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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When we face shame

Sepp Blatter. Does this man have any shame? How can he say “We cannot allow the shame to go on any longer . . . so I’ll stay.” Amazing. Shame is a very powerful emotion, the sense that our foolishness or guilt is out there for all to see. American singer- songwriter Fiona Apple confesses: “The worst pain in the world is shame. I spend a lot of time trying to not do anything bad to anyone, but you can't live your life and not hurt people.” And for that reason we need a right sense of shame. It is dangerous to override this powerful emotion. Otherwise we finish up like FIFA. Lucius Seneca, a Roman contemporary of Jesus, put his finger on this when he said “Shame may restrain what law does not prohibit.” The word shame has a fascinating etymology (now that’s a word I don’t often use). It is thought to derive from an older word meaning "to cover"; as such, covering oneself, literally or figuratively, is a natural expression of shame. We lower our eyes, lower our faces, long for the earth to swallow us up. Strangely, when Adam and Eve realise what they have done, what do they do? The very next verse, the direct consequence of tasting the forbidden fruit, is “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:7). To say the obvious, the fig leaves were not going to do anything, certainly in terms of their shame before God. And our own attempts to cover our shame can often appear laughable. Sepp can see the shame but he is reaching out for the nearest fig leaf. (Short delay as I advise Jen how to avoid a closure on the M1 northbound between Junctions 13 and 14) It is, of course, Jesus who handles our shame, our shame before God: he takes it to himself, he scorns it. In the words of Hebrews 12:2 we are “to fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus refuses to allow shame to divert his path for our healing and restoration. And now with the humiliation of his cross, everything changes. We enjoy being in God's presence without any sense of shame or guilt. I have often thought it a strange turn of phrase for the apostle Paul when we declares, as he often does, “for I am not ashamed of the gospel.” He effectively uses a double negative, not ashamed, to show how the cross of Jesus may transform us. Now we can stand secure before God, no fig leaf in sight. So the key verse in his letter to the Romans runs “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16) Secure in God’s free acceptance Paul can face hardship and even shame, the public humiliation, of being associated with a crucified Messiah. And this is to be the mark of the Christian, to scorn any shame as a disciple of Jesus. So Paul can write “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.” (2 Timothy 1:16). But in our relations with others, we are not to turn our shame option off or even down.. So when Paul writes to place the Corinthian church in special measures he, with some exasperation, writes: “I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” (1 Corinthians 6:5)

The possibility of shame remains as a healthy corrective, sometimes as a last resort as in Corinth. Meanwhile we pray that FIFA may be cleaned up so that the beautiful game is worthy of its name. Or as Sepp himself has said: “FIFA stands for discipline, respect, fair-play, not just on the field of play, but in our society as well.” Let’s hope he is right.

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