Shame: (n.) a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
I’ve often thought one of the most remarkable sentences in the Bible to be Genesis 2:25. They were naked, and they felt no shame. Adam & Eve, married in the garden, naked before each other and God – yet feeling no shame. They were quite visible in every sense of the word. No clothes. No sin. Nothing to hide. Nothing to fear. Knowing and being known.
In our current state, we cannot fathom this feeling. In the moments following, everything fell apart when our first parents chose sin and self over God. Humanity’s heritage is now steeped in sin and the accompanying shame. Pain. Humiliation. Distress.
Shame is something that is stirred. Our sinful nature guides us to hide all things unacceptable. When those things are brought into the light, there is inevitable pain. As the pain surfaces, we have a choice: carry it or bury it.
“Friend, you see I’m not dressed at all.” (the Bright Person)
This chapter features an interesting perspective of shame as the well-dressed Ghost encounters a Bright Person. There’s a delightful irony in that the well-dressed Ghost is, um, well-dressed, while the Bright Person is quite naked. But it is the Ghost who feels shame. She believes it to be far worse to be transparent in heaven than to be naked on earth. To bear her ghostliness in the presence of the Bright People is more than she is willing to endure.
The Bright Person tries to encourage her. Bear your shame just long enough to take the first step, and you’ll find the burden lifted. An hour later you won’t care. A day later you’ll be laughing about it. But give in to the moment. Drink that cup to the bottom and take the first step. In fact, the Bright Person offers to walk along, to lift as much of the burden as possible, everything short of carrying her. But it starts with a single step.
“Friend, could you, only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?” (the Bright Person)
When our focus is inward, it’s hard to see goodness beyond that first step. It’s hard to see healing beyond the first momentary glimpse of pain.
The gospel introduces life to the carry or bury scenario. Carry that shame… to the cross. Lift your eyes to the heavens, fix your gaze on Jesus who bore sin and shame in his death. Fix your mind and your heart on the one who has overcome, and surrender. That moment of pain is real – the moment of conviction at the realization that we’ve offended our holy God. That moment of shame is real, an awakened conscience in the face of what God has done in response to what we have done. Powerful.
There is relief in taking the first step towards the cross. The burden is not erased in that first step, for our sinful flesh remains. But the burden begins to lift. An hour passes, then a day. Jesus is fully capable of turning shame into joy through a gift of redemption.
“But, I tell you, they’ll see me.” (the well-dressed Ghost)
I can’t help but think of the tragedy of the modern altar call. Maybe some pastors will share my sentiment. Bow your heads, close your eyes. I have to be honest, I have a problem with these words. So many churches. So many events. So many pastors invite people to respond to the gospel with heads down and eyes closed.
Billy Graham once said something like this: If Jesus died publicly on a cross for you, the least you can do is respond to him in kind. In fact, I would add, because he died publicly for you, he enables you to respond in kind. Because he bore infinite shame, he can carry yours in that moment of surrender.
Maybe I’m wrong here, but I believe the ultra-private altar call has consequences. By inviting people to respond in hiding, is it possible that we’re burying shame? Is it possible that we’re adding the gospel to the list of things to be ashamed of? Could it be that people need to take a first step in order to surrender the burden of shame and find true healing?
When I first heard Billy Graham’s words, I vowed never again to ask people to hide when they respond to the gospel. I remember saying I didn’t want people to be embarrassed. I didn’t want them to be singled out. The honest truth is that I didn’t believe Jesus could carry them through a moment like that. I didn’t believe the church or the event to be a safe enough place for the gospel I was preaching.
I’ve since watched individuals stand alone in a crowd of hundreds in response to Jesus. I’ve watched people stand up, walk to the front and drop to their knees. I’ve watched people drink that cup of shame and be exposed as a sinner. It is glorious. It is the moment the Bright Person and the Writer were waiting to see. I can honestly say I’m thankful that others have been around to witness my moments of brokenness and inadequacy. I don’t recall ever waking up thinking, “I hope someone sees me weep today.” But I do recall waking up the next day thinking, “I’m glad somebody was there to see what happened.”
“My suspense was strained up to the height.” (the Writer)
Like the Writer, I have had moments of wondering, inwardly pleading that somebody would face the moment and surrender. I felt that my own destiny hung on her reply. I can honestly say, I understand that feeling.
Lewis leaves us with the delightful tension of an unresolved situation. The Writer walks away, the interview incomplete. How nice.
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