Understanding the Biblical Concept of Shame
On Friday, July 18th, 2003, basketball star Kobe Bryant was charged with the sexual assault of a 19-year-old hotel worker in Eagle, Colorado. Soon afterward, he issued a statement in which he denied the charge but admitted to sexual contact with the woman. The statement included the words: "...I sit here before you embarrassed and ashamed for committing adultery..." Can you imagine being forced to admit your sin and failure before the whole world?
It is not often that a news story captivates the whole of society as this one has done. As Christians, we should always look for spiritual truth and opportunities to witness in every current event. Now is a perfect time to study the Biblical concept of shame. Shame is a word that reminds us of embarrassment, remorse, guilt, humiliation, and disgrace. We will see in our study that the Bible teaches a twofold truth about shame: a positive truth and a negative. The concept of shame is a barometer of a society's goodness and an individual Christian's closeness to His God.
I. Shame was First Seen in the Garden. In Genesis 2:25 we read, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." Human beings were created by God as innocent creatures, perfect in the image of God Himself. The meaning here is that Adam and Eve were not "self-conscious" about their nakedness. As a little child can run and cavort without clothes and have no shame, so did the first couple. There was no sin against God or each other...No evil thoughts...No harsh words...No unhealthy desires...All of nature was in the perfect will of God.
But after sin entered, the Bible says in verse seven, "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons."How and why did shame enter the picture? Many have used these verses to cast a bad light on the sexual act, saying that sex is in-and-of- itself wrong and sinful. There is no basis for such an intrepetation.
From where did the first instance of shame arise? Let us examine this question from a couple of angles. First, Adam and Eve saw their humanity as being unlike God. God was both their Creator and their Companion. He was their Model and the Object of their worship. Certainly God was not a sexual creature. But the animals all around them were sexual creatures! This "opening" of their eyes revealed contrasts with their God. In their innocence, they had never contemplated this truth.
Second, their sin separated them from each other. God had made them "one flesh." Before their sin, Adam and Eve functioned like Siamese twins. Each of their thoughts and actions were anticipated and approved by the other. Their sexual union had been mutually joyous and perfectly compatable. Now they saw each other in their sin and imperfection. When sin entered, selfishness entered. Contrasting desires entered. Uncertainty of each other entered.
Lastly, they now looked within themselves and saw weakness and inadequacy. Whereas before, there was no sef-awareness at all, now there was self-doubt and a sense of unworthiness.
Thus, shame entered the world at the same time sin did. Shame is a result of sin, an extension of sin. Adam and Eve believed the Serpent's half-truth that they would be as Gods, knowing good and evil. Now they had a working knowledge of both, and shame is the result.
II. Shame Implies a Perfect Standard Not Met. Shame is the sense of "not measuring up." Kobe Bryant admitted that his sexual dalliance with a young woman (if we believe his contention that there was no rape) was wrong and dishonorable. But by whose standards? By society's standards? By his own personal standards? By his family standards? It is interesting to notice that Bryant used the word "adultery" in his statement. That is a Bible word. It is a word that is not used often in our culture today.
Our Bible is God's revelation of Himself. Regardless of society's opinions, God has decreed that He is the perfect standard by which we are measured. (Lev. 11:44) "For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy." (Isa. 6:3) "And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory." (Exodus 15:11) "Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?"
We live in a time of situation ethics. "What's right for you may not be right for me; and what's wrong for you may not be wrong for me." Modern day philosophers contend that right and wrong are constantly changing and we should not judge the deeds and motives of another. Yet humankind still at times displays a sense of shame and guilt.
Can Be an Instrument of a Merciful God. Historically, this country's
laws and principles are based on the Bible and the Judeo-Christian concept
of God. He is the standard. He is the measuring stick.
(Rom. 3:23) "For all have sinned, and
come short of the glory of God;" (Rom.11:32)
God hath concluded them all in unbelief..."
(Ecc. 7:20) "For there is not a just
man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not."
We, as God's creation, have reason to be ashamed of ourselves and our actions.
In Psalm 44, David speaks to God about shame.
Notice how God used shame in the lives of Israel's enemies and in their lives as well. Shame is an instrument of God. Shame is the result of our own sin. Did not Peter, when he denied the Lord, go out and weep bitterly over his sin? Notice too, Israel's attitude in Jeremiah's day. (Jeremiah 3:25) "We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us: for we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God."
Lack of Shame Is Evidence of a Decayed Society. "I don't care
what people think! It doesn't matter what they say! I'll hold my
head up high no matter what! Never let them see you sweat!
Never give in, never admit that you're wrong." These are the statements
of a society in decay. But this attitude is not new.
On November 26th, 1996, a middle age couple sat comfortably in their Eustis, Florida home. A 16 year old self professed "vampire" and occult follower named Rod Farrell creeped inside, and in a drug induced stupor, clubbed them both to death with a tire iron. He then stole their van parked outside and drove to pick up his friends. Why do I tell this story? Later, after he had been sentenced to death, he was asked, "How did you feel when you killed them?' His answer, "I didn't." The psychologists testified that he had a "personality disorder" which caused him to be anti-social.
Other stories like this can be told one after another. The woman who ran into a man with her car, watched him die lodged in her windshield with her car sitting in her garage, never called 9-1-1. The rap singers, who sing of raping women, killing policemen, and selling drugs to little schoolkids, do it for the money and the shock value.
A member of
the news media stated recently that Kobe Bryant's arrest for rape could
have "street value." He went on to explain that Kobe was not considered
as an icon or role model by the urban,ethnic teens and young adults.
He has been seen as an "establishment" personality up until his arrest.
Now he might be considered more like "one of them." Such a statement
is an affront to minorities and an example of the decay of our culture.
Shame for the Christian Can be a Negative.
we get the concept of shame all wrong. We find ourselves ashamed of the
godly aspects of our lives and proud of the ungodly ones. Jesus promises
serious ramifications for this misplaced shame. Paul said expressly:
I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ..."
(Romans 1:16) We owe it to our God to stand true and not be ashamed
of His claims on our lives.
Our Own Shame Should be Evaluated and Dealt With. What shall be our
attitude toward our shame? Will we follow the advice of the psycho-analyst
who tells us to forget our past sins and shameful behavior? Will
we bury our shame and move on? Our will we bring our shame to God,
who alone can deal with it and ease our pain?
At this writing, it is not apparent what will happen to Kobe Bryant. Everyone has their opinion of his guilt or innocence. But we do not know, nor can we say what happened. But we can say that God knows, and the shame Kobe Bryant felt at that July 18th press conference is a good thing. His shame was the instrument of God to bring him to repentance and be a warning to us not to follow in his path.
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