Sword Swash 5: Is Shame The Final Word?

The Final Word

The final word of the final verse of Genesis 2 seems a bit shocking in the context of the warm, intimate second telling of the creation story. Is it a hint of trouble to come? Before we move on to Genesis 3, let’s pause to see if we can hear the Spirit speaking to us through that final word.

  1. Fill in the final word of  Genesis 2:25.  “Adam and his wife were both naked and they felt no _________________.”

Imagine yourself in the setting. You are standing in the beautiful garden of Eden as witness to the marriage of Adam and Eve. Not only is God the officiating priest who will declare that the two are one, but he is father of the bride. Birds sing a wedding march as Adam watches the Creator-Father walk his beautiful daughter Eve down a tree-lined aisle—no symbolic white dress and veil needed. Then that strange sentence ends the scene.

When I was younger I thought this was merely a statement about our first parents’ lack of embarrassment over being unclothed. Feeling awkward or self-conscious is one thing. Shame is something else. The dictionary defines it this way:

  • a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior
  • a loss of respect or esteem; dishonor

Years of life and watching people has taught me the sad significance of the phrase, “they felt no shame.” Shame is the fallout of what the Bible calls “sin.” Sin is not the mere breaking of rules. Sin is any act, great or small, that violates the perfect Law of Love governing the universe. The sins that produce shame within us include neglect or abuse done against us as well as our imperfect treatment of those around us.

Both shame and guilt arise from sin, but shame is deeper, more deadly. Where guilt is tied to a specific action and motivates you to make amends, shame makes you want to hide. You feel that your whole self is flawed. Shame is not an emotion. Although it is initially painful, when shame is piled onto shame there is a deadening of feeling. People who have been deeply shamed exist in a joyless, dead world. In his moving and instructive book on the epidemic of violence in our country, Dr. James Gilligan explains the connection between shame and the human need for love. I was amazed to find such “theological” language in a secular book written to challenge our thinking on the problems inherent in the criminal justice system.

“To suffer the loss of love from others, by being rejected or abandoned, assaulted or insulted, slighted or demeaned, humiliated or ridiculed, dishonored or disrespected, is to be shamed by them. To be over-whelmed by shame and humiliation is to experience the destruction of self-esteem; and without a certain minimal amount of self-esteem, the self collapses and the soul dies. Violence to the body causes the death of the self because it is so inescapably humiliating. When we cannot fend off, undo, or escape from such overwhelming unloving acts, when we cannot protect ourselves from them, whether by violent or nonviolent means, something gets killed within us—our souls are murdered. All this is implicit in the double meaning of the word that directly and literally refers both to the death of the self, and to what causes the death of the self: namely, mortification, which means both humiliation and causing death.”[1]

Adam and Eve were created naked. There was nothing that needed to be covered up. Because they had no shame, there was absolutely no selfish, prideful behavior. No pleasure-seeking for the self that would injure another self. No putting down others. No neglect of others. No revenge. All of that began with the story recorded in Genesis 3, and all humanity has been affected to some extent by acts of anti-love and the resulting shame ever since.

Above the Chaos

Look back at the description of the dark, empty world prior to creation. The spirit of God was there above the chaos.

  1. What action verb is used for the spirit’s activity? (Genesis 1:2)

And the spirit of God was __________________________ over the waters.

The Hebrew word used here could also be translated “brooding” as in a mother bird protectively covering her eggs. God was about to hatch something wonderful out of that dark, formless void. The same Creator God longs to fashion something new and beautiful out of human chaos. He gives us the freedom to allow him to work or to resist his love, but his spirit hovers over our pain, shame, and darkness—protecting, preserving—waiting for us to allow Love to release its transforming power.

I’m convinced that God wanted to have those words, “they felt no shame,” ringing in our ears, as we leap into Chapter 3, “The Beginning of Shame: The Dark Side Wins the First Battle.” But Yahweh didn’t abandon his rebellious planet as it slipped back toward chaos. He remained intimately involved. The rest of the Bible is the story of God drawing his children out of chaos, back into Love, and the end of the story—told in the book of Revelation—assures us that Love will win in the end.

Disarming Shame

Humans naturally attempt to avoid pain or suffering, but strangely we tend to absorb shame. Children take on the shame of their parents. Parents often feel shamed by the failures of their children. Spouses and friends may shame us rather than build us up in love. Shame is highly contagious, and the only cure is love.  Human love, of course, brings a measure of healing to the pain of other humans, but the perfect cure can only come from perfect love. Jesus came, the God of Love in human flesh, to deactivate the contagion of shame. He took on every painful blow the Evil One could throw at him, demonstrating forever how much he loves every one of us. His unfathomable love reversed the shame accumulating in the DNA of humanity for thousands of years. When we truly understand our value in heaven’s eyes, shame vanishes.

Notice how Jesus’ actions were the opposite of most humans. At the same time that he embraced the pain of the world, he scorned its shame. He rejected any suggestion that he and his sacrifice was worthless. He scorned the slightest hint that any one of us was not worth the effort to rescue.

The Bible states this clearly in  Hebrews 12:2 

“For the joy set before him, he endured the _______________, scorning its ___________________.”

The power of the cross can repair deep soul damage and remake all of us into new creatures. Can you sense the Spirit hovering protectively over your personal chaos, whispering God’s promises—beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness? (Isaiah 61:3)I have personally experienced that re-creative power. I tried building my own fortress to protect myself, but it collapsed into a pile of ruins. God worked a wondrously creative reconstruction of my life at that time, but it’s an ongoing process. He and I are still uncovering chunks of rubble. He picks up a newly discovered bit of debris and says, “Now we are ready to transform this one. This cracked and broken brick is just what I need to add strength and beauty to this part of your new walls. He crushes it with his powerful hands and transforms it to gemstone.”

  1. Fill in the blanks from Isaiah 54:11, 12

I will rebuild you with stones of ________________________,
    your foundations with lapis lazuli. [or sapphire]
12 I will make your battlements of ___________________,
    your gates of ______________________  ____________________,
    and all your walls of precious stones.

He can and will do the same for you, and you don’t have to wait for a total personal collapse. Give the Creator permission to speak. “Let there be light. Let there be love-drenched order and joyful wholeness.” Give him the final word over any darkness, pain, or shame within you.


1. shame
2. hovering
3. cross, shame
4. turquoise, rubies, sparkling jewels


[1] James Gilligan, M.D. Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic (New York, Vantage, 1997) p. 47.

The author of Violence directed the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard Medical School. He spent 35 years working with the criminally insane at Bridgewater State Hospital and in the Massachusetts Prison System.


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