Have You No Shame? (Romans 9, Hebrews 12)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the reality of shame. We Americans often tut-tut at the shame-based cultures of East Asia, but I’ve come to believe that our denial of shame is just as pathological as their idolization of it. When searching for shame in the Bible, I was surprised to find nearly 150 hits! In particular, there are lots of references to shame in the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Perhaps more importantly, shame is mentioned several times in Romans , I Corinthians , and Revelations — and shows up in nine other books of the New Testament. And that doesn’t even count the times that concept is translated differently!
There’s three takeaways from all this:
* Shame is an integral part of the human experience, at least since Eden.
* The Bible paints a clear picture of shame, which is at odds with that of our (or any) culture
* Christ came to take away our shame
[Read more] for my first attempt to nurture a biblical understanding — and healing — of shame.

Romans 9:32-34

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” As it is written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

I was surprised to discover that nearly a third of the mentions of shame are in the context of being “put to shame.” Even more surprisingly, the last three all say the exact same thing (the verse above is essentially repeated in Romans 10 and I Peter). Why is that?
Well, the obvious answer would be that human beings really fear being “put to shame.” That sounds strange to Western ears, but the more I think about it the more sense it makes. Consider how many common behaviors can be understand in terms of “shaming” and “counter-shaming”:
  • pro wrestlers “talking smack”
  • children (especially siblings) teasing each other
  • yelling at drivers who cut us off in traffic
  • non-lethal competition (and ultimate submission) among male mammals
  • the addiction cycle
  • and, even more seriously, rape and spousal abuse

Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.