Real Shame Says God is Real

Even though in man’s corruption this last point is not clearly perceived, yet some vestige remains imprinted in his very vices. For whence comes such concern to men about their good name but from shame? And whence comes shame but from regard for what is honorable? The beginning and cause of this is that they understand themselves to have been born to cultivate righteousness, in which the seed of religion is enclosed. But, without controversy, just as man was made for meditation upon the heavenly life, so it is certain that the knowledge of it was engraved upon his soul. And if human happiness, whose perfection it is to be united with God, were hidden from man, he would in fact be bereft of the principal use of his understanding. Thus, also, the chief activity of the soul is to aspire thither. Hence the more anyone endeavors to approach to God, the more he proves himself endowed with reason.[1]-Calvin

The more I see myself for who I am, the more clearly I understand my need for Christ.

I am, as it were, very self-absorbed.

My motives, although not completely evil, always brush up against selfish ambition. No matter how pious my actions, comments, or even my thoughts may seem, I am most assuredly pointing people to my own image, at least in a negligible way.

When I attend church, I do so partly to be seen by those in whom I look for approval.

When I discipline my children, I hope to win the affections of my wife or my friends who have children.

When I work at my vocation, the glory of God is only a momentary desire as I attempt to pry it from his very fingers just as I pretend to lay it in his hand.

I love the pat on the back, the occasional accolade, and the bemused glance as people listen to or read my well reasoned and biblical responses to skeptics and or social justice warriors.

It makes sense to me that folks are interested in their own image and opposed to their own shame because they have an innate awareness of their need to “cultivate righteousness”. Something in us desires a goodness that we assume can be self-produced. We want people to see the good in us and we emanate that by promoting and protecting our self-image. That makes sense.

Let’s put it this way: Even the sinful attitude of self-promotion is residual evidence of an innate understanding of God’s existence.

All people are at least minimally interested in their own good name.

It ranges from the most self-centered, egotistical, narcissist, to the humble and most hidden monk; all people have a degree of interest in their self-image. The politician desires a great deal of image building while the pious man hides himself. But while the image building is evident with the politician, the pious sneak in their selfishness under the guise of being known as unpretentious.

Both are guilty although one may be less obvious than the other. All people have similar traits.

Shame drives the train.

Although shame is not the only factor in the interest of people to build and/or protect their self-image, it is the reason that drives the others.

Since the fall of mankind, shame has been a product of mans self-awareness.

 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked?[2]

People are ashamed of failing God, disappointing their family, their sin, their looks, their finances, etc. When people are ashamed, they hide. People hide their sin from God, their failure from their family, their faulty look, and their poverty. All of this effort to hide reality is an effort to improve ones image, an effort driven by shame.

We are ashamed of distortion.

We are ashamed of our various failures because we understand that whatever we did wrong or have become is not what we ought to have become or not what we should have done. We ought not do the thing that caused us shame. Of course shame is not always a result of this. It can be an emotion caused by errant reasons.

Not usually though. Usually shame is around because we fail to do what we ought to do. Our failure is a distortion of what was intended by God.

Admission of distortion is admission of an original better thing.

If something is distorted and the variation is the cause of shame, then the original thing was obviously better. Not only is it better, but we all understand better to be something objective rather than subjective, otherwise there would be no reason to be ashamed.

Rarely are we ashamed of our opinions. We are not usually ashamed of preferences either. Why would we be? They are preferences and opinions. Everyone has their own opinions and preferences, rendering them subjective.

On the other hand, we are ashamed of failures that are obvious to everyone. They are obvious because they are objectively wrong. All people understand these things to be distortions of a better thing, marred images of a perfect Original. That’s obvious and we know it, so we become ashamed. That shame is based on a failure to meet the Objective (pun intended).

When shame makes our bearings straight.

Anytime that we are ashamed and it leads us to creating, imagining, or promoting our self-image, we have bought into the lie that it is our image that matters. This comes in the form of the licentious and the legalist. Ones self-interest is explicit and lifts themselves up as autonomous, having no need of God. The others is implied and pretends to depend on God while promoting their own self-righteousness. There is little difference between the two.

But, when shame causes a person to seek God, when God’s image becomes the benefactor of a persons shame, that person has rightly discerned his predicament. They have proved themselves ‘endowed with reason’, as Calvin said. God gains glory, even through our shame.

He is proclaimed as God as well.

In shame, people are implicitly admitting that God exists. Not only does he exist, he is the ultimate image of goodness (righteousness). Our distorted images, those we surround with facades (whether selfish or self-righteous) to impress on-lookers and hide our shame, come from a better image. Our selfish efforts to make that image seem better than the one marred by reality, is evidence of God’s perfect image.

Real shame says God is real.



[1] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (J. T. McNeill, Ed., F. L. Battles, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 192–193). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ge 3:7–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2 thoughts on “Real Shame Says God is Real

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