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  • Writer's pictureEdmund Ng

J01: Journal Paper: Jesus Also Died For Our Corrupted Shame

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care

(DOI: 10.1177/19397909221122018)

Edmund Ng

Formerly a pastor, Dr. Edmund Ng has spent the last 16 years working in full-time community service in Malaysia as a licensed psychotherapist and researcher on the subject of sin and shame in the East. Based on his professional experience and research, he has written an academic book entitled Shame-informed Counselling and Psychotherapy: Eastern and Western Perspectives (Routledge, 2021) and a Christian book entitled Set Free from your Corrupted Shame: Be empowered to overcome our bondages and sins (Amazon Paperback and Kindle, 2022).


A number of theological writers have averred that principally our Lord Jesus Christ came to die not only for our sin but also for our shame. After establishing the case for this by highlighting the honor-shame significance of the cross through both theological and psychological theory and research, this article further argues that Jesus did not die for our natural and healthy shame but for our corrupted shame. The paper then concludes by explaining from the theological, humanity, and missional perspectives, why it is important for us to make the distinction between healthy and corrupted shame that Jesus died for us.


corrupted shame, sin and shame, healthy shame, healthy and corrupted shame, what Jesus died for


With regards to the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, the penal substitution model​1​ is being viewed by many as the one correct approach to explain the saving significance of the atonement. However, “the Church has never defined one model or theory of the atonement as the only orthodox one”​2​ since a single metaphor could never capture the complex scope of all that Jesus had accomplished for us. Another reason for this is that we need to articulate the concept of atonement according to the shared experiences and vocabulary of the peoples of different time and place without distorting the biblical theology in order to make sense to them. In particular, the penal substitution explanation of the atonement is based on a sin-guilt-justice-forgiveness legal format which, as a Western concept of justice, may not be meaningful to the shame-based cultures of the East. Hence, it will make better sense to those collectivistic peoples who construct their worldviews based on the pivotal values of honor and shame, if the concept of atonement is explained to them in terms of the honor-restoring salvation that is available in Jesus. Such a narrative can be as follows.

Since time immemorial, God exists in full glory and honor. To further express that glory, God created the world as well as the first humans in His image, crowning them with glory and honor. Adam and Eve lived as naked, yet they were not ashamed. But when they disobeyed God, their sin forfeited their divine glory and honor. They experienced shame and they started to pursue a self-earned, counterfeit honor to alleviate the unpleasantness of their shame. At the same time, their sin also dishonored God and He lost face. So, God banished Adam and Eve from His presence. Thus, the human race, as descendants of the original homo sapiens, inherited their shame and are separated from God’s family. Out of His love for us, God sent His Son Jesus to die for us in order to remove the shame from humanity and restore His honor for us so that we can be reunited with Him.​3​

Thus, a number of theological writers have averred that principally our Lord Jesus Christ came to die not only for our sin but also for our shame. For instance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated that Jesus “take upon himself their sin and shame”​4​ while Marlene Yap affirmed that “His saving grace has granted not only a removal of guilt but also a removal of shame”.​5​ If this is so, this paper further argues that Jesus did not die for our natural and healthy shame but for our corrupted shame. After establishing the case for this by highlighting the honor-shame significance of the cross from the theological-psychological perspective, the paper then concludes by explaining why it is important for us to make the distinction on the type of shame that Jesus died for us.

What is Shame?

Shame is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as a painful emotion caused by the consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety, alternatively, a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute. In the field of psychology, shame has been simply referred to as rage turned against the self​6​ or feeling bad about oneself.​7​ Shame is complex because it exists in dual states and it is known for its dualistic characteristics.​8​ For example, besides being an emotion of our human nature, shame is also an inhibition that restrains us from pursuing certain actions. Theologian Te-Li Lau calls such shamefastness dispositional shame​9​ as it may bear no implication that the emotion of shame is actually being experienced. Dispositional shame is seen in psychology as internalized shame that has polluted the self to release to the person an abiding sense of shame such that his or her identity is modified to be shame-bound.​10​ For the most part, the theological tradition contends itself with dispositional shame as a human antithesis to God’s honor in the context of a reality that is linked to a shame component. However, this paper will focus more on the psychological dynamics of the emotion of shame at work within our theology of the Bible’s creation-fall-redemption story to enrich our understanding of the honor-shame significance of the cross.

