By Christine Graef
Shame comes in different forms. A person is caught stealing money at work and is filled with shame. It may come as humiliation when we are criticized for a physical shortcoming or a mistake we made—even something as simple as dressing the wrong way for a party.
From the first chapter to the last, the Bible is filled with promises to remove shame. When Adam and Eve sinned, they found themselves naked and ashamed before the Lord. The Lord responded by making clothing to cover them. Shame spread through humanity and the Lord covered his people’s failings with white robes of righteousness.
But shame inflicted on an innocent victim changes a person’s innermost identity. Its shadow can separate us from the light of God’s love making his promises sound like words for someone else.
From Shame to Joy
Instead of shame, God’s people were promised everlasting joy (Isaiah 61:7). Tamar, the daughter of King David, felt this shame as a young woman when her half-brother Amnon betrayed her trust and raped her (2 Samuel 13:1-22).
Tamar was inconsolable. Like many of us who hurt for heartbroken friends, those around her were acutely aware of their lack of power to alleviate such shame and sorrow.
I imagine the women in Tamar’s life putting their arms around her, pulling her close, and telling her, “I love you still.” And like the prodigal returning to his father, she honored them by turning to them. The crime was acknowledged. Something bad had happened. But shame can go too far. “I am bad. I am unworthy,” whispering that we can never be restored.
Lamp of the Lord
“The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord” (Proverbs 20:27). Tamar was a daughter of Israel. Listen to her words to Amnon: “Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing” (2 Samuel 13:12).
Tamar knew God’s laws of purity. She understood that God is a consuming fire. She knew about his participation in the redemption of her people. She had heard the promises for her people’s future. Ingrained in her life were practices of worshipping God: acts of relationship like lighting the festival candles, speaking the blessings, attending the reading of the Word, and the ritual cleansing in water known as mikveh that women took each month.
Beautiful Tamar refused to be silent. The very holiness of God who she once prayed to in easy words had been defiled.
Watching the enemy trample what is good brings incredible sadness to God’s people. The prophet Jeremiah wept for the work of God. Jesus wept for the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in great anguish and with tears (2 Corinthians 2:4).
When Achan’s sin brought defeat to Israel’s army, Joshua fell facedown before the ark of the Lord, grieving over the unexpected loss. God said to him, “Stand up!” (Joshua 7:10), and commanded Joshua to find the guilty party and remove the devoted things that had been stolen.
David prayed earnestly, “Search me, God, and know my heart (Psalm 139:23).
When we experience shame we may blame culture or childhood events. Countless books have been written about the fault of our broken ways. But God tells us to take our eyes off those things and look to him.
The enemy wants us to think shame is where we will stay, but there is a doorway in the valley of trouble where Achan and his stolen items were stoned and burned. Through the prophet Hosea God promised to make the Valley of Achor a door of hope (Hosea 2:15).
From Restoration to Service
“I will restore you that you may serve me” (Jeremiah 15:19). Restoration doesn’t guarantee protection from all harm. We may emerge through that door of hope as an amputee, a widow, without our child, or in the ruins of abandoned dreams. Tamar lived her days as a desolate woman. She didn’t marry, have children, or build a home of her own. Her capacity to have those relationships was psychologically ruined.
But Jesus will never snuff out a smoldering wick (Isaiah 42:3). When he spoke the first light into being and flamed the fire of human souls, our names were written in his book of life to be light in the world.
It is his joy in us that is our strength, but the work is achieved through many tears.
Jeremiah could not see how the Lord would ever fix the shame of his people. Yet the spark of Heaven’s flame within him called to mind how the mercies of the Lord are new every morning. He wrote, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him” (Lamentations 3:24).
God said of Israel, “I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst” (Hosea 2:3). The Lord allured them through the door of hope with tender words leading the ascent to his holy promise. “There she will respond as in the days of her youth” (v. 15).
Deliverance does not change the past. Deliverance lifts us so that we may share in the Lord’s victorious work to repair the world.
Faith in the Midst of Shame
“Your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50). We are tempted to turn away from the story of Tamar. It’s an awful story, violent and full of sorrow. But all around us we hear the cries of the violated and the ways their view of themselves and God have been distorted. We see the torn garment that once softly protected them, now a symbol of distress.
Amnon isolated Tamar before he brought shame upon her. It was in this relationship that she was wounded. We need to stand guard and if the unthinkable does happen, we are not to leave the victim alone. David didn’t act when he learned of the incident, leaving Tamar to feel that her pain did not matter. In her heart, Tamar may have asked God, “Was I not worth protecting?”
Shame can cause us to question where we place belief. The sting of doubt can be answered only by the downpour from heaven immersing, cleansing, saving.
Each flame joining another increases the light as we ascend toward his holy temple, lifting higher to spread his light further in the circle around us. Light illuminates the path for the wounded to distinguish between shadow and truth as one flame ignites another to reach toward the Lord.
“Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame” (Psalm 34:5).
Christine Graef lives by the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. She is author of Journey to the Edge of the Woods: Women of Culture Healing from Trauma.