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Shame and Rejection, Interrupted (Ed Welch)

November 2, 2018 Leave a comment

My reading this year has included several Kindle deals, including two in the Christian counseling category, titles from author Ed Welch.  The latter of these, Shame Interrupted:  How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection, is quite interesting and helpful, a book I wish would have been available in my early Christian years.

The term shame includes many different types, and it turns out (not surprisingly) that scripture has a lot to say about this subject, beyond the surface level of the word appearing in various scripture verses.  Welch’s presentation starts in the Old Testament, going in chronological sequence from Genesis 3 through the rest of the Old Testament, the gospels and the New Testament epistles.  As with the first book I read from Welch (Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest), each chapter includes a modern day example of a person and their emotions and situation, along with a look at a particular Bible narrative story.  The first eleven books progress through the Old Testament, followed by several chapters that look at the gospel accounts and then the epistles.  The application/teaching regarding  shame — from the book of Leviticus (the holiness code) and the priestly garments used in the Tabernacle service – I found especially interesting.  The tedious sections in Leviticus convey great truths here, regarding shame and guilt, and the fact that shame is sometimes related to our sin and guilt, but often relates to things done to us and where no sin on our part is involved.  Leviticus presents three types of shame, of being considered “unpresentable”:

  • Unpresentable before God and others
  • Unpresentable because of what we’ve done
  • Unpresentable because of our allegiances and associations

Shame comes in many forms, and is illustrated through God’s dealings with real people in real difficulties, such as the account of God visiting Hagar the outcast (Genesis 16).  A later chapter also looks at the Old Testament concepts of clean and unclean, holy and common.  As Welch observes, clean and unclean were distinguished by anything related to death, idol worship and unclean animals, or violations of God’s order such as sexual sins or skin diseases.

It seems unfair that both perpetrators and victims should be placed in the same category, but God is making a point.  Both our actions and our associations make us unclean … That doesn’t mean the unclean are unwelcome, but it means God must do something for them before they can enter His presence. …. Unclean is not the same as sin.  It can come from our own sin but also from contact with something sinful.  The unclean might be guilty; they always experience shame.

Amidst all the details of the Mosaic cultural context and what made the people of Israel “unclean,” is the general precept with its hard-hitting application; all of this does relate to us and how we feel in our dealings with others in society:  If you are unclean, something is wrong with you.  You don’t fit in. You aren’t like other people.  You just aren’t normal.  You stick out and you are kicked out.

The title is “Shame Interrupted,” and the interrupted part is key – the good news of what God has done for us, the gospel.  God provides the means to bring His banished home, and He makes us holy:

But since holiness is so not-human, it always has an element of the unexpected. You never expected that God himself would, by his representatives, come close to unclean people and touch them.

The Holy One is not human.

The triune God is not human.

Don’t limit God’s character by your expectations of what a decent human king might do.

You expect God to reject; he accepts.

You expect Him to turn away; He turns toward.

The book includes many helpful diagrams, including one that branches ‘shame’ out into two categories:  1) From the sins of others and from our own weaknesses, and 2) From our own sin.  Each of these headings branches out into two sub-categories:  Before God, and Before the world.  Much of the content is focused on the first heading, the sins of others and our own weaknesses.  Here again is the important reminder, what it means to be saved from human opinion, to put our trust and confidence in the Lord, not in what we do or what others think of us.  From the chapter that considers the apostle Paul and his words in Philippians, and the category of shame from our own weaknesses:

Most failure is simply a consequence of being a creature and not the Creator.  We are limited and finite.  We make mistakes.  We can’t even do things as well as our friends and neighbors.  The fact that we don’t compare well to other people is not a sin.  It is a result of limitations we all experience.”

and

Accomplishments are just something else to trust in. If you trust in your accomplishments and the opinions of the world, you might as well trust in excrement.  Even worse, trust in your accomplishments and you become like the thing that holds your trust.  That truly is disgusting.  Human beings were never intended to find their reputations in their accomplishments.

I have enjoyed reading both of the Ed Welch books, especially this one, Shame Interrupted – helpful teaching and great Bible application to an important issue.

Spurgeon: How Christ Was Shamed … for the Joy Set Before Him

August 1, 2011 1 comment

From the familiar text in Hebrews 12:2, some great observations from Spurgeon concerning the shame that Christ despised.

“Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame,
and is now set down at the right hand of the Throne of God.”

Shame is something that mankind fears most of all, even more so than death. The Bible gives us several examples of characters who, even at the point of death, were most concerned about their honor:

  • Abimelech in Judges 9, for example, who didn’t want it said that a woman had slain him
  • King Saul, in 1 Samuel 31, fell upon his own sword so it wouldn’t be said that he fell by the Philistines
  • King Zedekiah:  who albeit he seemed reckless enough, he was afraid to fall into the hands of the Chaldeans lest the Jews who had gone over to Nebuchadnezzar should mock him.  (Jeremiah 38:19)

Spurgeon further observed:

It is well known that criminals and malefactors have often had a greater fear of public contempt than of anything else. Nothing can so break down the human spirit as to continually be subject to contempt—the visible and manifest contempt of one’s fellows! In fact, to go further, shame is so frightful to man that it is one of the ingredients of Hell itself! It is one of the bitterest drops in that awful cup of misery—the shame of everlasting contempt to which wicked men awake in the day of their resurrection. To be despised of men, despised of angels, despised of God is one of the depths of Hell! Shame, then, is a terrible thing to endure. And many of the proudest natures have been subdued when once they have been subjected to it. In the Savior’s case, shame would be peculiarly shameful.  The nobler a man’s nature, the more readily does he perceive the slightest contempt and the more acutely does he feel it. That contempt which an ordinary man might bear without suffering—he who has been bred to be obeyed and who has all his life been honored—would feel most bitterly. Beggared princes and despised monarchs are among the most miserable of men!

From that little phrase “the shame” we can look back to the gospel accounts and observe the many ways in which Christ was shamed:

  •     Shameful accusations:  blasphemy (among the Jews) and sedition (to the Romans)
  •     Shameful mocking of many kinds, from Herod and from Pilate’s soldiers

They mocked His person, both His humanity (stripping Him of His garments), and His Divine person:
“If You are the Son of God, come down from the Cross and we will believe on You.”

They mocked Him as God, in all His offices of King, Prophet and Priest:

  •     The true King, they gave a crown of thorns and a purple robe
  •     The true prophet:  they blindfolded Him and said “prophesy! Who hit you?”
  •     The true Priest:  “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us!” “Ah, He saved others; Himself He could not save,”they laughed!

They mocked Him in His sufferings, and they even mocked His prayers.  Here Spurgeon observes:

Did you ever read in all the annals of executions, or of murders, that ever men mocked their fellow creatures’ prayers? I have read stories of some dastardly villains who have sought to slay their enemies and seeing their death approaching, the victims have said, “give me a moment or two for prayer”—and rare has been the cases when this has been disallowed! But I never read of a case in which when the prayer was uttered it has been laughed at and made the object of a jest! But here hangs the Savior and every word He speaks becomes the subject of a pun, the motto of a jest. And when at the last He utters the most thrilling deathshriek that ever startled earth and Hell, “Eloi, Eloi, lama Sabacthani,” even then they must pun upon it and say, “He calls for Elijah; let us see whether Elijah will come and take Him down.” He was mocked even in His prayer!

Yet as Hebrews 12:2 tells us, He endured the cross, and despised the shame — for the joy set befor Him.  Some closing words from Spurgeon on that thought:

the joy which Christ felt! It was the joy of feeding us with the Bread of Heaven—the joy of clothing poor, naked sinners in His own Righteousness—the joy of finding mansions in Heaven for homeless souls—of delivering us from the prison of Hell and giving us the eternal enjoyments of Heaven! But why should Christ look on us? Why should He choose to do this for us? Oh, my Friends, we never deserved anything at His hands! As a good old writer says, “When I look at the Crucifixion of Christ, I remember that my sins put Him to death. I see not Pilate, but I see myself in Pilate’s place, bartering Christ for honor. I hear not the cry of the Jews, but I hear my sins yelling out, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him.’ I see not iron nails, but I see my own iniquities fastening him to the Cross! I see no spear, but I behold my  unbelief piercing His poor wounded side—
‘For You, my sins, my cruel sins, His chief tormentors were!
Each of my sins became a nail and unbelief the spear.’”