Fundamentally, a person will experience the emotion of shame when he perceives he is falling short of his own expectations of himself or what others expect of him. This is the gap that psychological researchers on shame, such as Sandler, Holder and Meers, termed as the difference between the ideal self and the actual self.​11​ The ideal self is what the person aspires to whereas the actual self is what the person actually is. The greater the gap, the more intense the shame in a given setting.

Different settings in our diverse cultural backgrounds offer different expectations to the individual, significant others, and society in general to generate different intensities of shame. In other words, certain people in certain communities are more sensitive to shame than others. It is commonly accepted that shame is more prominent in Asian cultures than in others.​12​ Indeed, many researchers in the field of psychology have also contended that people in the East are particularly more “face-saving” in their shame-based worldviews.​13​ As Israel is in the Middle-East, the honor-shame values are thus also prominent in the Mediterranean society in which Jesus lived and ministered some 2000 years ago.

Why Adam and Eve Naked Yet Unashamed?

God has emotions and naturally, shame is part of His family of emotions. Indeed, Jackson Wu in his book entitled Saving God’s Face, in arguing that Jesus died on the cross to bring back honor to God in order to reverse His shame as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, has shown us convincingly that God has shame among His family of emotions.​14​ The Bible says in Gen 1:27 that God created humankind in His image. Since God has emotions, the first humans were created also with emotions. Both the initial homo sapiens were crafted as “very good” in God’s sight (Gen 1:31), meaning that human nature when first created was very good. A vital part of our human nature is our emotions and the natural emotions then must also be adequately adaptive and healthy in serving their intended purposes. Among the chief purposes of our natural emotions must be safeguarding our spiritual and moral condition, since God is pure and holy and He would want his creatures to be so. In particular, Adam and Eve had among the family of emotions a natural sense of shame that primarily acts to deter them from disobeying God. This is because they would feel ashamed and be very uncomfortable in the presence of the holy God if they were tainted with the slightest stint of sin. This means that the first humans were created with a primal sense of natural and healthy shame that has a Godward focus which deters them from sinning against God.

But Gen 2:25 further says that “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The Hebrew word used for shame before the Fall is בּוּשׁ, translated in the English language as confusion or being confounded, connoting merely a feeling of unpleasantness arising from a blissful innocence with no implication of any spiritual or moral violation in one’s relationship with God. To be naked yet unashamed could then mean that even though they were created with the emotion of shame in them, the shame was not activated for certain reasons despite their nakedness.

Indeed, Te-Li Lau speculated that though the two prototypes of the human race were created with shame, they initially “existed in a state of innocence, unity, and unimpeded freedom” … like children who were “blissfully unaware that nudity was shameful”,​15​ and so they were not ashamed despite seeing each other’s nakedness. Another possible explanation is that the glory of God was at first there to cover their human nakedness. Alternatively, since Psa 8:4 states that when Adam was first created, God “crowned him with glory” and it was likely that the first humans before the Fall carried so much of glory with them that they did not see each other’s genitals, hence no shame was activated within them even though they were naked. Indeed, almost all the English translations of the verse in Gen 2:25, including the Complete or Orthodox Jewish Bibles, stated that “they were not ashamed (or not embarrassed)” while eight other translations put it as “they felt no shame”, not that “they had no shame”. Thus, they had shame as a natural and healthy emotion inherent in them from the moment they were created by God, but after Adam and Eve sinned, the glory of God lifted, uncovering their nakedness, and so they felt shameful.

The Corruption of Our Healthy Shame

Now, since God gave Adam and Eve a freewill to make their own choices, there has to be only a normal range in the continuum of emotions for natural and healthy shame to function adaptively to serve its major God-intended purpose of deterring any wrongdoing against God. In other words, our natural and healthy shame will only signal to us within a certain range of discomfort that something is wrong. If not, we will be controlled by our shame and live like robots without any capacity to make choices. Indeed, we are given the freewill to choose to ignore the discomfort of shame. We shall see shortly that Eve did this when she was tempted to disobey God and thus sin against Him.

When Satan persuaded Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, she was initially apprehensive because her natural and healthy shame was giving her some shame anxiety for wanting to sin against God. This was evidenced by her initial resistance to the serpent when she said, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Gen 3:2-3). Thus, she felt the nudging of her healthy shame within her, orientating her towards God not to disobey Him. Indeed, the healthy shame that God originally created in humans has a Godward orientation that deters us from sinning against Him but we can still override its promptings by the exercise of our freewill. As it were, we see that Eve chose to override the discomfort of shame to allow herself to be lured by the delusionary benefits of eating the fruit.

