Shame. When I think of this word, I think of a dog, cowering with its tail between its legs because it knows it has done something displeasing to its master. I think of being caught reading when I’m supposed to be helping get the kids ready for bed. I think of darker shame, like someone being caught in a lie.
As a mother and teacher, I don’t like the idea of shaming my children or my students. Something about putting a child in the corner in a dunce cap doesn’t feel very loving, even if it is teaching the child not to do wrong. I wonder, though, if this is because I’m looking at shame through my modern American cultural lens. It wasn’t long ago that teachers regularly did use shame for punishment.
In fact, when I did a word study on shame in the Bible, I found David wishing shame on his enemies in Psalm 35:26: “Let those be ashamed and humiliated altogether who rejoice at my distress; Let those be clothed with shame and dishonor who magnify themselves over me.” Although the first word, ashamed (buwsh in Hebrew), has a broader meaning than what we typically think of when we define shame (it does mean shame, but it also means to fail in hope and expectation, and it can mean more like terror than shame), the second instance, shame (bosheth in Hebrew), pretty much means the same as our modern word shame.
This doesn’t convince me, though, because I’ve studied David’s “emprecatory” psalms (psalms that rain down curses on enemies) before, and many commentators today take these as an example of how we can be honest before God, not necessarily as an example of the attitude we should have. However, in I Corinthians 1:27, Paul writes, “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” The word in Greek for shame here (kataischynō) is very similar in meaning to bosheth in Hebrew. In other words, it really does mean shame. God also speaks of those who forsake Him in Isaiah 65:13, and says, “Behold, My servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame.”
Paul also writes in the same letter that he wants to shame his readers for taking other believers to court and for other sin (I Corinthians 6:5 and I Corinthians 15:34). On top of that, in II Thessalonians 3:14, Paul tells his readers not to associate with anyone who won’t obey the instruction given in his letter, in order that “he will be put to shame.” He doesn’t seem to consider this giving of shame as a bad way of acting, as in his next sentence he writes, “do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Shaming the brother was done in order to bring the brother back to doing right. How is this different from putting the child in the dunce cap?
I don’t know the answer to this exactly, but I do know the sentence, “She should be ashamed of herself,” does seem to fit sometimes. However, I think that when talking about shaming a believer, as Paul is in II Thessalonians, the key is the motive of bringing the person back into right behavior. In other words, love is behind giving the shame.
After doing the word study, it seems that shame is a proper response for us to have when we are without God, and we have been sinning. Here is the good news, though. Christ suffered shame on the cross for our sake, and in so doing, took the shame away of those who choose to follow Him (Hebrews 12:2). His shame wasn’t based on sin that He had done; it was the shame of a humiliating criminal’s death. He suffered shame He didn’t deserve and now we don’t have to suffer shame we do deserve. Isaiah 61:7 rejoices prophetically that our shame will turn to joy (which was fulfilled in Christ). The shame of our nakedness (our lack of good to cover our bad) will be gone when we clothe ourselves in the white garments that Christ offers (Revelation 3:18).
I recently started reading the Narnia Chronicles to my children, and I love one particular picture of Edmund. In the middle of the story, he betrays his siblings and all the good creatures of Narnia to the White Witch in exchange for some sweets and the promise of a throne. Later, the White Witch comes to bargain with Aslan for Edmund’s life. As the Witch accuses Edmund of being a traitor in front of Aslan, all the good Narnian creatures, and Edmund’s siblings, Edmund has every reason to feel shame. “But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through and after the talk he’d had that morning [with Aslan]. He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn’t seem to matter what the Witch said” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis © copyright CS Lewis Pte Ltd 1950).
When we, as Christians, are tempted to listen to our Accuser and give in to shame, we can fix our eyes on Jesus, remember the shame He endured for us and the forgiveness He has already offered us, and all accusatory words will become meaningless to us.
If this is a struggle for you, I encourage you to listen to the song “Restoration” by Clay Edwards. Here are some of the words: “You bring restoration, You bring restoration, You bring restoration to my soul…You’ve taken my pain, and You call me by a new name. You’ve taken my shame, and in its place You give me joy…You take my mourning and turn it into dancing. You take my weeping and turn it into laughing. You take my mourning and turn it into dancing. You take my sadness and turn it into joy.”
He is faithful to take away your shame and humiliation and bring you everlasting joy!