SHAME - a good thing or a bad thing?
An inner city schoolteacher struggling with troubled students was corrected by her superiors (shamed - if you will) for putting shame upon a child for bad behavior. It was deemed necessary to make the school and its environment to be positive, to help the child eventually succeed in life. We get that, the need to help a child at risk, with the widespread problematic home-life so many suffer. Yet this misguided and incomplete philosophy inadvertently encouraged disrespect of authority, further misbehavior, and misery for all involved. We ask the question, is shame a good thing or a bad thing?
Before the Fall of man: Genesis 2:25 ...and they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
The lot of all men after the Fall of man: Psalm 44:15 ...my dishonor is continually before me, and the shame of my face has covered me
After a person is converted to Christ: Romans 6:21 ...what fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? ...for the end of those things is death.
Wikipedia says: Shame is a negative, painful, social emotion that can be seen as resulting "...from comparison of the self's action with the self's standards..."
This is an unfortunate definition because if "self" is made the point of reference, then it encourages the lowering of personal & cultural standards to make the behavior more acceptable. If one has guilt and embarrassment because of what has been done, such an one may seek to remove the "standard" that causes such emotions, and call for love or acceptance. This pathway is a downward one, without a good end for the individual and the culture. Therefore we can see there is a value in having standards and expectations, and shame plays a role. We must also know why there is evil in the world, and for that we must turn to scripture. For if there is no evil, there is no wrong, and then there is no shame.
Knowing the truth of the fall of man, is key. Man was made in God's image, true, but man fell in Eden, by disobedience to God, and became alienated from God (read Genesis 3). By the time we get to Genesis 5:3 we find that Seth was born in Adam's (!!!) image, not God's image. Adam had become a sinner and so are his offspring (you and me). The value of knowing there are points of reference for truth, that there is right and wrong, and that man is born a sinful being, help protect us form wrong reasoning such as:
God made me this way, therefore it is ok to behave according to my desires.
God doesn't make junk
Our goal should be to seek the mind of God in all things, including the matter of right and wrong, and the role shame plays. The word in the Greek New Testament is aischuno, and has a similar inflection as discussed above, which includes the feeling or fear that keeps a person from doing something. Or if the action is already done, it speaks to the internal consequences of guilt that follow. The Hebrew word is bos, with much the same connotation including a personal feeling of worthlessness, and disappointment.
Shame is a consequence of sin, and it has effect upon one's self esteem or identity. It is the common lot of humanity. The danger is the hardening of the conscience, where:
Philippians 3:19 ...men "glory in their shame"
Romans 1:26-27 ...God judicially gives men over "to vile passions" where "men with men committing what is shameful.
Shameless people increasingly flaunt their unholiness and get calloused to God and towards what is right and proper. They drag down themselves and others. Shame is useful, shame is necessary, even if shame is negative - and even if it makes us feel bad.
Is that all that can be said? Let us look further...to the experience of Paul and David.
Both experienced significant regret for the shame of their past, Paul-before conversion- with regard to his pride as a pharisee and David's adultery and murder as King of Israel.
Pride, Adultery, and Murder are three very shameful & abhorrent things, yet they both were able to recover, despite the consequences, especially the troubles that followed for David & his family. Regardless, both men changed their minds and their directions and then could say something like what Paul himself wrote,
Philippians 3:13-14 '"...forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus...."
Though the word "shame" does not appear in this Philippians text, Paul is talking about such things in his past, and a proud pathway he now had left behind - things now counted as loss, even as dung, in comparison to knowing Christ.
David writes of that which comes after repentance of his abhorrent behavior, when after a change of mind and direction when he asks God to: "Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice." Psalm 51:8
The mention of broken bones likely has the background of a shepherd dealing with wayward sheep. One present-day shepherd tells of 1-2 in the sheepfold which constantly seek ways of escape and often others will follow their lead into danger. The remedy for them may be tying a long stick to the front of them to bar the way through the hedges and fences....or if that is insufficient, laming them by breaking a leg or two is appropriate. David knew the feeling of metaphorical broken legs, and realized that until the error was confessed & forsaken, the shame of the present left no room for the joy and gladness he had lost.
The methods of God are various in dealing with His wayward ones, and He scourges every son whom He receives Heb. 12:6. Yet we can say with assurance that had the fear of the Lord been present, had the conscience been active regarding that which is shameful, the chastised one-any of us- can avoid such divine dealings. There is a divine government that takes place in every situation, sooner or later. God delights in mercy, not in judgment, which is said to be His strange work (Is. 28:21). Yet God is just, and cannot wink at sin, nor that which is shameful. His eyes are too pure and He charges even His angels with folly, such is His holy nature far beyond our sight.
The English antonyms for "shame" are full of interest:
It is not that the believer in Christ should seek honor, nor esteem, nor respect, nor even approval (if he does he'll eventually be ashamed of that). But he instead finds that in Christ are all these things present in holy fullness - present in Him- in Christ Who is honorable, esteemed, respected, approved, and perfect. And the wonder of all wonders is that his position in Christ affords a completeness and tremendous joy.
ye are complete in Him Colossians 2:10.
Is there a stronger incentive against shameful living, than such identification with Christ? We think not. Yet for each of us there are times and seasons of failure.
Reader: If you have shame in your life, here are some suggestions:
Be glad there are still standards in place and you haven't been given over by God to judicial judgment. You need conversion perhaps- or cleansing? One if you are unsaved, the other if saved.
There is in Christ - redemption, where the sins you find in yourself were paid for on the cross. The empty tomb is God's "amen" to satisfaction because in His reckoning, the penalty of sin is paid. Repent and believe the gospel.
If you are a believer there is power in Christ to reckon yourself dead to sin (study Romans 6 & 7 carefully with a good commentary handy - see the Bible Commentary Romans Verse by Verse here at page 92 & forward):
As a believer you surely have some shame in your past, and are not alone, we all do. Let us do as Paul said, and not "continue" in that sin, but confess & forsake it and press on, to the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Shame will be present in this life any time we look back and shudder. But when we find ourselves fully accepted in the Beloved, accepted in Christ, there is joy and victory and progress into holy living and away from shameful living.
There is a beautiful Hebrew word translated "accepted" in English. It means "to lift the face". Think on that a while, dear fellow ashamed & even chastised one, and by faith look up into the face of Christ, and see if that isn't a help. Shame makes our face downcast, the goodness of God leads us to repentance and victory. Romans 2:4
Shame: is valid and useful, but only permanent in hell, not in heaven.
One final note: The Christian life, some may wrongly suggest- is lived in fear of shame, fear of failure, etc. This would not be a true statement. The best Christian life is lived with Christ as the center, by grace in joy unspeakable. But we must not jettison those things which are deemed "negative" including shame. Shame can be a valuable thing for the lost and also for the saved. Wherever there is sin, shame should be. And we must face the reality of the human condition. The unsaved person needs shame to point out right and wrong, and ultimately his need of a Savior. The saved person, still has the problem of sin indwelling him (though it does not rule as king anymore!), and from time to time needs the activity of conscience to bring about confession of sin & departure from it.