In the book, The Kite Runner, set partly in Afghanistan, the main character, Amir, discovers that his boyhood friend and servant is actually his half-brother. His father had a secret dalliance with the boy’s mother that was never revealed because of his father’s shame. Shame and honor are very important in many cultures.
We in the West (North America and Europe) have traditionally emphasized a sin/guilt/innocence/righteousness paradigm of salvation. This is how we understand the gospel. The Bible says: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) We are sinners in need of forgiveness. While this is true, to isolate and emphasize only sin means that we exclude the primary need of many in our world today.
Our western emphasis on guilt and righteousness comes from a long legal tradition. The church father Tertullian was a lawyer by trade. Calvin was also trained in law. But there are other paradigms. In Mark 5 we read about a woman with a flow of blood. As an outcast (See Lev. 15: 25-27) she must have experienced a lot of shame. She needed to have her honor restored. She must have felt defiled and needed to feel clean again. She was trembling in fear, but she felt Jesus’ power to heal.
In his book, The Crescent through the Eyes of the Cross, Dr. Nabeel Jabbour talks about our need for new paradigms in evangelism. As we encounter people from other cultures, sin will not be their greatest need. The greatest need will be shame. In his book, Dr. Jabbour writes about attending a showing of the film, The Passion of the Christ, with a Muslim friend. Afterwards, he shared the Gospel with this woman, including Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sin, but also including his healing of shame and defilement. The woman immediately responded, “Oh, how I long to be clean.” Notice that she didn’t identify sin as her primary need. She longed first to be clean.
As we share the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15), we have to speak of more than sin; we have to speak about shame. After recently preaching on this subject in a church in Canada, I was struck that I had hit a cord with my listeners. We in the West are also struggling with shame. Anyone who has struggled with a mental illness, or the family members of such a person, has dealt with shame. Recent cases in the news of cyberbullying have led to suicides due to shame. To live in the shadow of suicide is to live with shame. A professor commented that young people are leaving the church because they have issues with shame that the church is not addressing.
It is time to expand our paradigms. Jesus’ healing is about sin, yes, but also about shame, defilement, and fear. After healing the woman with the flow of blood, Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Jesus freed this woman from physical illness, but his healing also included social and psychological healing as well. Jesus restored this woman to shalom.
Jesus says the same thing to all who suffer from shame. “Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” The Gospel is that Jesus has not only restored us to righteousness, he has also freed us from shame, and restored us to honor. Romans 10: 9-11 says, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’”
That is Good News to share with all people.