Lance Armstrong’s was a shameful descent from glory. A star athlete beats cancer only to return from the brink of death nursing a lust for success at any price. Employing every ounce of cunning, charm and raw intimidation to hoodwink the public about his doping, he used his bout with cancer as a badge. A cycling hero with an unbelievable 10-year string of wins that eventually turned out to be just that: unbelievable.
Shameful, too, was the recently publicized VW debacle that is said to have been conceived over the span of a decade when employees decided to cheat on emissions tests after realizing the systems couldn’t meet US clean air standards legally. The 78-year-old company, with a culture known for being confident, cutthroat and inward looking, is now facing record financial losses and mounting legal battles as a result of its decision.
The world’s strong and powerful acting disgracefully, violating their name and honor; pride preceding a fall.
In the spiritual realm, however, shame reveals itself in a different form. Rather than being an external factor based on performance, it is woven into the fabric of our fallen nature, targeting the core of our worth and identity.
Born into sin, the shadow of shame emerges with us. A voice emitting from some place long forgotten whispering that we are not enough, that we will never measure up, that we are unworthy of love. Whereas guilt condemns our actions when we err, shame attacks our worth and scorns, “You ARE the mistake.” Shame separates. Isolates. Denigrates.
Stirred by pure love, Jesus became the Way to break shame’s hold and provide a bridge back to the Father. Though sinless, He carried our shame to the cross. In the world’s eyes, His was considered an impotent, ignoble end. Yet in the heavenly realms, His act of selfless obedience and raw courage blasted through the confining walls of shame. He shamed shame by walking into it instead of away. He faced the shadow because He understood His worth, carried our shame and triumphed with light. He declared us worthy of love and offers the gift of reconciliation to those who will receive it.
And, it is from this place of love, this new belonging, that another journey begins for those who believe. It is the one that invites us to face shame, again, but this time as a way of identifying with Christ. It is the walk that exposes subtle attitudes of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness and draws us toward dependence and community. It is the circuitous trek where we are called, in love, to relinquish old habits, expectations, and beliefs so we can be free and the world can see more of Him. And it is where we choose His will over our own, a way often scattered with pain.
Shame whispers that we need to hide our fears and imperfections and fights tirelessly to nullify our newfound worth. Thus, many of us, unknowingly spend much of our Christian life still running from the shadow, chasing worthiness. Maybe beauty, wealth, knowledge, fame or relationships; anything to keep the shadow at bay and vulnerability hidden. We maintain the appearance of strength and pity the weak, those without the resources or capacity to hide.
However, real freedom is only found when, like Christ, we face the shadow instead of running from it. When we admit our shame by being vulnerable, when we allow ourselves to walk into the messiness of pain and loss, when we relinquish control. Like layers being peeled back, this process will be repeated, breaking the world’s hold on us and revealing the light.
As followers of Christ, we identify with Him in what the world may perceive as foolishness. However, as we walk into it, this also becomes the mysterious door through which we gain access to His power.
Our spiritual forefathers were often placed in situations where, in order to be faithful to God, they were asked to face shame before their peers and culture. Faith was critical, and their pain eventually became an altar where redemption was birthed.
To save mankind, Noah was told to build an ark in land that had never seen rain.
To father a nation, Abraham was called to be a wanderer in a land not his own and spend years enduring childlessness because he believed a promise.
To protect a nation, Joseph was sold into slavery, wrongly accused of rape, imprisoned and betrayed
To rescue a nation, Moses left a life of luxury to embrace the suffering of his people and allow himself to be used to lead them out of Egypt
To reach the Gentiles, Paul, a brilliant and zealous teacher of the Law was called to lay down his illustrious profession and spend the rest of his life facing extreme suffering
Like those who went before us, at times we will be asked to walk a path that makes no sense. And like them, our pain, when embraced, can become a gateway to vulnerability and life. In God’s economy, the world’s standards are turned on their head. The way up is down, the way over is through, and the way to strength is through weakness. In this journey of faith, we are transformed day by day, and our minds are renewed when we choose to believe.
So shame is a shadow whereas humility and faith are the weighty stuff of which real life is made. In God’s infinite wisdom, He routinely uses the foolish, the weak, and the lowly to shame the proud so that no one can boast. So, by faith, I choose to face the shame and follow the Apostle Paul’s example of boasting about my weakness. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 1:7-10)
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. –1 Corinthians 1:26-29
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 12:1-3