A reader sent me the following question:
How do you explain to a non-believer (who does not know about Christ) regarding the restoring honor through shame who went through such shame or a bad past in his/her life?
Because of ambiguities in the question, I interpret it to mean this:
How do you explain to non-Christians that they can have restored honor and that this honor comes through shame” when they have previously experienced awful shame?
This is an excellent question that I think will interest others as well. Since the question has several parts, my answer will be multifaceted. My response here will synthesize various concepts about which I’ve written before.
Honored through Shame?
The phrase “honored through shame” refers to the biblical dynamic where God uses shame to bring about what is honorable or glorious. This phenomenon manifests in multiple ways. At a most basic level, “honor through shame” entails the fact that God displays his glory and secures honor (for himself and us) even though we suffer shame for a time. I generally have more specific notions in mind.
For example, Christ is glorified through his shameful death on the cross. Such honor is won in the resurrection and ascension. Yet, his death ironically is deemed honorable in the bigger picture because of what it accomplishes, such as redemption of the world and the defeat of death. Likewise, Christ’s followers can expect to suffer social shame and even humiliation because they give allegiance to him. Nevertheless, they are gloried with Christ and are honored by the Father.
Ultimately, “honor through shame” points to how God overturns worldly value standards.
Implicit, perhaps, in the reader’s inquiry above might be this question: How can God use something so horrible as shame to bring about restored honor?
I’ll respond simply by referencing the pattern we find throughout Scripture and particularly in the life of Christ. He experienced the most shameful of all states–– death by execution. Christ died precisely because he was abandoned and excluded by the society around him. His kingdom vision and allegiance to the Father put him directly at odds with the world’s powerbrokers.
With that, there are three parts to my answer.
- Redefine the criteria that constitute honor and shame
- Reevaluate whose opinion matters to us
- Redeem shameful experiences for honorable purposes
I’ll explain each in turn.
First, the gospel redefines the criteria that we use to determine what counts as honorable or shameful. Following Christ transforms what we regard as praiseworthy or contemptible.
At the very least, a Christian perspective relativizes the value we place on many things. For instance, we can celebrate earning a graduate degree and enjoy an excellent job, among other achievements. However, such accomplishments do not determine our sense of “enoughness” (i.e., what we think makes us “enough”). Relative blessings do not become ultimate goods. Our appearance, education, salary, and position are means to greater, more ultimate ends.
Second, the gospel spurs us to reevaluate whose opinion matters most to us. We are all judged by a court of public reputation. In your mind, who sits on this court? Theoretically and truthfully, we should only care what Christ thinks. But none of us have Jesus standing in bodily form 24 hours a day. None of us perfectly discerns the Spirit’s will at all times. The Bible does not always speak with the clarity that we desire.
And yet, we do have the church, the community of Christ’s followers.
Within this divinely ordained community, we nurture godly desires and ambitions. In prayer and conversation, we seek to value what Christ values. The church is our family. Accordingly, we should be far more concerned about pleasing the Lord and his people than we are those who pursue any number of idols.
I’m not saying that the church gets it right all the time. Of course not. I am saying this: we all want to please someone, and we ought to care far more about the opinion of people who delight in Christ above all.
To be clear, not everyone who “attends a church” delights in Christ above all. Still, the community of saints functionally serves as a wise counsel of witnesses with whom to consult as we seek to follow Christ.
Third, in Scripture, God repeatedly redeems shameful experiences for honorable purposes. The Bible is replete with such examples. One could mention Abraham, Tamar, Jacob, Hannah, David, indeed, the entire nation of Israel!
No wonder the biblical authors emphatically stress the point to a suffering people: those who trust in the Lord will not be put to shame (cf. Isaiah 45:16-17; Joel 2:26-27; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:6).
Just for non-believers?
The above question specifically mentioned “non-believers.” However, the responses I gave are not specific to non-Christians. Contrary to how some people talk, the gospel is for Christ’s followers just as it is for non-believers.
When the biblical writers speak to God’s brings about an “honor-shame reversal,” they routinely address the church!
I will simply add a qualifier concerning non-believers. And that is this: the promise of restoring honor and of Christ’s conquering your shame are given on the condition of faith. Apart from following Christ, the surpassing honor we long for is not assured. In fact, it’s impossible. All worldly honors may be nice and enjoyable, but they are temporary and fading.
Give your life to Christ so that he might redeem your shame in full measure!
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