17 March 2009

A Question of Culture... Sin and Shame

One of the cultural issues I've found totally flabbergasting is how sin is perceived in different cultures. It is not quite exactly seem that people think that something is only wrong if you get caught... but it definitely seems to be a "worse" faux pas if what you have done (right or wrong) leads to negative consequences and shames you... or if it causes another embarrassment or shame - which is even further compounded if that someone is a superior or one with authority over you (i.e. a parent, paster, boss, etc.). To me, if often appears as though actions are judged, not on the basis of the action itself, but on the consequences. If sin isn't such a big deal, but shame is, I've sometimes been a bit stumped on how to effectively share the Bible message with others... asking myself that if they don't see the idea of being a sinner so bad... it is just part and parcel of being a human... what bridge can I use to introduce the need for a Savior? So when I read the following in Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relaltionships for Effective Ministry by Duane Elmer, I found it both fascinating and encouraging... even though I'm still striving to wrap my mind around all of these ideas.

"Missionaries and anthropologists tell us that many cultures have no clear concept of sin and forgiveness.... In such places, however, there often exists a strong sense of shame (or "face" or honor) which can be built upon to share the gospel.

It might have begun with Adam and Eve, or distant parents, who were the first to struggle with shame in the Garden of Eden. The fall of humankind is recorded in Genesis 3, but hte first mention of sin is in the following chapter, when Cain kills Abel. The imagery surrounding the Fall is as relevant to the concept of shame as it is to the Western [emphasis] idea of sin. For example, before the Fall, there was nakedness without shame (Gen 2:25), but after the Fall nakedness brought shame (3:7) and prompted action to cover Eve and Adam's shame (sewing fig leaves into garments). The attempt to cover up shame (sin) is something with which we can all identify. Some writers believe that this shame represents a primitive form of guilt, but perhaps that is simply a Western interpretation, since shae is also a New Testament concept (Rom 9:33; 10:11; 2 Cor 7:14, 9:4, Heb 2:11; 11:16; 12:2; 1 Pet 2:6).

The creation account reveals that shame has implications vertically (between the Creator and the creature) and horizontally (among the creatures, as with Cain and Abel). Much of this book has focused on the horizontal-relational implications of shame, but scripture clearly casts the term in eternal perspective. Shame, in its ultimate sense, is the disruption of harmony between the Creator and the creatures, and the creatures' attempt to secure their destiny in a place other than the Creator.

Is this not the message of Paul to the Hebrew community at Rome: 'What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousneess, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the 'stumbling stone.' As it is written: 'See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.' (Rom 9:30-33)

The salvation-shame theme continues in the following chapter. 'If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, 'Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.' '(Rom 10:9-11)

What have we got so far in building our witness?

Like Adam and Eve, we are all exposed before an all-knowing and all-seeing God: nothing is hidden from him. He knows an dsees our shame. The shame we experience results from our disobedience toward a loving and generous Father, who is also the Sovereign of the universe. Our shame is great. Our disobedience has broken the relationship with him and brought disorder into the world. We try to cover and hide our shame from him, but the fig leaves prove an unsatisfactory covering. Nothing we try will ever cover our shame. Our dilemma is most serious. We recognize the problem, but are helpless to solve it." (pp138-141)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

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