Shame is man’s ability to feel and express his humiliation for guilt. As a general rule, where there is no guilt, there is no shame. However, it is also possible to be so debased, so far gone, that you no longer feel your shame.
Shame, where it exists, is powerful and inescapable, and, given in the right dose, it can enslave and kill a man. But for those who acknowledge their shame before the cross – shame for actual sins, not imagined ones – it also leads to a resurrection and to liberty.
Shame is one of the primary mechanisms by which any society is organised. Shame is one of the tools in the toolbox used to pressure people to accommodate or reject certain behaviours and beliefs.
This is true of both godly and godless societies. The difference between them is not whether or not shame is used, but rather what things society determines to be shameful.
For example, what does the apostle Paul tell the Thessalonians to do with loafers? In Christian company, a man needs to be ashamed of his laziness. And if he does not feel shame over this, then the apostle calls on the rest of the community to help him feel shame over it (2 Thessalonians 3:14). This is one of the ways a society maintains its stability.
By contrast, you know that things are in decay when a society deems, say, white skin, or virginity, or a face without a mask, as an occasion for embarrassment. And you know that the decay is doubly serious when Christians actually feel embarrassed by those things.
The remedy for this topsy-turvy state of affairs is the cross.
Death by crucifixion was a most agonising, degrading, disgusting, and humiliating way to die. Yet, one of the things that happened at the cross was that the world’s techniques of shaming were broken and rendered toothless.
This can be seen in Peter’s words in his first epistle.
Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. (1 Peter 4:16)
Most of us are familiar with the teaching that we should not be ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16), or of the teaching of Christ (Mark 8:38). If the world is heaping abuse on you for the sake of Christ, it is the duty of the Christian to not be ashamed.
But Peter goes one step further.
Suppose a Christian repeats something that the Lord taught him, and is sacked from his job while all the people throw rotten fruit at him. He should not be ashamed of that. He should not be ashamed of what he said.
But, says Peter, he must also not be ashamed of what is being done to him.
To refuse to be embarrassed when you say something the Bible says is one thing. But to refuse to be ashamed by the way the world treats you is a profound rejection of their authority to shame and demonstrates in a most powerful way that they have no hold over you (Acts 5:40–41).
As far as the apostles were concerned, it was an honour to be dishonoured. It was a grace to be disgraced. It was their glory to be beaten and abused.
And when that switch has finally flipped, they have no power over you whatever. That is Christian liberty.
This is why the only Christians who have been able to stand against the pressures of the current nonsense are those Christians who have been inoculated against the world’s shaming devices.
And this is also why we should thank the powers that be for giving us a couple of years to practice all this. By learning to walk into our local supermarket (or church) without a mask, some of us believers who might be the most susceptible to this kind of shame-pressure have kindly been given an opportunity to practice their faith, and, contrary to your expectations, the effect has been quite liberating.
Not that we seek the shame. What we seek is the courage to rejoice in the trial and refuse to take the shame when, standing before the cross, we have nothing to be ashamed of.
As one pastor whose local community threatened to glitter bomb him recently put it, your first prayer request should be that you would not be glitter bombed. But, if you are glitter bombed, then your secondary prayer request should be that you would look fabulous.