- Pastor Matt LaMaster -
In the epic film Inception, a complex relationship between Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Cob (Leonardo DiCaprio) unfolds. Throughout, Ariadne tries to unlock Cob’s past, but throughout the film Cob draws a line and bids Ariadne, “Come no further.” What is this palpable boundary? In a word, shame. In seminary, I took a class on missions which called me to really investigate the sense of shame in child prostitutes. What is shame? These are some of my thoughts.
As those happily agnostic to shame’s more subversive influence, we, Westerners, struggle to define it, and to often ignore its presence.
But we should be careful about ignoring shame, for it is a universal fact. Though some of you will deny it, there is a deep and profound shame in each of us, the sense that all is not right. That downward look of children at having done wrong, that overwhelming need you have to defend yourself, that pain when someone stabs you in the back, these are all instances of shame. Ignoring shame is like ignoring cancer, you can deny its reality, but it will eat you away.
Shame is a flexible. Your shame touches your marriage, your children, your job, your parents, your church. Shame is subtle. You do not ever need to actively think, "I feel so ashamed" to feel shame. Shame is deceptive. We can notice our shame, but think, "It's no big deal." Yet if we would leave it alone, it would dismantle our souls.
Escaping shame is a long journey. Do not expect to be rid of it soon. It is a long, cold, winding and precipitous trail. Escaping seems to be impossible, as it will suck the life into its frigid vacuum.
The story of our first parents is instructive. Upon unbelieving God’s word and eating the forbidden fruit, our progenitors were illuminated to their nakedness (Gen 3:7). Thus, we see shame is at least semi-conscious: eyes are opened; attention is garnished. The first humans are instantly aware that evil is present and that they have entered in. This moment of realization begets shame. Notice, someone does not have to think, "I am ashamed" to feel shame, but merely to feel, "I am not right." Insecurity, hurt, pain, guilt, all shame.
Scripture tells of more: Judah himself enters in when his daughter-in-law Tamar reveals his unrighteousness with an incestuous verdict (Gen 38). While Judah enters in, shame overtakes the daughter of David, Tamar. Tamar sees the shame approaching like a storm on the horizon, and weeps when it has done its damage (2 Sam 13:1-19). Shame comes from both wrong we've done, and wrongs done to us.
Shame realizes all is not right, neither out there nor in here.
Shame is a spiritual “eye-sore.” It is nakedness. Nothing is dignified about it. It is embarrassment and humiliation. Shame needs to covered; it needs to be hidden. Adam and Eve sought to forget it through the use of fig leaves (Gen 3:7). We have become manufacturers of such things. The episode of Tamar embarrasses David’s whole family, but each finds a different “fig leaf.” Amnon banishes his sister, hiding her from her presence behind locked doors (2 Sam 13:18). Tamar hides herself in her brother’s house (13:20). David rages, but through inaction internalizes his anger (13:21). Absalom surges with revenge (13:29). Variegated taxonomies they may be, but they are fig leaves nonetheless. Shame is the desire to disappear.
We have our own fig leaves. We vigorously deny wrong doing. We avoid people attached to painful memories. We focus our mind on the nostalgic. We select that which is worth remembering, and discard the rest. We get angry when it is implied we have done wrong. How dare someone brings to mind our shame?
However, there is a hope.
God hates shame more than we, and goes to great extent to give us a permanent cover. Just as God provided a covering for Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21), he does so for the shame of the world. Christ so despises shame, that he embodied it and put it to death (Heb 12:2). Christ is the Father’s covering for us, laid on by the Holy Spirit. Fixing ourselves on him, we are covered. Rather than the dysfunction of the cosmos, we share in the honor of the Son of God. This is the hope that we need, the way out of shame, the escape from pain.
“Truly God is our glory and the lifter of our heads (Psalm 3:3).”*
*Diane Langberg, Suffering and the Heart of God, 137.
Southern Heights Christian Church
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