Biblical Hope for Those Who Are Shamed

Biblical Hope for Those Who Are Shamed

Biblical Hope for Those Who Are Shamed.

“All you who hope in the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage, for with the Lord there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. God has a thousand ways to set us free. This hope will not let us down or put us to shame, because the love of God has already been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. So my heart is glad and my spirit rejoices, my body also will rest in hope.” (Ps. 31:24; Ps. 130:7; Romans 5:5; Ps. 16:9). 

The Bible offers hope to all who live under the cloud of shame, those who are guilty with shame due to a wrongdoing, and those who are suffering from undeserved shame due to someone else’s wrongdoing. Both kinds of shame are found throughout Scripture, where shame was only wished upon one’s worst enemies. In the Gospels of the New Testament, though, Jesus revealed the eternal God to be a shame-breaker. Christ went out of His way to give life and healing to those in shame… the demeaned and the humiliated, the poor and demon-possessed, the unclean and those rejected by the religious authorities, the lepers and the prostitutes, the sinners and the ignored. Jesus sought out those whose spirits were damaged or defeated. Jesus reflected a Scripture that was a constant stream of hope for those who suffered with shame. After all, our compassionate Christ knew shame from the inside, and understands shame like no one else.

“I lift my soul into your presence, Lord. I trust you, my God. Don’t let me be disgraced; don’t let my enemies gloat over me or the shame of defeat to overtake me.”  (Psalm 25:1-2).

To trust God is to take His word for it, to depend on him, to rely on Him and have confidence in Him. His word is truth for all time, His promises are rock-solid. A foundational truth in the very first pages of Scripture is that we were made in the image of God. We need to trust His Word and take it to heart and live our lives in light of that truth. Just after the creation of the natural universe, the Trinity had a discussion between themselves and said to each other, “Let us make man in our image, according to Our likeness. So God made man, in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them.” (Gen. 1:26-27). We do not need to have an identity crisis. Our central identity is that we, all of us, are image-bearers, we have worth and value. So when someone tries to strip us of our dignity as a human being, they will not succeed. We have something that no one can take away, we carry with us the very image of God Himself. We can trust in God for that to be the truth. If we feel undeserved shame because of how someone has mistreated us, we can rely on the fact that we are image-bearers and will maintain our worth and dignity no matter what someone does to us. Absorbing this truth into our very souls will mean we don’t have to hang our heads in shame, but instead we can lift up our heads in honor.

“No one waiting for you will be disgraced, for how could anyone be disgraced when he has entwined his heart with you?” (Psalm 25:3).

One of the most important qualities a believer needs to learn is the ability to wait. The Hebrew meaning of the word wait means to combine, to bind together by twisting, much like twining a rope or braiding hair. To wait is to braid together the scattered fragments and fragile strands of our lives into a firm unity of purpose and meaning. It is crucial to make the Lord one of our strands. Weave together Jesus with painful memories and shameful experiences. Watch healing take place when we braid God with our personal challenges and present anxieties. Watch hope and meaning emerge as we wait with the Lord, braiding our life experiences with God’s life. In our waiting, our personal weaving project, remember one strand is you, the central strand is Jesus, and the third strand is whatever you want to bring to the Lord. Waiting is a hard-earned spiritual skill. We live in an instant age, where everything is valued in terms of speed; a busy age, in which we can’t sit still and prefer instead to be hurried and harried; an over-stimulated age in which there is constant background noise and distractions and amusements. So we are not living in a culture that makes it easy to wait. Braiding together one’s life experiences with one’s identity as an image-bearer, with the very presence of Christ, is time-consuming and a focused activity. Waiting requires patience and hope and living in a state of faithful readiness and anticipation. Waiting for the Lord actually involves waiting with the Lord, and is crucial in the healing process regarding shame.

“Release the weight of your burdens and unload your cares on the Lord, and He promises to sustain you, His measureless grace will strengthen you.”  (Psalm 55:22).

Shame carries a big weight on one’s spirit and psyche. We’re invited here to go to the feet of Jesus and leave that shame with Him. He is strong enough to take the heaviest burden and make it disappear into His resurrected goodness. As Peter says, Cast all your cares onto God, all our burdens, our wounds, our pains, our worries, cast them all onto God, for he is always watching over us with tender care. (1 Peter 5:7). God has promised to sustain us when we trust in Him and become dependent upon Him. When He claims He will sustain us, that means He will continue to provide what is needed to not just survive but thrive. He will maintain an ongoing ministry for us that will strengthen and support us as we walk with Him. God doesn’t just offer a one-time sustenance. God has committed Himself to continue sustaining each of us as we follow Him, no matter how deeply and profoundly we have been shamed. Bring the shame to God and unload it, and continue in His sustaining grace. Another way of putting this is in the Message version of Peter’s word… “Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders – He will carry your load, He’ll help you out, He’ll never let good people topple into ruin.”

