“For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb 12:2 (NET)
Jesus took on all our shame so that our shame can be ultimately covered.
My endless quest for “covering”
How I wish I could have heard that growing up. I was so covered in extreme shame growing up, I did not ever want to be seen nor heard, and I took a couple of “vows” to accomplish those goals. When I was 4, I vowed not to talk to anyone outside my immediate family and classmates. It meant I could never raise my hand, even when I had to use the bathroom (a few times when the “timing” did not work out, I had to deal with the even greater shame of an “accident”). That meant even relatives heard no more than 10 words out of my mouth for the next 10 years. How did I answer the phone then? I didn’t, except in the mid-afternoon when I knew my mother would be calling me from work. Another vow I made, around 3rd grade, I “vowed” never to take off my jacket, even on the hottest of days (which were very few in San Francisco), I’d rather sweat bullets then be “uncovered.” I eventually broke the 1st vow in high school and the 2nd one in college, but not before I found more sophisticated ways to cover my shame, like through my work and accomplishments.
For years, I believed I was the only one gripped by shame and the endless quest to cover myself. Decades passed before I realized that “shame culture” is indicative of many Asian cultures and cultures that are more collective in their identity. Makes sense; if shame says there is something wrong with WHO the individual is (as opposed to guilt, which says that there’s something wrong with what one DOES), then we’d expect to find more “shame” among cultures where family defines one’s identity and the role of self is diminished. Just think of traditional Chinese names, where not only the family name comes first, but a common greeting in Chinese would “honorably” ask for someone’s surname rather than one’s first name. But pretending that shame culture is ONLY found in the East is a fallacy.
The Myth that a Gospel for Shame culture is only for Asians
Too many Christians in America don’t see the pervasiveness of shame in American culture. And that’s a huge problem. The onslaught of social media has only served to push this reality, The New York Times recently published an article (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/opinion/the-shame-culture.html?referer=) suggesting that “the omnipresence of social media has created a new sort of shame culture.” Facebook, Instagram and other social media have certainly given new channels for shame, but the shame has always been there. Long before Facebook, shame in American culture found expression through many channels. American masculinity, John Wayne, the “Marlboro Man” have been about “face” long before Facebook. Shame culture is one that seeks approval. I think about how we “give approval” to celebrities, isolate entrepreneurs, military heroes, and much more. And yet we fail to address this in the way we present the Gospel? THAT in of itself is shameful. Sure, shame is expressed more prominently in some cultures over others, but shame itself is a global problem in need of the Gospel. And it’s a shame that shame is so under emphasized is most every Gospel presentation.
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Covering up the Shame
The quest of seeking cover for our shame finds its beginnings in the book of beginnings. In Gen 3, Adam and Eve were initially without shame until they sinned and shame set in, then they needed “covering”. My “coverings” as a child were many that extended well beyond my vows of silence and wearing a jacket. The root of it all was how I saw myself as unacceptable. The fact that I did not want anyone to hear much less see me followed suit. Needless to say, any kind of sports or extracurricular activity was out of the question. Why would I want my covering to be threatened in any way? Not only I did avoid extracurricular activity, I avoided anything that would surface anything emotional. That meant not watching televised sports, not liking parties, hospitals, weddings, anything with an exuberance of emotions, joyful or sad. Looking back, those tactics were a form of “killing my own soul”, a spiritual suicide of sorts. For years, I lived under the tension to keep all my “coverings” on. That is, until I really began working the Gospel through my years of shame and covering. The fruit of God’s transforming work is outlined here: https://kingdomrice.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/the-nearness-of-heaven-the-awakening-of-my-soul/
The Ultimate Covering for our Shame:
The problem of shame and the “ultimate covering” for shame through Jesus is so rooted biblically, its themes so strong, that its underdevelopment and under emphasis in today’s Christian culture has more to say about Christian culture’s bias than anything else. But the tide is turning…Bible translations (because they have so easily biased interpretation), books, conferences, even pop Christian magazines are getting more balanced to reflect the shame/honor dynamic that’s always been a part of the biblical narrative. The motivation here is not “equal representation” but simply to recover the basic tremendous truth that the Gospel, the entire Bible for that matter, offers the ultimate covering, the ultimate honor for the shamed.
