Have You No Shame?

An important element of the story of Adam and Eve is the moment when they realize that they are naked. They were both created by God, and they needed no clothing, for they were clothed in righteousness. They had nothing to be ashamed of—until they chose to disobey God.

The way the story is told in the Bible, it is clear that they felt no shame in their nakedness as long as they were right with God, but as soon as they had eaten the forbidden fruit, they immediately began to try to cover themselves.

Eating fruit did not cause them to feel shame. Disobeying God and the fear that God would find out was the origin of their shame. The first thing that happened after they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was unfortunate; they immediately knew the difference between good and evil, and they knew that they had done evil. They had disobeyed the only rule in the Garden of Eden—the rule that forbade the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. To eat such fruit condemned them to know the difference between good and evil. They could not recover their innocence by wishing they had not disobeyed. They tried to cover up their disobedience by covering up their bodies.

The knowledge of good and evil is a huge problem.

If we could all go through life knowing only the righteousness of God, none of us would have anything to be ashamed of, but we are all burdened with knowledge of good and evil that troubles us, tempts us, and confuses us.

A couple of years ago, an article in the news told the shocking story of a teacher who asked two pre-teen girls to experiment with a lesbian kiss. It was disturbing to read that a school had lied to the parents of students about the nature of the class that day; parents had been told there would be an “anti-bullying seminar.” Worse than the deception, however, was the actual content of the class. Needless to say, few parents would expect an experiment in homosexual behavior to be part of an anti-bullying seminar. However, the teacher of the seminar wanted to produce the result of student acceptance of homosexual behavior by inciting such behavior among all the students, in the guise of giving them information.

This is what the knowledge of good and evil is always about: information. The argument is, “How can you know it is evil unless you try it? If you try it, you might find out that it is not evil. You should know what you are rejecting before you reject it.” Two young girls were asked to engage in a lesbian kiss, and they were told that it was simply for the purpose of obtaining information. They were led to believe that they would never understand homosexual behavior unless they had tried it themselves. They were told to believe that this was a scientific way to learn the difference between good and evil.

Needless to say, the teacher believed that one of two things would happen:

  • The girls might do it and think it seemed like nothing, so who cares.
  • The girls might do it and think it was something they wanted to do again, so who cares.

It did not occur to this teacher that an absolute principle of morality was being violated.

In contemporary culture, there are many people who believe that there are no absolutes. None. Every behavior could be good or evil, depending. Every possible truth could be truth for me and not be truth for you. We must all respect everybody else’s truth. We must not call anything evil, especially if we have not tried it ourselves.

The teacher who forced two girls to experiment with homosexuality believed that homosexuality cannot possibly be evil if it makes some people happy. Therefore, she regarded parental instruction about the immorality of all sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman as needlessly restrictive and not at all the scientific way to rear a child.

She believed that parents who teach to that standard are imposing shame on children who should not be ashamed of what makes them happy.

There is an absolute rule about shame, and this is the rule applied in the Garden of Eden. Be ashamed if you are not obeying God. God is the creator, and God is sovereign. What God says is truth, and everything else is a lie. If you are believing a lie, be ashamed. If you are acting on a lie, be ashamed.

The culture has a different rule.

If you think something different than most of the people in the culture, be ashamed. The teacher who asked the girls to try out a lesbian kiss thought that contemporary culture largely accepts homosexuality as one form of normal sexual development. She felt that it was her duty to require these girls to know more than one normal way to experience sexual pleasure. She thought they should have been ashamed not to agree that homosexuality is normal, and she wanted to help them not to be ashamed.

If such a strategy would actually work to eliminate shame, then the fig leaves Adam and Eve used might have worked, too. Unfortunately, both strategies are fatally flawed. Both strategies assume that God Almighty is powerless and stupid. Both strategies operate on the flawed perception that God did not create human beings with a conscience on which he has already written his truth. Adam and Eve assumed that they could disobey God and feel nothing but smug satisfaction. The teacher assumed she could seduce two young girls into immoral behavior and achieve social advancement. Neither of these assumptions is correct. Adam and Eve were ashamed, and both the girls were ashamed. The shameless teacher evoked shame in the girls for even being asked to do such a thing. Their own consciences would not permit them to engage in such behavior without shame, and because their consciences also expected them to obey adult authority, they were doomed to shame no matter what they did.

This is where the knowledge of good and evil leads us. Perpetual shame. We have the knowledge, and we cannot undo that knowledge in this world. The only cure for it is God’s grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Adam and Eve suffered shame, but God in his grace acted to help them through the consequences of their act. Their new knowledge meant they would always need coverings for their bodies, and it meant they could no longer live in the beautiful garden. However, God did not leave them hopeless. Even as God cursed the serpent to a life in the dust, he promised the salvation of humankind that would come through Christ. The hopeless state of shame would be reversed when God in Christ died on a cruel cross and rose again to life.

Contemporary culture wants everyone to be right, no matter what he chooses to call truth. The preferred notion is that you have your truth and I have my truth. We can experiment and find what feels good, makes us happy for the moment, or excites us to want more. We can never by our own efforts, however, find a cure for the shame of ignoring God’s truth. When God creates each of us he writes his name on our hearts, and when we ignore him and act as if he were non-existent, we feel shame. Psychology books and great novels all attest to the fact that people who live as if God does not exist suffer guilt all their lives. They may never figure out the reason, or they may brashly reject the explanation when they hear it, but they do suffer the guilt. It is the deepest root of all the mental illness ever studied.

Someone might discover that a person has done a shameful act and ask the question, “Have you no shame?” We ask that question, because deep inside, each of us knows that doing evil should make us ashamed. In fact, whether or not we acknowledge it, doing evil does make us ashamed. The answer to the question, then, is, “I try to be shameless, but I can’t succeed at it.” The human race is addicted to knowledge of good and evil and there is only one cure for the shame.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. John 3:16-18 The Message