Shame enters people’s lives before they are able to pass it on. Objective shame, perceived as unkind or sometimes even cruel words and actions by others, often speak of the shamer in response their own wounds, fears, a simple lapse of thoughtlessness, their developmental stage, or lack of empathy. While reading a book by Welsh journalist Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (2015); he compares internet shaming to group shaming during America’s colonial history. Ronson said that public shaming (i.e. stocks, beating) was removed from the laws because its’ consequences were found too harsh. Ronson goes on to interview a Texas judge that has more recently used public shaming as part of sentencing a remorseful person. The judge found that when used sparingly and wisely, shame deterred crime much more effectively than jail time. Which goes to say that not all shame is bad and the effect can depend on the desire for another’s well-being. Ronson personally knows what it means to be the shamer. He points out the hope of redemption for the shamed which reminds me of the story in Genesis 3 of Adam and Eve after eating the forbidden fruit.
In Eden, definitely disobedience to God and possibly the knowledge of good and evil brought shame. That evening God continues the conversation with those he made in his image, those whom he had declared very good. He asks the journalist’s questions of where and what, instead of accusations. He speaks the truth in love to Adam and Eve; while addressing the consequences he tells them of his plan for redemption. Instead of obliterating them or leaving them out in the cold on their own, God beautifully clothes Adam and Eve in skins and furs to replace the flimsy fig leaves. He sends them in a specific direction with some knowledge of the future; tasks to do; and a promise of restoration.
Two generations later, with the birth of Enosh, Seth’s child and the grandson of Adam and Eve, people began calling on the name of the Lord (Gen 4). Despite the existence of shame, God left the door open for communication. Many have experienced prayer as a monologue, however in the Psalms we find that a conversation is possible.
I sought the Lord, and He answered me:
He delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant:
Their faces are never covered with shame.
How amazing is the promise that King David declared in the Psalms for those who feel covered in shame! Claiming this truth as a Christian, whose shame and guilt (whether real or imagined) was removed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, can be the source of strength to make a new start. You can stop hiding in terror of being found out. It is a confusing story of being the shamed and perhaps the shamer. Feeling and knowing God’s acceptance comes from believing the truth in Scripture about him, this can remove what is blocking you from being close to him. The intake and outflow of his love results in our complete redemption. It may be that you are not even close to understanding the source or presence of your shame. So the admonition is to look to and run to God as you grow deeper in self-awareness; his light will make you shine.