The ultimate covering for Adam and Eve’s shame would ultimately come through the One who would take on the shame of all mankind. The ultimate covering would come through the blessing of a love relationship, through the honor of being in God’s family, unconditionally. Most popular Gospel presentations present only the righteousness that we have; we are “guilt-free.” But that’s just part of what happens. What I so desperately needed to hear for my extreme shame was that I was covered, loved, honored, for who I am. I needed to hear a Gospel that addressed my core identity, to give life to the part of me that expressed, that felt, that desired, for those parts dying under unresolved shame. Shame OUGHT to have prodded me to the love of the Father that says “I like you!” Instead, it led me to hiding for decades.
In Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, and Luke 3:22, the Father affirmed Jesus’ core identity apart from anything Jesus did, before he began his public ministry. Subsequently, Jesus was able to resist the temptations for ambition, for his appetites, and for approval. For me, I spent decades caving in to all three of those, but mostly chasing after approval. Today, THIS Gospel says I am approved, I am covered, I am honored. Season by season, year by year, all my counterfeit coverings are being replaced by the ultimate covering for my shame.
“For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame…”
Christ was stripped naked, spit upon, died as a criminal on the town’s garbage heap. But for the joy before Him, to cover all our shame, he took it all on. Again, most of today’s Gospel presentations simply ignore this shame. And few Christians today can relate to the absurdity of worshipping someone who was so shamed, so despicable. But if we can relate to that shame, we can surely step into the honor also bestowed on us.
Therefore, I end with a lengthy quote from the prophet Isaiah, written over 650 years before Christ. I love how Isaiah seems to expand the words of Hebrews, telling the story of Christ and his shame, ending with a picture of tremendous honor.
53:1 Who would have believed what we just heard?
When was the Lord’s power revealed through him?
53:2 He sprouted up like a twig before God,
like a root out of parched soil;
he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention,
no special appearance that we should want to follow him.
53:3 He was despised and rejected by people,
one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness;
people hid their faces from him;
he was despised, and we considered him insignificant.
53:4 But he lifted up our illnesses,
he carried our pain;
even though we thought he was being punished,
attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.
53:5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds,
crushed because of our sins;
he endured punishment that made us well;
because of his wounds we have been healed.
53:6 All of us had wandered off like sheep;
each of us had strayed off on his own path,
but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.
53:7 He was treated harshly and afflicted,
but he did not even open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block,
like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not even open his mouth.
53:8 He was led away after an unjust trial—
but who even cared?
Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living;
because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.
53:9 They intended to bury him with criminals,
but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb,
because he had committed no violent deeds,
nor had he spoken deceitfully.
53:10 Though the Lord desired to crush him and make him ill,
once restitution is made,
he will see descendants and enjoy long life,
and the Lord’s purpose will be accomplished through him.
53:11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work,
he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done.
“My servant will acquit many,
for he carried their sins.
53:12 So I will assign him a portion with the multitudes,
he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful,
because he willingly submitted to death
and was numbered with the rebels,
when he lifted up the sin of many
and intervened on behalf of the rebels.”
4 thoughts on “The Gospel: The Ultimate Covering for our Shame”
Thanks again for you timely insight.
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Thank you for sharing your story so honestly. At the cross all our wounds were healed, and it’s so important to explain he took away our shame as well.
I can believe Jesus “loves” me, but can I believe He actually “likes” me?! Work in progress…
The “ultimate covering” for shame and its underdevelopment/under emphasis in our Christian culture is a great point. I believe God’s people are thirsty for the freedom that comes with this covering even if they have to face some of their own mess to receive it.
I agree…it’s too easy for “Jesus loves me” to get lost in that theological vat in our heads that’s yet to be connected to the heart. Worst yet, feeding that vat can breed disobedience, hence the biblical theme that warns against those who “know more.” But to “experientially know” that we’re liked demands that our spiritual disciplines point us in the direction of a discipleship long under emphasized in recent times, the discipleship of our emotional lives.