Eve prompted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit as well and when they had both done so in disobeying God, Gen 3:7 says that their eyes were opened and they saw their nakedness. Flushed with shame, they sewed fig leaves to cover themselves. When they heard the sound of God, they quickly went into hiding (Gen 3:8). Georges categorically stated that covering and hiding are indeed the psychological hallmarks of shame.​16​ They felt unworthy or inadequate to come before God because their actual selves are now tainted with sin and they are not the ideal selves that God first created them to be. The gap between their ideal and actual selves was expressed as the shame which led them to cover and hide.

In particular, hiding is the manifestation of a defense mechanism that is called withdrawal in the field of psychology. According to Nathanson, withdrawal is one of the main defense strategies adopted by a person to shield oneself from the pain of acute shame.​17​ In other words, the intense unpleasantness of a deeper dimension of shame now experienced by Adam and Eve after the Fall was no longer within the discomfort range in the continuum of natural and healthy shame, but because their shame had been corrupted at the Fall, it went so intense as to warrant withdrawal as a defense mechanism against the pain of that corrupted shame. We shall see shortly that such acute shame is toxic and unhealthy. Therefore, sin besides plunging mankind into a state of hopelessness without God (1 Chron 29:15; Eph 2:12, NLV) also corrupted our human nature, particularly our sense of shame. More importantly, the concise and strategic episode of the Fall shows us that if there is a principal emotion that must first be addressed in the redemption and sanctification process of our fallen humanity, it is our corrupted shame.

Indeed, recent advancements in modern psychology and neuroscience in the scientific study of human nature have helped us to understand better the central role of shame within the family of our emotions. Hence, shame has been called “the master emotion of everyday life”.​18​ In other words, shame is the primal emotion that is the base that triggers off the other emotions, simultaneously agitating them and pushing them to their extremes. Kaufman rightly emphasized that “shame is the principal impediment in all relationships, whether parent-child, teacher-student or therapist-client” and that if we are to understand and eventually heal what ails the self, we must first consider the effects of shame.​19​ To put this in a nutshell, if our shame as a root cause of our many maladaptive behaviors is put right, we will have fewer problems with most of our other emotions.

Healthy versus Corrupted Emotions

Since shame exists as a continuum, the emotion of shame can thus function adaptively within its natural, healthy range or it can fluctuate beyond this range to function maladaptively as acute shame brings about intense pain to the person. Various writers have referred to such dual states of shame using different names. For example, Bradshaw ascribes shame as both healthy and toxic. He sees healthy shame as “nourishing” and toxic shame as “life-destroying.”​20​ Sanderson calls shame both healthy and chronic. Focusing on the social aspects of shame, she avers that healthy shame is that which promotes “connection to others” while chronic shame is that which “destroys social bonds.”​21​ In addition, Dearing and Tangney broadly put healthy shame as a feature of in-the-moment shame and unhealthy shame as shame-proneness.​22​ Whatever name is used to connote corrupted shame, there is in fact abundant literature that makes the distinction between healthy and unhealthy shame. Indeed, in his recent book For Shame: Rediscovering the Virtues of a Maligned Emotion, Gregg Ten Elshof, the professor of philosophy at Biola University and founding director of Biola’s Center for Christian Thought, stated that his aim for writing the book is to redeem the healthy aspects of shame from that which is debilitating and unhealthy.​23​

Overall, natural and healthy shame is the adaptive constituent of this emotion that God originally created within us to motivate us more towards spiritual and moral formation by functioning within its normal discomfort range to steer us into making the right choices in not sinning against God. After its corruption at the Fall of mankind, corrupted shame has an extended unhealthy constituent which can fluctuate maladaptively along both ends of the same emotional continuum by going erratic and beyond their normal, healthy range to become acute shame that brings about intense mental anguish and suffering to the person, way above the unpleasantness of בּוּשׁ found in Adam and Eve before the Fall. It forms part of the intensified components of our corrupted emotions that generate the dysfunctional and destructive symptoms. The apostle Paul refers to these intensified emotions in Eph 4:22 as the corrupted “deceitful desires” of the old self.

