Pastor Keith Williams,
High Prairie Bethel Baptist Church
I grew up in England in a small metropolitan area and did not see much of the countryside. I remember, as a child, going on a Sunday drive with my family. I was sitting in the back seat when we came across some cows in a field.
As I watched I saw a cow doing its business, which I had never seen before. I remember saying something like, “Look at that cow just going to the bathroom in a field.”
To which my mother said, “Don’t look at it.”
Ha, ha! Really silly! That cow had no shame whatsoever!
Well, cows don’t feel shame but humans sure do. But it wasn’t always like that, there was a time when people did not feel any shame or even knowing what shame was. No fear of doubt or fear or condemnation.
God originally created man good – very good! In fact, in His image! Adam was perfectly safe around God because he was like Him. Shame was foreign. He could walk naked before all creation. Everything that could be known about this man and his wife was on full display. And they were unafraid.
But in the next chapter doubt, greed, lying, crept in because of sin. They were aware of their nakedness in ways they hadn’t been before. They weren’t more naked than they were before, but their nakedness was now unsafe.
They had insisted on knowing evil, and now they were participating in its consequences – namely, the stalking awareness of death.
Meanwhile, the cows chewed their cud and looked on, oblivious to their own nakedness. A cow doesn’t feel shame because it is not the masterpiece of God.
Not much has changed for cows over the years. Now much has changed for us either. We remain plagued with shame. Inside us, our thoughts conflict and our consciences accuse, reminding us that Christ will judge “the secrets of men”. Shame is the pain of knowing that our consciences are right.
Guilt and shame go hand in hand. If I do something wrong, it indicates something about me. We win because we are sinners. That is a connection the Bible clearly maintains [Matthew 15:18, Luke 6:45], so shame is a healthy part of our self-perception. Shame is a healthy part, but not a healthy end of the Christian experience.
I see three choices for Christians: two bad and one good.
First, Christians can hide from God and from others in fear. Christians know better than anyone what God says about sin. His declarations ring in their ears from the preaching of the church and from the lives of fellow believers. As our original parents did, they hide from God and from one another.
The first option doesn’t work because shame needs to be removed, not hidden.
Second, Christians can seek to avoid their sense of shame. They don’t enjoy it and believe it to be harmful to their sense of self.
This second option doesn’t work because shame needs to be removed, not avoided.
The third and final option for a Christian to handle shame, and the only right one: Christians acknowledge what is shameful within them in the safety of God’s promised grace. Shame is an internal witness that sin has corrupted us so thoroughly that only God could possibly set things right.
And He’s promised to do just that.
That’s because the Christian identity is founded on that backwards message of Jesus, who came to tell good people that they are actually quite bad, and bad people that He can make them good. The end for a Christian is righteousness, not shame.
Sure, cows don’t feel shame. But that doesn’t make them more fortunate than we are. Cows will never have the chance to share in the righteousness of Christ.