2 Corinthians 4:2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
A couple of months ago, I woke up from a dream in which I was sitting in a classroom and a teacher gave us an assignment: “Define shame.” I questioned her and asked if we were supposed to define the verb or the noun. She looked at me and simply said, “Define shame.”
I woke up feeling like this was something I needed to do. It seemed divinely inspired. I needed to define shame. I sat down to do it a couple of times, but I ran into road blocks. I started thinking of biblical characters who experienced shame: Adam, Noah, Saul, David, Elijah, Peter, Thomas, etc. Frankly, nearly everyone in the Bible experienced shame because all of us are flawed and make mistakes (or have tragic things done to us). It’s one of the most refreshing things about reading the Bible–it is honest about what it’s like to be human.
So this “assignment” from my dream (something that felt divinely inspired at the time) has been sitting in the back of my brain. I’ve always drifted towards defining it as a noun, but I’ve still struggled. Then I ran across this passage from 2 Corinthians and I decided to take another swing at it. How would I define shame?
If I’m going to use this verse, and since I don’t read Greek or Hebrew, it’s probably a good idea to look at some different translations of this passage. Here are a few:
We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. (New Living Translation)
Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (New International Version)
…but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (New American Standard)
But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (King James Version)
But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (New King James Version)
While Paul is talking about how he treats evangelism here, there are truths that go back to my dream and the assignment I received from the teacher. I think a key to what Paul is saying here is that shame changes us. Shame causes us to hide things. Shame causes us to deceive so that we can keep reality a secret.
Shame isn’t only driven by the things we do. Sometimes it is driven by the things that are done to us. I’m thinking about sexual abuse/assault. I’m thinking about the child who is ashamed of their parent because of prison or something else. I’m thinking about the shame of poverty. I’m thinking about substance abuse. I’m thinking about the shame a parent has when their child “didn’t turn out the way they should.”
Notice that all of the translations combine the same idea along with shame. The words they use are “secret,” “underhanded,” and “hidden.” That’s where Satan gets his power over us–over me. It’s when I am ashamed of something that I have done or was done to me, and I decide that it must be something that only I can know or I will be rejected.
I am not saying that we must share our shame with everybody, but I do believe that it needs to be shared with somebody (a spouse, parent, trusted friend, pastor, therapist, etc.).
When I first started dating my wife 28 years ago, we were talking late one night and I knew that this relationship was serious. We had already bonded quite a bit and I decided to take a chance. I told her my deepest, darkest secret. I took a chance that it would end the relationship there, but I wanted to know early on if she could accept me. Thankfully, she did. But if I had carried that secret into the rest of our relationship and the next 25 years of marriage, I would still be sitting here, even as I type this, in shame, deceiving her, and hoping she doesn’t find out how awful I really am. Instead, that secret has lost its power and I can be free. I also know that I can trust her and I am free to be honest with her.
I think the hopeful thing about this passage is that it ties our rejection of shame’s power over us with being honest. It’s a reminder to me that I need to be intentionally vulnerable to my wife, family, and close friends, and appropriately vulnerable with others. It is also a reminder to look beyond the deception that I see in others and try to consider that there might be something they are hiding that is driving their behavior.
So here is my personal response to the teacher in my dream.
shame (noun): the emotion felt over an embarrassing event that Satan then uses to separate us from God and the ones we love by leading us to deceive