" of God and grace as he does throughout the chapters of this book.
I was blessed to read Tragic Redemption and have already used the principles in this book to impact others. In encouraging others with excerpts of the book, I have found that the topics covered in this book address dynamics beneath various issues -- some that aren't even described in the book! I have already used this book to encourage those struggling with forgiveness, marital issues, repentance, lust, and pornography. Johnson's writing will be a valuable resource for anyone who is healing, struggling, or encouraging.
I have already used this book to encourage those struggling with forgiveness, marital issues, repentance, lust, and pornography. Johnson's writing will be a valuable resource for anyone who is healing, struggling, or encouraging.