Bearing Shame

We are living in days of a great shame epidemic. We even have new names to describe some of the causes of this terrible pandemic – sextortion, cyberbullying and slut shaming to name but three.

Of course, shame and shaming is not a new disease – it has been with us from the earliest of times – and, along with it, its first cousin, guilt.

The effects of this great shame and guilt epidemic have catastrophic consequences for individuals, families and society at large. It leads to self-destructive behaviour at multiple levels including addictions, ill health and, sadly, the taking of one’s own life. We see the latter at an alarming level among young people today – driven, at least in part, by the rise of abuse on social media and the ease with which innuendo, exploitation and bullying take place. The internet is also awash with strategies for dealing with the issue – how to avoid the shame trap and how to deal with the disease when it begins to take root.

When it comes to the realm of religion – and boring down to my own conservative fundamentalist background and culture things are little better. In fact, I strongly suspect it has been one of the main drivers of shame and guilt and the reason for so much alcoholism and addiction in the strict religious communities of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. If you are told from birth that you are an undeserving worm, worthy of nothing better than hellfire and eternal torment, little wonder that so many begin to act like it. Add to that that you are taught you can do little about it if you are not of the ‘elect’ – then we really do have a recipe for disaster.

However, when we examine original shame we discover that it has nothing to do with the condemnation of God. The stark truth is that in the face of the nakedness of primordial man God did not even mention their shame. On the contrary, he went out of his way to cover it! It is also amazing to me that when the broken, emaciated and no doubt, stinking, lost son in Jesus parable returned home the first thing his father did was to cover his shame with a beautiful new robe. Again his shame if not mentioned. The parallel with Eden is unmistakable. But there is an even deeper and more amazing parallel here. Original humanity, created in the likeness of their Creator, was clothed in dazzling robes of glory, splendour and light. This imagery is also used in the book of Revelation (Unveiling) when, writing to an early church in Greece, God declared through the Apostle John –

‘Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked – I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.’

Revelation 3:17-19

Only light covers darkness. The imagery of the final state of humanity in the book of Revelation continues to be replete with references to white clothing – Revelation 3:5 – ‘He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments.’ Revelation 7:9 – The Lamb, clothed with white robes.’ Revelation 4:4 – Twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes.’ Revelation 1:12-14 – ‘In the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire.’

Purity, light, glory, shining and other like terms are used again and again throughout the Bible to refer to the proper state of being from which shame disassociates us. Stephen Freeman picks up on the heart of this in one of his blog articles –

‘The heart of the gospel is that we are loved by God. We were created by love and for love, and are sustained and healed through love. St. John is so grounded in this fact that he declares, “God is love.” And this is the very nature of reality, the nature and content of truth. The healing of shame (whether toxic or otherwise) is always an action of love. It is not a love that says, “Nothing is wrong,” (for that would itself be a lie). It is a love that says, “Then neither do I condemn you.”’

But there is also a paradox in shame – for there is a sense that it is only in the bearing of shame, that freedom from shame can be accomplished. Take a simple but profound example. The first words of an addict at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting normally goes something like this – ‘Hello – my name is Richard – I am an alcoholic.’ Richard is bearing his shame – but the long-term aim of bearing his shame is freedom from the root of his shame. Difficult though it may be – extremely difficult for some of us – there is a great freedom to be won only in the confession of and confrontation with the roots of our shame.

And yet, for the follower of Jesus, there is an even deeper and supremely releasing aspect of the shame problem – for we believe that He bore our shame and in him, shame is ultimately defeated and destroyed! I have come to the personal conclusion that this aspect of the birth, life and death of Jesus is, perhaps, its greatest meaning of all – seen ultimately at the cross. The prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Jesus stated of the Messiah, who would become the great Shame Bearer –

‘I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.

Isaiah 50:6

Stephen Freeman again –

‘Shame was embittered when Christ turned not His face from the spitting and the mocking. Swallowed up by love, it has been taken away. Those held in its bondage turn their faces towards the Face of Christ, who beholds them forevermore.’

The cross was the culmination of a life which bore shame – not of his own making – but the making and unbearable curse of others. His ‘neither do I condemn you’ (John 8:11) rings down through the ages to our own day and generation – racked as it is by the curse of shame. It is his word to me and also to you today – when bearing our shame we stand honestly before him.

‘Never again should we be alone, shut out or lost. When we are in shame or despair, and there seems no way out, Christ is waiting for us in silent love. And he allows us to say Abba, Father, a word of childish tenderness.’

Oliver Clement (1921-2009)

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876)

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply