Vol.XVIII No.IX Pg.2
November 1981

In Defense Of Shame

Robert F. Turner

A recent speaker at a college chapel asked the student body, "How long has it been since you felt shame? Not embarrassment, not slighted, but real shame?" He sought to make us aware of a diminishing sense of "ought" in our society — the fading of moral standards that can prick the conscience and produce a feeling of guilt. In a Godless society with strong emphasis upon self-serving, responsibility to God is not the only casualty. A consistent libertine is not restrained by patriotism for country or society, school spirit, or respect for home. "Guilt" itself is considered a sign of weakness. Although some have likely espoused such "liberty" without realizing or advocating its results, this concept can destroy the very foundations of civilization.

Shame is to moral man what pain is to physical man — a warning something is wrong and needs attention. Doctors sometimes withhold painkillers — not because they want the patient to suffer, but because they need a sensitive patient's reaction to guide them to the source of the trouble. Our physical body has a standard or "norm" by which it measures itself. And man also needs a moral standard. Society cannot long exist without order and regulations that are "right" for us.

Some patterns of conduct are established by man himself. When violated, those who feel a responsibility to ward society will feel shamed before their peers (Cf. 1 Cor. 11:14). Such standards may vary with time and customs, but they cannot be ignored without showing complete insensitivity toward our fellow men.

In like manner, those who respect God will feel shame when they violate His laws. We can be "swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" (2 Cor. 2:7), but the healthful and proper use of shame is to bring us humbly before God, asking forgiveness and thanking Him for such mercies. The "pain" says we need the "remedy," and brings us to the Great Physician (cuff Gal. 3:24). When the moral conscience is dulled (1 Tim. 4:2) there is nothing to tell us something needs fixing.

The "shamefacedness" of 1 Tim. 2:9 was originally "shame-fast," and can be understood by comparison with "bed-fast"— i.e., "bound" to the bed. Our sense of "ought" can bind us to standards of God and society, and help us to exercise proper control. So bound, we become a useful integral part of society, and a worker together with God — promoting common good. But if we feel no shame, "cannot blush" (cf. Jer. 6:15), we become a blight upon society and are doomed to spiritual death. Make constructive use of shame.