Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.
– Genesis 8:18-29
There are three incredibly troubling episodes in my life that put my sinful nature on bold display. I wish those episodes of shameful behavior would never come to mind again. Perhaps I should be thankful that there are only three. Maybe I should be plagued by the memory of many more. Needless to say, I won’t be rehearsing them here. In humility I take them to the cross of Jesus whenever the devil tries to pull me down with their memory. Thankfully Jesus invites me to leave them there.
Shame has to do with grave vulnerability. It’s being exposed and therefore ridiculed for who we are. It’s not just what we’ve done. It’s an uncovering of one’s broken and deficient self.
Noah was uncovered and revealed in a very vulnerable condition. Drunk and naked. Defenseless and vulnerable. Exposed and deficient. He had to be covered up literally, because to be seen (oops, too late!) in that state would reveal a grave deficiency. A lack of self control. A weakness that an enemy could easily exploit. A condition all too easily open to ridicule.
And Noah’s response is both predictable and further evidence of his fallen state. No judgment here: we all are sinful. It leaks out of us all too easily. But that doesn’t excuse the response of anger, cursing, and defensive judgmentalism on Noah’s part. He has been shamed. Now he will erupt (fight). Sometimes people will withdraw in the face of such exposure (flight). In any case neither fight nor flight is a sufficient or helpful response to shame.
Fast forward to a hill outside Jerusalem. To a cross. To a man, now naked, humiliated, exposed, and shamed. He has nowhere to turn. Most of his closest followers have forsaken him. His mother, some other women, and one of his disciples stand by watching this terrible scene. He cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Alone. Judged. Ridiculed. Shamed.
He didn’t belong there. He is the Son of God. He loved God perfectly. He loved all people perfectly. He was anything but deficient.
But Jesus took our shame upon himself. And now he offers us a robe of righteousness to cover our deficiencies. It’s far better than even well-intentioned family members waking in backwards to cover our shame. Jesus takes our guilt and shame upon himself and fulfills the promise of Isaiah 61:7: Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.
The sooner we learn to entrust ourselves to Jesus’ mercy and restoration, the sooner we’ll also be able to overcome the fight or flee responses we too easily employ in the face of our shame. Instead we will find great honor in the sight of our Father himself because of God’s love for us and his mercy in Jesus: all by the power of the Holy Spirit.
God says, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4). There’s no shame in that!
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