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Is there a purpose for shame?

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

14 “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,

Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’

But there is no peace.

15 “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done?

They were not even ashamed at all;

They did not even know how to blush.

Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;

At the time that I punish them,

They shall be cast down,” says the Lord.

16 Thus says the Lord,

“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,

Where the good way is, and walk in it;

And you will find rest for your souls.

But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6: 14-16

What is shame? Easton's Bible Dictionary defines shame as "A negative emotion caused by an awareness of wrongdoing, hurt ego, or guilt. In the Bible, the feeling of shame is normally caused by public exposure of one’s guilt (Genesis 2:25; 3:10)."

It is wrong to conclude that because shame was the immediate product of sin (which is a very bad thing), that shame itself is also a "very bad thing." Shame is what told Adam and Eve that something was wrong. There was some sort of violation that occurred. The freedom they had to enter into the presence of God had been disrupted by something, namely sin. More specifically, their own sin.

This awareness of sin, by itself, has a purpose. Knowledge of our wrongdoing and guilt is a vital part of our human existence. God has downloaded something called shame into the database of our emotions. It exists. It crosses generations, genders, and geographical barriers. Shame serves like an alarm clock telling us to wake up because we have crossed over into dangerous territory. But what happens when a person, or even a nation begins to lose their sense of shame for wrongdoing? For sin?

This was the situation that Jeremiah was facing and it is the situation that we face right now. First, speaking about the false prophets God says, "“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace. (Jer 6:14)". The false prophets kept telling the nation that everything was fine, and there was no need to be concerned about any punishment from God or anyone else. This led to a nation that indulged itself in any and every kind of evil thing. Sound familiar? And who are our false prophets? Take your pick. Every evil thing you can think of is either fully endorsed or conveniently ignored. As a nation, we celebrate sins that should cause shame. But why don't they cause the shame they should?

In verse 15 God asks, "“Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done?" The answer was no. Their shame sensors had been seared off. The ramped nature and sheer immersion of sin in their society made sin seem less and less sinful. By now you should already be seeing parallels. Things that were shameful 50, 30, even 10 years ago are widely accepted and in many cases promoted. How does this happen? Where does the shame go?

The enemy, the crafty one in the garden who started all of this knows the purpose and power of shame. So he is strategic about flooding us with the idea that shame is inherently bad. "Let's make them believe that being ashamed is the sin, and the sin that brings the shame is actually good," the devil thought. Then by inundating us with sin just like the nation of Israel was in the time of Jeremiah, we fall for the oldest trick in the book. If everyone is doing it, it can't be that bad. And he tells an entire nation the same lie he told Eve, "You will not surely die. (Gen 3:4)". But God is not mocked (Gal 6:7); something that Israel learned when they were exiled for their sin and we should learn from them (2 Chr 36:14-21).

The eroding away of shame always comes disguised under the banner of so-called "progress." The false prophets always hail "progress" as the highest altruism and present it as a good that must be sought after at all costs. And we fall for it every time. But this is not new. Eve too was seeking progress. Her thought was that the serpent's promise before her was better than what God had already given, and so she progressed right into sin. Next Adam also progressed into sin. And since then we have steadily and predictably been progressing into sin, and away from God. This "progression" is always accompanied by the enemy's attempt to eliminate the shame of shameful things, dragging the most possible people into sin.

And so God tells the Israelites, "Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls... (Jer 6:16)". This will always conflict with what is called "Progress." God calls them back to the ways of old. The ancient paths never became outdated, only less traveled. Such is the case now. God's Word is eternal. There is no time that was not accounted for when the Word was written because the Author is not only the Creator of time, but He stands outside of it. He is able to freely move both inside and outside of time. As such, society can never progress beyond His Word to render it unnecessary or expired like the mustard in your refrigerator. His Word is always relevant. And the shame produced by sin, particularly the exposing of sin, is always useful to serve as a leash to keep society from becoming entirely lawless.

This is what a truly shameless society would become. Think of it. Imagine the day when one could ask, "Have you no shame?," and those words be met with brazen laughter and real shamelessness.

Sadly this was the case for Israel. God's offer for them to return to the ancient paths was met with a boldness and honesty that is hard for me to read, but easy to imagine. "...But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’ (Jer 6:16). They were now fully committed to their new ways. They had no interest in the ancient paths anymore. They believed that they had found the better path, even the more righteous and enlightened one. Is this not us? Have we not rejected God as a nation in the same manner and tone? "No, we will not walk in it," we say in agreement with Israel. And while as Christians we may not adopt this attitude entirely, if we are honest, there are some things that we tolerate in ourselves that we really should be ashamed of. We have justified some of the sins we commit because they are lesser than our culture's vilest, but seemingly not a big deal to the church anymore. Fornication with our boyfriend or girlfriend is no longer something that we feel shame for because we reason that monogamy, and not marriage, is the standard. After all, it is not like other sexual sins, right? Greed is tolerated in the name of "prosperity," belonging to a community of believers is optional, pornography is to be accepted if it is in "small doses," and maintaining and even pursuing fellowship with the world is seen as only being "relatable," yet it never points a single soul to Christ.

Where should our shame go? Shame is not to remain, but it must come. We must be made to feel the shame of our wrongdoing, but only so that we turn, and turn quickly to God. Shame must not make us hide from God, for that is an exercise of futility. David says, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there... Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You (Ps 139 7-8,12)." But shame can help us to see that we have sinned. This is good knowledge. And the devil has made a generation ignorant of our sin by bombarding us with false prophecies of "Peace, peace, but there is no peace."

Now as all things, the devil also perverts shame. There is a way for shame to be used outside of God's intent. This happens by making someone ashamed of things that are not even about sin at all, such as with appearance or income level. Also, shame has a way of creeping in when sins have been committed against us. This is a great reversal of Biblical shame. So the rape victim, or the abuse victim ends up feeling shame about the sin that was committed against them. This is NOT what God intends shame to do. This comes form the enemy and it is a great weapon in his arsenal that has caused many to stray away or stay away from God. I will write about this side of unholy shame next week.

The beauty of the gospel is that it not only dealt with sin but it also dealt with our shame. We are told to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2)." The lost truth of the cross is that the pain Jesus endured was far greater than mere physical pain. He was deeply ridiculed, mocked, spat on, beaten, cursed, lied on, lied to, abandoned by his loved ones, and stripped naked. God incarnate was treated like the scum of the earth in ways that we cannot fathom. But the Word says that he "despised the shame." The word "despised" means that he "looked down his nose at it." In order words, he "shamed shame" for the redeemed. He nailed it to the cross with our sins. He took it upon Himself so that through the forgiveness of our sins we no longer have to carry it! Thank you Lord!!

There are certainly things that I am not proud of. I once bragged about fornicating like most men, and that now falls under the category of "things I am now ashamed of (Rom 6:21)," meaning that that is not something that brought forth any fruit in my life. And that is the problem with doing away with shame. The shamelessness of our society is not bearing any fruit, only death. This is by design. But there remains an ancient path available for us to take. It starts at the cross and continues narrowly and straightway to the gates of heaven. Praise be to God.

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