“You were a mistake.” “You are good for nothing.” “You are one big disappointment.” These unkind, hurtful comments are spoken so that the person receiving them feels a sense of shame. The experience of shame comes as a result of thinking that one is a failure. In other words, the message is conveyed that there is something inherently wrong with the person and that he or she will never be able to meet the standards that others expect. This means that the person is, by nature, inadequate.
Shame can also be due to a person’s own behavior, what was done to him or her by other people, or something related to that person which is seen by others as being inferior to them. Some people, such as abusive people, use shame to exercise control over the victim. In the process, they are able to shift their own guilt onto the victim by blaming the victim for their behavior.
Shame in the Bible
We first see shame in the Bible in Genesis 3:7, when Adam and Eve covered themselves because they were naked. This is in contrast to Genesis 2:25, when Adam and Eve experienced no shame about being naked during the period of innocence before the fall. The experience of shame is connected to the guilt of sinning against God. The shame of nakedness is seen again in 2 Samuel 10:4, when Hanun shamed David’s men by stripping them of their clothes. In this case, the shame experienced was a result of a deliberate attempt by Hanun’s men to humiliate David’s men.
Christ Removes Shame
Christ is the answer for the person experiencing shame. In the Gospels, we see that Christ associated with those who were shamed by others because they were seen to be inferior. Examples are the woman at the well (John 4:1-45) and the tax collectors (Matthew 9:9-13).
By dying on the cross, Jesus died in a shameful way, being naked and exposed to everybody who was looking at him. He fulfilled Isaiah 53:3-5, knowing the shame of being “as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Even though he was innocent, he suffered shame so that others would be made righteous. Through his death and resurrection on the cross, Jesus canceled the debt that is against us (Colossians 2:14).
As a result of Jesus’ death on the cross, when he became sin, believers become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are justified by faith through Christ (Romans 5:1). There is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1), and we are to live according to God’s plan for us by being holy and blameless before him (Ephesians 1:4).
Helping the Shamed Person
Christians experiencing shame should be helped to see that they are righteous in Christ because of his work on the cross. He bore their shame so that they will live a godly life. They are to live out of the reality that their alienation from God has been removed by Christ so that they may be holy and blameless before him (Colossians 1:21-22).
Instead of accepting others’ judgments of us, we are to see ourselves as Christ does. We belong to him, even if others reject and exclude us. We can know that Christ has removed our shame in a personal, intimate way. In Isaiah 54:4-6, the Lord comforts Israel by saying that she is to forget her shame, as he, her Maker, is her husband. This is true of the church, the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:1-4). We are part of the bride of Christ. We are to live out of the truth that, in him, we are holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27).
By looking at Christ on the cross, we are given a key answer about dealing with shame. We read the following about the sinless, perfect Son of God in Hebrews 12:2: “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.”
Christ despised, or scorned, the shame of the cross because he knew what was before him. Now he is seated at the right hand of God. When others try to shame us, it is important not only to refuse accepting someone else’s wrong assessment or judgment of us, but also to despise the shame. We are to scorn the sinful judgment and focus on the things of God. This does not mean that we despise, or scorn, the perpetrator. We despise the lie that threatens to distract us from the reality of the work of the cross in our lives. Instead, we refocus on the Lord, what he has done, and what lies before us in him.
Question for Reflection
In your counseling of people who have experienced shame, how have you explained Christ’s despising the shame of the cross to help them live in a new way?