Shame can define a life, deny a life, or develop a life. Shame is a weight that has the capacity to place an insurmountable burden upon one’s capacity and capability. That burden can generate one’s actions or reactions, cultivating a life that is defined by that burden. The truth is, when shame is established as the foundation for one’s life, there is no life at all.
While shame itself can be a life-taking factor, the fear of shame can also act as an unstable life foundation. In a culture that seeks every opportunity to ‘shame’ those who are in disagreement with cultivated views of society, there is a great fear of being shamed by those around us. This is nothing new, only more easily developed because of the advancements of technology. Thus, the fear is valid. Yet, when the fear of shame is the motivator, it’s not an inward transformation that takes place, but an outward conformity.
The Object of Shame
Christianity Today shared insights into a study released by Lifeway Research. While there are many takeaways from that study, the issue of shame was continuously exhibited. Why was it such an issue? Because there is great concern over one’s reputation (or the reputation of one’s own family). The concept of avoiding shame seems to serve one purpose then: self. Even the noble cause of not bringing shame to one’s family or friends is motivated by self-interests as it often stems from not wanting to reap the condemnation that would come with such an act.
The Validity of Shame
Understandably, shame can be a driving force in a person’s lives because the consequences can be fierce. However, because the object of shame is self, the validity of using shame as a motivator for ‘good behavior’ is questionable, at best. To avoid shame requires that a person then appears to be conforming to the accepted standards of whatever group a person is in. For professing Christians this causes divided loyalties because it requires them to act one way in the world and another way outside of the world (and in the church).
The Answer to Shame
For many, the concern for shame can leave them cornered within a hopeless situation. However, there is an answer to shame that provides a way of hope: It’s true faithfulness to the one who is faithful. While the world may seek to condemn, judgment is not before man or angels, but before God. More than simply wanting to avoid the Lord’s condemnation, acceptance of the Lord’s gospel and commitment to Him takes away the burden of avoiding shame because His work has already completed such a task. Even more, as we are sanctified, our lifestyles give testimony to being without shame. This is not to say that we do not falter. Instead, it points to a true reality that we are justified regardless of our actions, and even when we falter, we create opportunities to point to God’s graces by righting the circumstances in which we failed. For the Christian then, avoiding shame comes from a walk in the light (cf. 1 John) not because we desire to be pleasers of those around us, but because we recognize God as an authority and seek a positive testimony for His glory, not our own.
Shame ultimately results from uncorrected guilt. True guilt though comes not from a break with societal standards, but God’s standards. Therefore, there is only one who can absolve us of our guilt: God. He has provided us a way through His Son Jesus Christ and it is through that acceptance of him that our shame is taken away and we are no longer bound to the world. Instead, we are set free through our unity with Christ.
To read the article “Shame, Guilt, & Fear: What 1,000 Americans Avoid Most” click here.
Photo “Shame” courtesy of user frankieleon and Flickr.