The Need for Holy Shame (Isaiah 3:8-9)

Isaiah 3:8-9

8 For Jerusalem has stumbled,
and Judah has fallen,
because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord,
defying his glorious presence.
9 For the look on their faces bears witness against them;
they proclaim their sin like Sodom;
they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
For they have brought evil on themselves.

It was a gloriously beautiful spring afternoon, April of 1999. I was a student at Southern Seminary in Louisville, and I went to the river with some friends to experience Thunder Over Louisville, a local (very impressive) fireworks and air show. Besides the general entertainment, TOL offers quite a variety of food vendors selling all sorts of things that no health conscious human being would even smell, much less put in his or her mouth. I enjoyed them very much.

While in line at one of those fun little food stands, I recall hearing a conversation between a couple of early twenties gentlemen. One was recounting, with great gusto, a conversation that he had just finished with a girl at one of the booths down the way. She had greeted him as any good saleslady might, with the question, “What can I do for you?” This young man reported that he, with all the sharpness of a cardboard butter knife, had responded to her question with a comment that was crude, sexually harassing, and utterly low. The young man and his friend then laughed uproariously at the cleverness of this intellectual giant who had just clearly gotten the better of his female counterpart. I felt sick.

Let me say that my sick feeling was not, or at least not totally, a feeling of personal superiority. Regardless of the fact that this young man spoke with the sophistication of a slightly lower-class version of Larry the Cable Guy, what offended me was the fact the he was proud to broadcast his foolishness. There was no shame in him. He was proud, actually proud, of the fact that he had thought so quickly as to make a crude comment to a young lady who was trying to sell him a funnel cake.

Again, I’m not better than this young man. In fact, my sarcasm regarding what he did demonstrates for you that I have my own faults. The fact that I am willing to print my sarcasm regarding this young man tells you that my faults are greater than others might imagine. The fact that I know this and am continuing to write. . . well, you get the picture. I’m a goober.

But there is a lesson to be learned here. Shame is not a bad thing. We live in a culture in which the concept is rejected at every turn. There are some legitimate reasons for this response of our culture to shame, but most reasons for such behavior are purely sinful.

Let us consider briefly what is good about our rejection of shame. It is good that our culture has done much to help people to turn away from false shame or shame over things for which we personally hold no responsibility. For example, our culture is strong in helping a person who has been abused to understand that he or she does not have to bear the shame for crimes committed against him or her. No child need hide his or her face in shame over something done to him or her as a child. Of course, such shame is hard to defeat, but we are becoming much better as a culture at helping one another through it.

Where we fail, however, is when the shame is right. When we sin, acting inappropriately before God and men, we should feel guilt. We should feel shame when we speak in an evil way or when we behave as fools. Shame in such a setting is a gift from God that reminds us that our actions are not without consequence, but that we ought to live uprightly before all people and especially before our Lord.

Sadly, our culture has rejected all notions of shame, including shame that is proper. This is why we have gone from a nation that experiences rightful shame over our sin to being a nation where greeting cards are sold celebrating divorces, gay “marriages”, and even adulterous affairs. Our lack of shame is what allows the daytime talk shows and the supermarket tabloids to stay in business. We love watching others air things for which they should rightly be ashamed. And the more we watch, the more brazen are the faces of those who proudly—with no hint of shame—proclaim their deplorable behavior for all to hear. And who has time to add to this discussion people sending nasty photos of themselves with their camera phones, apologizing for sin by calling it a mistake, or the laundry list of crazy and shameful behaviors daily flonted by Hollywood celebs?

Now, again, let me run my own disclaimer. I am a sinner. I deserve only God’s wrath. My only hope is in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as my atonement. I have legitimate reasons for shame in my life as I have failed accidentally and intentionally on more occasions than I can count. So, please do not assume that I think myself good while others are bad. I am just as bad.

The fact remains, however, that God will judge a nation whose people are so brash about celebrating their evil. Look again at Isaiah 3:9. Part of the verse reads, “they proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them!” We publish what ought rightly be a call to tears and repentance. We laugh—think of sit coms and reality TV—at things that are sins for which Jesus suffered God’s wrath on our behalf. At times, we share our sinful stories of our past, not as horrifying items to be despised, but as badges of honor. Friends, may we learn to feel right shame over our sin.

Now, I’m not here saying I want people to walk around and be down-in-the-mouth all day long. No, I want us to repent of sin and find joy in the glory of God and his grace. I want us to find great joy in all of which we have been forgiven. I want us to celebrate God’s amazing, matchless, unfathomable grace. But I want us to always do so with an understanding of how awful, evil, ugly, and damnable is our sin. We should never, not ever, be proud of our sin. Yes, we should confess our sin, but never with delight at the sin that we committed.

Christians, I urge you to take a few more looks at the verses above. Are you living a life that God would feel shame over? Are you rightly sorrowful for your sin? Or do you love your sin, clinging to it, bragging about it, and secretly loving what you claim in your prayers to hate? Are you entertained by that which ought to make you blush? Perhaps it is again time for us to learn to embrace, for ourselves and not for others, the need for holy shame.

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