A growing concern connected to Internet communication is shame. I read a post yesterday that cited several instances in which shame campaigns grew up around something a person posted—either a picture or comments. In the end, more than one person lost their job.
I’m not linking to the article because I disagree with the solution—and that’s not really my topic. The problem of shame is.
I have a friend who recounts ways a particular family member shamed others. The baggage from that cares over to adulthood.
I’d never thought about shame before. I came from a family with parents who loved me. It wasn’t perfect. My siblings and I were quite competitive and always struggled with the idea that one or the other (but never me—and we all thought this) was favored. Still, though I suspected I wasn’t the favorite, I still knew I was loved.
As a teen, of course, I was sometimes embarrassed about my family and even about my faith, but I didn’t feel shame in the way my friend describes it.
I wonder now if freedom from shame was connected to my being a Christian. What I’m discovering in Scripture, though, are verses addressing shame.
I suppose it would help if I gave a picture of what I perceive shame to be. Let’s say a person is expected to be the top of his class, but in the last semester, he forgets to write down the due date of a major paper, turns it in late, and gets a B. Someone else claims top honors. He had his chance and blew it. He bears the shame of his failure.
Shame is also something a person feels when a person you hold in high esteem says they’re disappointed in you. Or they tell others things like, he probably won’t have the grades to get into med school. It’s a public declaration of inadequacy.
So here are the verses about shame that have caught my attention. There are four. First, in Philippians:
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.(1:18b-20)
Paul was essentially saying he knew he’d be delivered (he was imprisoned at the time), and that he would not be put to shame for believing so, whether he lived or died because Christ would be exalted either way.
1 Peter 4:16 is the next passage:
but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
At first this verse seems to address the kind of embarrassment I felt when I was a kid having to tell people I belonged to the Mennonite denomination—which most people in my SoCal public high school had never heard of. But the context would seem to indicate there’s much more to this. Peter was addressing believers who were being persecuted because they believed in Jesus. Writing to the churches in Asia Minor, the Apostle Peter wanted to assure them that their suffering was not a sign of defeat. He encouraged them by reminding them that it was temporary, that it was expected, that it gave glory to God, that they were blessed that God had chosen them to suffer for His name’s sake.
In other words, suffering as a Christian was not a mark of failure but of accomplishment. Therefore, they had nothing to be ashamed about.
The thing is, when someone trusts God and then continues to suffer and even to die, the world can point the finger as they did at Jesus Himself and say, See, if your God was real, He could get you out of this mess. He’s failed you because He doesn’t care or isn’t strong enough or because you didn’t believe enough or He plain isn’t there.
Peter was assuring these early Christians that none of those accusations was true. In fact, in chapter five, he specifically mentions the devil, who, among other things, is the Accuser of the brethren. It’s easy to miss the connection between what Peter says about the devil and what he says right afterward about suffering, but I think it’s the issue of shame. Here’s that passage:
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. (5:8-9)
Suffering, Peter says, is an experience Christians all over the world are going through. It’s not a sign of failure. It’s not something to be ashamed about.
There’s another one in Psalm 37, but I’m going to cut to the last one since I sneaked in a second passage from 1 Peter. This last one is the one that has helped me tie my thoughts together about this. It’s a short verse: Psalm 71:1.
In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
Let me never be ashamed.
The unidentified psalmist is putting his life, his destiny, his soul in God’s hands, and if that decision turned out to be foolish—if God failed Him—he’d be ashamed before those who didn’t think God could take care of him.
I view this as sort of his “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” moment. He’s tying himself to God. There is no one else to which he could go—just as Peter said about Jesus. But he knows how this must look to those who haven’t made God their refuge. It looks dangerous, foolish.
You know the old joke, about the guy who falls from a cliff but is able to grab hold of a safety rope. He starts yelling for help: “Is anybody up there! I need help!” Suddenly a voice from heaven says, I’m here. What do you need. “I can’t hold on much longer,” the guy says. “Can you help me get back to the top?” No problem, the voice from heaven answers. Let go of the rope, and I’ll catch you. The man hesitated a moment, then yells, “Is anybody else up there?”
Dangerous. Sometimes the things God asks of us feel dangerous. Or foolish.
We aren’t risk takers. We’ve been taught to be good stewards of our resources, so we want to know we have enough money stashed away for retirement, for example, to cover our expenses should we live to be 143. We cringe when we read about Abraham going, not knowing where, just because God told him to pull up stakes and head in the direction of the Great Sea. Most likely Abraham didn’t even know there was a Great Sea. He was simply going until God told him to stop.
He wasn’t ashamed to be a friend of God, even when it meant marching to the top of a mountain with his son as the intended sacrifice. He did what others may have thought risky, foolish. But he had confidence in God. Ah, one more passage:
yet, with respect to the promise of God, he [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. (Romans 4:20-21)
Fully assured—not in himself, but in God and His promise! I’m pretty sure that’s what keeps a person from being ashamed.