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, from bandits, from my own countrymen, from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in the country, at sea, from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food. I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face the daily pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-30)

If anyone knows what it feels like to be used and abused, it was St. Paul. If anyone has been publicly shamed, it was St. Paul. Despite all his suffering in weakness, he had a secret. Despite his ongoing hardship, vulnerability and limitations that put him at a distinct disadvantage, he remained unashamedly a follower of Christ. And here’s his secret… the weaker he got in himself, the stronger he became in Christ. He actually took pleasure in insults, distress and humiliations, because it was at that point where Jesus took over. God’s strength came into its own in Paul’s weakness. The power of Jesus had a habit of showing itself most effective when Paul was at his weakest, his lowest. Believe it or not, Paul began seeing his suffering as a gift, the best time for God to show up in all His merciful power. Read Paul’s words on this secret in 2 Corinthains 12:7-10.

“They looked to God and grew radiant; their faces will never blush with shame.”  (Psalm 34:5).

Looking at God, focusing on Jesus, means that we concentrate as much on divine-esteem as we do self-esteem. Fix our eyes on Christ, because we tend to become whatever we look at. Look to God for forgiveness for our sins, healing for our wounds, hope for our discouragements, joy for our sorrows and life from our daily pains. Gaze upon Christ and we will be filled with light. His face will shine on us so that we become radiant. If we are to become children of the light (Eph. 5:8), we need to love the Father of lights (James 1:17). For God is light (1 John 1:5), and He dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16). When we look to God, we have faith that our Lord wraps Himself in light as with a robe, and will wrap us with His light as well. (Ps. 104:1). When we find ourselves living under a shadow of shame and grief, we can become radiant, we can become light in the Lord. (Eph. 5:8). When we follow Jesus, we join our darkness with the light of God, and the darkness gets swallowed up. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory (Heb. 1:3), so when we look to Christ we are in fact putting on an armor of light (Ro. 13:12). This armor will protect us as we struggle with assaults from those who wish us ill. Looking to God, we will be radiant, and our shame will be healed with the laser light of the Lord. The cloud of shame will disappear in the sunlight.  And one sure thing about God’s love… it comes to us at the speed of light.

“In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.” (Psalm 71:1).

There are four things needed to survive in the world: food, water, clothing and shelter. Without them, we wouldn’t make it. And as it happens these four items are great metaphors for survival in the spiritual world as well. For food, we need to eat Scripture, digesting the Word in our inmost parts, the bread of life for the mind and soul. Without the Bible to chew on, we wouldn’t have the solid nutrients necessary to grow and flourish. For water, we need to drink in Christ, slurping from the living fountain, the ongoing source of living water that enables all the spiritual parts to operate in a healthy manner. Daily ingesting Jesus will affect every part of one’s spiritual life, and without slaking our thirst with Him, we will wither and die. For clothing, we need to put on a robe of righteousness, the garment of goodness, that reflects the very character of God. Without this robe, we are shamefully naked in our sin, and exposed to the obscenity of evil without the proper covering of Christ. Finally, we need shelter, we need protection from the elements, from the extremes of weather, and enemies and pests. Without a refuge, we are vulnerable to everything that the world has to throw at us. Without shelter, our souls are unprotected from the enemies of the spirit. God has promised time and again to be a shelter for His followers. When we are surrounded with difficulty and those who wish us ill, when we need a place to find shelter, God’s promise is something to believe in. A survey of the Psalms reveals that God has promised to be a refuge, a shelter, a stronghold, a tower, a shield, a fortress, a haven, a hiding place, and a sure defense. We all need protection from those who would shame us. We may still be hearing words of ridicule and rejection, but when we are in God’s refuge, these words will not penetrate the thick walls of His defense which surround our spirit, our heart. “Oh, how great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who revere you, which you do for those who take refuge in you, before people’s very eyes!” (Ps. 31:19).

“Do not fear, you will not be put to shame again; do not worry, you will not be disgraced again; for you will forget the shame of your youth…” (Isaiah 54:4).

Amazingly enough, when we accept God’s call on our life, when we receive Jesus, we become new people. Whatever happened in the past is ancient history. The slate has been wiped clean. The dirty clothes have been washed pure and white. The person who grew up too fast has become a child again, a child of God. The Christian believer has been given new spiritual DNA from the Father. The sins of the past have been forgiven through repentance. The shame of the past has disappeared… All because of the Cross of Christ. One’s sinful past has been nailed to the Cross. Our undeserved shame has been absorbed by a God who knows what that feels like. Each believer has been given God’s very nature, because that believer has been fathered by God Himself into a new life. So a follower of Jesus is receiving a new identity through being renewed in the Holy Spirit. Anyone who has been abandoned is now permanently welcomed into the family of God. Anyone who has been rejected is now eternally accepted. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold! Look! All things have become new. This means that anyone who belongs to Christ, who is enfolded into Christ, has become an entirely new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Our newness in Christ isn’t a matter of merely fixing up our old heart; it is a heart transplant straight from heaven. We aren’t merely turning over a new leaf in the old tree; we are being grafted onto a whole new tree. We aren’t just having our old house redecorated; we are building a whole new house. We aren’t just getting a  fresh new idea in our old mind on how to live; we are receiving a whole new mind, the mind of Christ. We aren’t merely having a superficial do-over of the old created self; we are discovering a deep re-creation into a new self. We aren’t merely polishing our old image-bearing self; we are living into a whole new image, the image of Christ.