Shame and the Cross

Here’s a first reason why I want to spend time thinking about ‘shame’ and in discovering what Jesus’ death has to say to the shame so many people have or encounter.

In a short article in Re:generation Quarterly, David  E. Eagle writes about ‘Shame and the Cross’. He relates his own experience of shame and abuse and then talks of his conversion:

“I finally did ‘accept Jesus into my heart’ the year after high school. I was longing to fit in and be accepted by the group of Christian friends I had met. Yet the cross, as they explained it to me, did not seem to address my deep experiences of shame and my fear of intimacy. The significance of the cross, … was as a payment for human sin, which offends God’s holiness. According to the rules of divine justice, “the wages of sin is death.” Jesus paid our death penalty, offering himself as a sacrifice in our place—a sacrifice he was qualified to make because of his life of perfect obedience. God’s anger was turned away from our sin and poured out on Jesus, thus enabling us to be in relationship with God. In ways I only vaguely understood then, this relationship had its limits. If my shame-filled memories had to be “covered by the blood of Jesus” before God could know me, then God wasn’t in the business of truly knowing. God had to kill Jesus because God couldn’t stand me as I really am. God’s plan for salvation seemed to mirror my plan for dealing with shame: (1) Dig a really big hole and bury it. (2) Present a shiny, perfect exterior and hide the mess. It’s as if Jesus were saying, “Take up your shovel and follow me. If you let others see you as you truly are, they will reject you, and so will my judgmental Father in heaven.” Those shame-filled experiences—the ones that Jesus’ blood supposedly covered—didn’t feel covered. I had “accepted Jesus,” but shame continued to cripple me, and I could never fully believe that God had accepted me” [1]

Here is the significant question: Does the cross address shame?

David Eagle’s felt experience and the concerns of his friends suggest not. However, he goes on to say that as he reflected on Jesus’ death, he discovered that on the Cross, God meets us in our shame. … “Roman crucifixion was explicitly designed to bring shame upon its victims”[2], and it was on that cross that Jesus uttered his cry of abandonment, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ “Jesus’ cry brings back the dark, painful memories of times when I have screamed heavenward at God, “Where were you?” The crucifixion reveals a God who is willing to be vulnerable, who chooses to bear the pain of shame and rejection. On the cross God meets us in our shame.”[3]

He then asks, “Does the cross mean God can save me from the effects of my shame? I’ve been tripped up repeatedly by the way I was taught to associate the cross with the need to repent of specific sinful acts. I have repented more times than I care to think about, ‘God, I’m sorry for the abuse I suffered. God, I’m sorry for the way the abuse cripples me. God, I’m sorry that I feel so worthless.’ Certainly, I do things that require repentance. But God doesn’t ask me to repent of the sexual abuse I suffered as a child—nor does he leave me to suffer its consequences alone. Instead, on the cross Jesus enters into my shame and experiences its destructive influence, and then he triumphs over its power in the resurrection. The resurrection is our hope that God will wipe every shame-filled tear from our eyes. The resurrection is a call to every shamed, oppressed, hopeless, scared, messed-up person out there: ‘He is risen!’”[4]


So is David E. Eagle right? Does the cross address shame?

[1] Eagle, David E. “Shame and the Cross.” Re:generation Quarterly, vol. 7 no. 2 (June 2001): p6-7.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

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