Despising the Shame
...fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
Much of my life I have puzzled over what this phrase really means. What does it mean to despise shame? Is that the same as living in denial when I feel shamed? Why would Jesus despise anything in the first place as it seems so out of character for Him?
What is shame? That might be a good place to start, for if I don't even know what the word means I am likely to arrive at wrong conclusions about what this verse is trying to tell me. If I understand what Jesus despised it might be easier to arrive at an understanding of why He despised it.
Some clues have recently surfaced that have brought my attention back to this verse and phrase, clues that have accumulated from diverse sources over the years that have helped make sense out of many other things. Jim Wilder taught me about how the brain learns best, particularly the most important part of the brain in the right hemisphere which controls how we react when under intense emotional pressure. He explains that we are designed to live in joy as our normal state – joy being neurologically defined as that feeling we experience when someone is genuinely glad to be with us.
When we fall into strong negative emotions that rob us of joy, they make us think that someone or maybe everyone no longer cares about us or wants to be with us. But just trying to believe the opposite has little effect on the brain when it comes to our feelings. What we need in order to be find our way back to joy is for someone who does care about us to come along side to join us in our emotional state temporarily. But it is very important that this person has a more mature mind than our own so they can show us in demonstration the emotional path back to joy for us to imitate. In short, the most effective way to gain emotional maturity is not through learning facts about truth but by observing someone who knows how to do what we don't know how to do so we can imitate them.
This morning I reread the beginning of a delightful little children's book that has given me a number of important insights over this past year. Sally Lloyd-Jones has an amazing way of saying things that appeals to the fundamental issues of the heart and I have been richly blessed by her writings. In the first two pages of this book that I am currently using as my devotional for this year, she explains that in the beginning God designed us – in fact, all creation in the universe – to live in joy as we always live in other-centered love in a glorious dance circling around the center who is God, the Source of all love. This is our normal state of joy – to be energized by God's presence directly and indirectly.
Sally goes on in the next reading to explain that when we chose to put ourselves at the center of attention and affection instead of God, the result is cataclysm. We were never designed to make ourselves the focal point around which everything should revolve, for doing so causes God's design to malfunction and the result is what is called sin. With this context we can see that sin in its essence is simply selfishness which is the opposite of joy.
Because selfishness is so embedded into our psyche it is impossible for us to return to living in true joy and selfless love for others because we simply do not have the capacity or maturity to do so without someone from the outside who is more mature than us to show us how we can return to joy. And as Sally puts it so well, God has a plan that can fix our terminal condition of sin. And that plan involves Someone willing to come along side of us in our brokenness to show us the path back to joy.
But God had a plan.
And a Rescuer.
One day Jesus would come to take the cataclysm of our sin into His own heart.
And lead us back into the Dance of Joy. (from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing)
But what does any of this have to do with shame?
It has everything to do with it, for shame is a word for the feeling we experience when we lose our sense of worth and value and feel no one cares about us anymore. In short, shame is the debilitating message from the father of all lies that God doesn't really love us, that we are no more than worthless junk, scum, deserving only to be treated with disgust, humiliation and contempt. In essence, shame is the opposite message to our heart from what God actually feels about us. Thus shame is a suffocating lie designed to steal away all our sense of value and any awareness of how infinitely important and special we are from God's view of us.
If Satan can succeed in convincing us of the false messages in shame he can overwhelm us with despair and cause us to join him in a sense of permanent hopelessness. Once we embrace messages of shame about ourselves we start to project those same lies into other people's hearts and can assist Satan in taking down others and destroying the image of God in their soul.
Jesus came to this earth to do the very opposite – to destroy the works of the devil. The devil came to steal, kill and destroy and he is the father of lies according to the words of Jesus Himself (John 8:44). To counteract these lies conveyed by shame into our hearts, Jesus came to join us in our apparently hopeless condition, to temporarily experience our emotions with us for the purpose of showing us the path back to living in joy. That is why it is vital that we believe it when Jesus told us that God did not send Him to this world to condemn us but to save us.
Condemnation produces shame. We need to be saved from the many lies that produce shame in us. And the way to do this is to come to see and in turn imitate Jesus' demonstration of returning to joy. And since joy really means that someone important is intensely glad to be with us and cares deeply about us no matter how we feel or act, Jesus showed us what that looks like so that we could be rescued from the power of shame. He experienced shame but refused to believe its lies by clinging to the reality of how His Father really felt about Him in spite of everything designed to hide that truth from Him.
Now I am finally starting to see what this verse really means in light of the truth about the nature of shame. Jesus despised the shame heaped on Him, despised everything that contradicted the truth about His Father's love, all the way to the point of death. In reality shame is the full-strength wine of lies that hides the truth about God's passionate love for every one of us, and this wine is what is referred to in Revelation as the corrupting influence hiding us from our Father's love. Shame is the lie that we are not loved by God, and given that it makes perfect sense that Jesus, the very Son of God who came to show us God's love up close and personal, would despise this lie.
When Jesus said that His coming to this world would result in judgment (John 3:19-20), He meant that the truth He came to reveal about how God feels toward us would expose all the lies of the enemy. Shame is the effect of all the lies about God that cause us to distrust Him and look elsewhere for life, for solutions or joy. Shame can become a carrier for sin, for shame tries to compel us to look anywhere but to God for what we crave and need and desire. Given this, despising shame is the most important thing that Jesus could do in order to bring the light of the real truth about God's consistent, passionate love to our consciousness. And this saving message of Jesus is especially needed in our hearts where most of the problem lies.
As I look again at this passage I realize that the entire plan of salvation is amazingly wrapped up in these few words. We are told to fix our eyes on Jesus who came to demonstrate how much God loves us. This is how He awakens genuine faith inside of us, trust in God' heart. And as we see Him more clearly through Jesus our trust can mature as we learn how trustworthy He really is.
Jesus showed us that the return path to living in joy again is to despise every lie that denies the truth about God's unconditional love for us. When we believe the ringing testimony of Jesus about how God really feels about us and wants to relate to us, we can escape our negative emotions by imitating Him as He leads us on the return path back to the dance of joy. And if we continue to follow Him we can join Him as we circle around the throne of God at the very center of the universe.
It is stunning to realize that God invites us to join Jesus in dancing around His throne in a delirious joyful celebration as we discover God as the center of all life. Yet this is the cure for our sin. Joy is what we were designed by God for and is to be our normal state of existence. All resistance to joy results from residual lies that are still embedded deep in our hearts that create fear. That is why John stated so clearly thta the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18).
Jesus, I want to become fully willing and eager to dance with you in joy. This verse tells me that it was by looking eagerly forward to this – the end result of Your demonstration of love for me at the cross – that empowered You to endure the cross. Please help me to let go of all resistance to Your love, to expel all of it from my soul. I want to become completely free and abandon myself in Your joy as Your love more freely flows uninhibited through me. This is what You designed all of us to experience and only living like this can bring the full satisfaction that my soul longs to experience.
Let me be part of the reward that You anticipated with joy. You promised that You would never leave me or forsake me, and that is what joy is all about – someone glad to be with me. Help me to trust Your promise and to learn to return to joy from every negative emotion resulting from the lies about You that still lie buried in my psyche. Set me free from every hook the enemy still has in me so that Your glory may be seen clearly in my life today.