Can You Shame God?
Can you shame God? The biblical answer is yes.
Though this may initially sound sacrilegious, the fact that people shame God pervades scripture and profoundly impacts your relationship with God. People despise and scorn God. In other words, we fail to honor and glorify God. This idea appears throughout the Bible.
Torah (about Israel)
- And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have done among them?” (Num. 14:11; cf. 14:222-23)
- If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God. (Deut. 28:58)
- Then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and despise me, and break my covenant. (Deut. 31:20)
Excursus: The Meaning of “Despise.” The Hebrew word naats means to “show contempt,” (NIV) “spurn,” (NAS) or “reject.” David deSilva explains, “assigning a low value to something or someone, then treating that thing or person according to the standards appropriate for that assigned value, stands behind the term despise” (IVPDOTP, p 435). The word basically means, “to treat with low value.” It is our failure to recognize God as the King worthy of ultimate honor (Mal 1:14; cf. 1 Sam 2:30).
David (Sinning with Bathsheba)
- You have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. (2 Sam. 11:27)
- Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die. (2 Sam. 12:14)
- Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of the my God. (Proverbs 30:9)
- Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31; cf. 17:5)
- Whoever fears the Lord walks uprightly, but those who despise him are devious in their ways. (Proverbs 14:2)
- They have abandoned the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel. They have turned away from him. (Isa 1:4)
- “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?” says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, “How have we despised Thy name?” (Mal. 1:6)
- For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. But you profane it [God’s name] when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted. (Mal. 1:11)
- For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. (Mk. 8:38 NAS)
- For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God. (Rom. 1:20)
- Do you dishonor God by breaking the law? (Rom. 2:23)
The Ultimate Shaming of God: The Crucifixion
Beyond the explicit verses, the clearest biblical example of shaming God is the death of Jesus in the passion narratives.
- And they crucified Him. (Mk. 15:24)
- And the Son of Man will be delivered over . . . condemn(ed) to death . . . mocked and flogged and crucified. (Matt. 20:18)
The crucifixion is the grand culmination of humans shaming God. Humans deliberately humiliated God incarnate. The apostles interpreted Jesus’ death as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision about a servant of God who would bear tremendous shame (Isa 49:7; 50:6-8; 53:2-3)
The powers of Rome purposefully used the cross as an instrument of extreme humiliation and rejection. The shame of the cross also has a theological explanation—our shaming sin caused his death. Jesus died to pay our honor debt and absorb our shame. When we dishonor God and shame others in God’s image to grasp status for ourselves, we participate in part of the crucifixion.
Thomas Watson, a Puritan in 17th century England, aptly said, “We have affronted and disparaged Christ’s blood by unbelief. . . . Sin, when acted to its height, crucifies Christ afresh and puts him to open shame.” Those who sin “are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.”
Humans can (and do) belittle and despise the glory of God’s name. Sin is sin because it breaks relationship with God and dishonors him. Whenever we worship or value the creation (i.e., idolatry/sin), that steals glory from God. Ultimately, this is not a statement about God’s actual glory, but really an indictment of our shameful/shameless hearts that misattribute honor.
Our failure to honor God does not diminish his actual value and worth (just as our rejection of the Truth does not negate its truthfulness). God is infinitely glorious and honorable, regardless of our actions or behavior. Our sin is the failure to radiate God’s glorious honor as we were designed. In this way, it could be said that we humans, you and I, shame God.
Posts in this series Exposing Shame explore the complexity of biblical shame:
- Super Duper “Unashamed”
- Can You Shame God?
- Does God Shame Christians?
- The 4 Dimensions of Shame
Is there also a potential positive way to use shame in one’s relationship with God? Old Testament examples: Abraham in Genesis 18 (Sodom and Gomorrah bargaining). Moses, during various episodes of Israel’s rebellions (Exodus 33:12-23, Deut 9:28), appeals to the danger of God’s name being shamed among the nations. Habakkuk asks God to act, lest God’s character and nature be compromised, and this would be similar to various OT laments (Psalm 77:10, for example). In the New Testament, Jesus seems to suggest in Luke 11:1-13, that we should be persistent in prayer because God’s name (honor) is already at stake among His people, and we are encouraged to shape our prayers to put God’s glory at stake. The overall positive idea, then, would be that believers can notice where God’s honor seems to be compromised and work to defend it, and even appeal to God to restore it. Would this be a positive use of shame in a relationship with God?
