The Fall, Sin, and Shame on Us
Genesis 2:25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Genesis 3:7-10 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (8) And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (9) But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (10) And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
When sin entered into this creation, the effects were radical. “Radical” means “root.” Man is fallen in his very core. This is what we mean by the doctrine of Total Depravity. Not that man is as bad as he could be, but that his total being is fallen. Jesus had this in mind in His parables about bad fruit from bad trees. This is serious. It means that when a human being enters this world, he is not merely sick in sin, but dead in sin. Throwing him a life-preserver won’t help. He can’t even reach for it because he is already dead and laying on the bottom of the ocean. He needs — life! He needs resurrection. “Lazarus, come forth!” That’s the thing that is necessary, and of course, that is the very thing we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But back to this matter of shame on us. Before the Fall, you have naked people, not ashamed. They were laid bare to every eye in the creation, to the Lord and to one another, and it was just fine. They were quite confident with who they were as persons and had nothing to hide. Where there is no shame, there is no hiding. All of that changed with the entrance of sin. Immediately they set about to cover themselves up and when they heard the familiar sound of the Lord’s arrival, they ran. Imagine – to this point they had actually been able to stand fully exposed in the presence of God Himself, with no trauma. No more. Now exposure meant fear and hiding and it was all rooted in the fact that they were ashamed.
They had reason to be. They were guilty, and for that they should have been ashamed. But being ashamed of what we have done is rather different from being ashamed of who we are. And it is in particular this latter kind of shame that causes most of our problems.
The Lord Jesus Christ came to render shame powerless. His death on the cross took our guilt, and the perfect righteousness of His perfect obedience to the Law of God renders us positively righteous. In Christ, the power of shame is neutered. Clothed in the righteous, white garments of Christ’s glory, we have no need to be ashamed before God.
But boy, do we have a hard time getting hold of this! We tend to continue to listen to the voices of shame. The enemy is behind it of course. He is the accuser of the brethren. But he has plenty of instruments to deliver his shame punches to us. People in our past and people in our present. People who are our enemies, but also people who love us. People who intend to shame us — like abusers — but also people who don’t. Yet, they do.
If we are going to deal with shame and progressively put it to death in our lives, then we are going to have to work hard at coming to know who we really are in Christ. How He has transformed us, adopted us, loved us and cleansed us. How He has set His love upon us and is not ashamed to declare us His brethren. We need to listen to the voice of God’s Word telling us who we now are, and learn to stop listening to the voices of shame – the primary voice of which is probably our own selves!
Let me give you a personal example of how shame comes knocking at our door very early in life. By the way, as Christians we need to take great care that we do not fall prey to erroneous and unbiblical teachings that perpetuate shame. Yes, we were worthless and condemned, rebels against the Lord. But that is not true any longer for all who are in Christ. Just try to find a place in the New Testament that plainly calls a Christian a “sinner.” But, back to the example:
I grew up in a professing Christian family (it really wasn’t) in which feelings were shut down. No one ever verbally said “you will not show emotions or feelings in this family,” but words weren’t necessary. The message was loud and clear. So we grew up stuffing it. Of course this meant that there would be occasional blowups because stuffed feelings eventually blow the lid. No one would ever ask us, “how do you feel about such and such?” And then, as life progressed and life took its natural course, i.e., “teendom” arrived, feelings tended to rage even more. I can remember first meeting my wife in high school, but keeping it a secret at home. Phone calls had to be hidden – which was pretty tough back in the days when every house had one telephone on the kitchen wall. Relationships like this weren’t discussed in our home. Oh, except when the relatives came over and word had leaked out that Jeff had a girlfriend. Then the teasing and “fun” making ran its course. The effect? We learned to shut up about such things even more. Talk about your feelings, and you get shamed. Lesson learned, very well.
One of the problems in all of this of course is that our feelings are intimately connected with who we are as a person. Mock our feelings and you mock us. Squash the expression of feelings and you squash the person. And squashed people get into trouble. Shame – and mark this down very carefully — shame is at the root of a huge amount (maybe all?) of the symptoms we call sins. Drug and alcohol addictions, eating disorders, cutting, money and career worship, interpersonal conflicts, abuse, anger, selfishness. You name it, and if you look hard and long enough you will probably find shame hiding in some corner. Shame, you see, leads people to seek something that will make them feel good — to feel like somebody. Or to destroy themselves if they fail. Shame, unfortunately, drives people away from the only One who can cure the shame. Like Adam and Eve hiding their nakedness and hiding from God.
So, here is the fact of the matter. YOU have been shamed, and shame is in you to one degree or another. Abuse victims in particular have been hammered with this evil weapon, and it is a dragon that is not going to just vaporize over time. It has to be confronted and killed, like any dragon. If not, then it can render your ability to have healthy relationships essentially impossible. Shame torpedoes those who draw close to us. And the dragon is very fertile. It reproduces itself in our children if not dealt with.
If you have not already begun the journey, I challenge all of us to pick up the sword of truth and start doing battle with shame. Think long and hard about how shame has been instilled in you. Pray diligently and regularly that the Lord would invade your mind and heart by His Spirit and shine on our shame so we can see it, understand it, and reject it. Get some books on shame and start studying. And best of all, open up your Bible. Begin with the New Testament, and as you read through it, write down what you learn about how God thinks of YOU. Who are you, Christian, in His sight? After all, it is His opinion of you that is the truth. But whatever you do, please don’t remain stagnant in the quagmire of shame. That would be a shame indeed.