Dan, great comments. Yes, I agree with you–this fact does motivate us in a positive sense to defend and display God’s honor. Your citations show this is common in Scripture (one could add Ps 44, Ps 74, and Mal 1–2 to your list). Another implication is understanding how the life/death/resurrection of Jesus likewise restores God’s honor and removes the shame we cause. I simply didn’t address the positive implications because I wanted to establish this one point in the post.
Great post. Ezekiel (20:9, 14, 22, 39, 44; 36:22-25) prophesies against Israel that its sin is one of profaning His name among the nations by taking on similar idolatrous behaviours as their neighbours. Not only have they profaned his holy name, but God’s primary interest in their redemption is ‘to vindicate the holiness of my great name’ (36:23) among the nations. So God redeems them, i.e. brings them out of shame into re-established honour, not for their sake but for His. It seems like Paul picks up on this theme in Romans 1:5 where he states the underlying reason for bringing about their obedience of faith is ‘for the sake of his name among all the nations…”
Great citations, Roy! Interestingly, the verses you mention in Ez 36 are about the (re)new(ed) Covenant, so no surprise NT authors also pick up on that.
Anselm addressed this question in his book “Cur Deus Homo,” ch XV. He made a distinction between God’s-honour-within-himself and God’s-honour-in-relation-to-his-creation. For Anselm, judgment day (and the cross) is about restoring the honour of God with regard to creation:
“Nothing can be added to or taken from the honor of God. For this honor which belongs to him is in no way subject to injury or change. But as the individual creature preserves, naturally or by reason, the condition belonging, and, as it were, allotted to him, he is said to obey and honor God; and to this, rational nature, which possesses intelligence, is especially bound. And when the being chooses what he ought, he honors God; not by bestowing anything upon him, but because he brings himself freely under God’s will and disposal, and maintains his own condition in the universe, and the beauty of the universe itself, as far as in him lies. But when he does not choose what he ought, he dishonors God, as far as the being himself is concerned, because he does not submit himself freely to God’s disposal. And he disturbs the order and beauty of the universe, as relates to himself, although he cannot injure nor tarnish the power and majesty of God. ”
Thanks Andrew, for finding and sharing that extending quote from Anselm. He explains it better than me!
God does not deserve to be treated in a shameful manner. Why do we thoughtlessly behave so horrid?
In the way I currently understand things, a primary reason for shaming someone is make them feel shame. In the way you are using “shaming” here, does God end up feeling shame?
Yes, God does feel “shamed” (like a king whose servant just spit in his face), but not “ashamed” (like a school child that has been abusively scolded).
I would correct your first sentence though–we don’t shame others just to make them feel shamed, but to create a relative sense of status for ourselves (i.e., Cain with Abel). And so when we shame/dishonor/de-glorify God, it is not with the specific intent of shaming Him, but it is usually the inadvertent result of seeking glory outside of Him.
Thanks for your response. I appreciate your help in sorting things out. A couple more questions/comments…
My guess is that feeling “shamed” (in your example of a king and his servant) would be viewed as bad primarily (but not entirely) because, in order to continue his rule, an earthly king needs his subjects/servants to keep honoring him. Knowing that, if others learn from this servant’s actions and join in his defiance, this king may end up being removed from power, he will most likely feel the need to decisively undo or “fix” this defiant challenge.
But isn’t God in a different category? His position as King of kings (and His actual glory/honor) cannot be threatened in any way by acts of defiance or dishonor. The only thing that happens when someone spits in His face is that their extreme shamefulness is revealed for all to see. Any act of defiance will always eventually end in regret and will always result in a breathtakingly honorable and loving response from God. Those who feel no regret, who can’t/won’t see the honor/love in God’s response, or who view this response as somehow inadequate are shamefully ignorant of the way things are.
Doesn’t God defend His name and reputation in biblical accounts, not because His feeling “shamed” needs to be undone or fixed in some way but because He can’t keep Himself from loving defiant sinners? Doesn’t He care about His name and His reputation in the eyes of defiant sinners because, if they don’t know more about the One who loves them deeply and is beyond their understanding, 1) they won’t know what love, honor, shamefulness, etc. look like; 2) they won’t be able to be able to understand their defiant acts for what they are, shameless acts done by someone who obviously has no sense of shame; and 3) they won’t know that they need to and can call out to Him for His undeserved mercy, allowing Him to take away their shame and give them the honor of being His children?
Would you mind saying more about what you mean by “a relative sense of status for ourselves”?