Looking at the other emotions as further illustration of the corrupted components, we are all familiar with the mood disorder that is called depression. Most of us do experience our normal moods that fluctuate marginally up and down within the healthy range during the course of each day. However, if a person’s mood goes way down below the healthy range and remains there for 2 weeks or more, and in the process gives rise to adverse psychological symptoms such as impairment of normal functioning, fatigue, psychomotor retardation, or diminished ability to think,​24​ this becomes a mental health illness diagnosed by psychiatrists as clinical depression. People suffer from depression because, in the first place, it is the Fall of humankind that has corrupted our natural emotions to engender our moods to go beyond the healthy range to their low extremes. The mood that goes beyond the healthy range of our natural emotions to its high extremes is a maladaptive psychological condition that is called mania.​25​

The Destructive Functions of Corrupted Shame

Thus, from a theological-psychological perspective, we can say that the emotion of shame has three roles: (i) a focus to orientate us towards God, (ii) an intrapsychic function, and (iii) a relational-social purpose. First, the natural and healthy shame which God originally created in humans has a Godward focus to deter us from sinning against Him. However, when our shame is corrupted, the corrupted components of our shame work to mar our sensitivity to our healthy shame to focus more on covering and protecting ourselves at the human level from being shamed by other people. Secondly, healthy shame’s intrapsychic function serves to prompt us to examine our inner self to make us a better person but once our shame is corrupted, its intensified components can function maladaptively to make us become extremely shy, depressed, perfectionistic, addictive, and so on.​26​ Thirdly, healthy shame’s relational-social role serves to guide our social behavior and aid social cohesion by signaling to us any form of interpersonal transgression that we need to make amends. However, once our shame is corrupted, its intensified components can function maladaptively to make us become more evasive, run away and hide, hostile to others, abusive or violent, murderous, and so on.​27​ This protectiveness from further shaming by other people in fact increases our propensity to do evil against them from within our fallen human nature which itself is already sinful.

Indeed, the motivating emotions towards men’s suspicion of others and competitiveness which form the basis of society’s humanistic and vain quest for status and honor are rooted in our corrupted shame. We are designed to depend on God for all our needs. When we are ashamed to come before God and depend on Him because the shame that we now experience is not that of the relatively mild and transitory healthy shame, but that of corrupted shame which is persistent, intense, and painful. To avoid experiencing the pain of acute pain, we rather depend on ourselves or start to look for help elsewhere. Then, when our needs are not met, more insecurity and low self-esteem will set in. So, in place of dependency, trust and vulnerability with God and others, there is a psychological shift towards self-dependence on one’s competitiveness and suspicion of other people as a safeguard against our corrupted shame. Thus, the main function of our shame is shifted from its Godward focus to protecting ourselves at the human level from being shamed by other people. The competitiveness will manifest as one-upmanship and the vain quest for personal honor to the extent of superseding everything else. All too often, the ends will justify the means and humankind in our fallen nature will resort to all kinds of evil to avoid experiencing the pain of the corrupted shame arising from our sense of self-inadequacy.

In the end, corrupted shame will work hand-in-hand with the sin of our fallen human nature to bring progressive and utter destruction to our societies. What is terrifying is that the destructiveness of corrupted shame is both subtle and subversive. As evidence of this, we note that our churches would rather teach more about the guilt of sin rather than the shame of our disobedience to God. For instance, the Church has been focusing almost exclusively on the emotion of guilt over shame, as seen in our emphasis on a theology of the fall and redemption of humankind principally based on the sin-guilt-justice-forgiveness legal format. The Four Spiritual Laws widely used in spreading the Gospel around the world are reflective of this preoccupation. Indeed, theologian Robin Stockitt referred to shame as “the orphan of Western theology”.​28​ So, even though we openly declare that Jesus died for our sin and shame, we are perhaps reminded of the latter only occasionally in the lyrics of our worship songs. The major role of shame for human flourishing and Christian growth is hardly taught, preached, discussed, and applied in our churches.

Even the secular world has a widespread aversion to shame as a taboo that people hardly want to talk about. Since the beginning days of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud saw shame in relation to genital visibility and hence shame received comparatively little attention while the spotlight was on guilt. Indeed, Erik Erikson stated, “Shame is an emotion insufficiently studied because in our civilization, it is so early and easily absorbed by guilt”.​29​ Jeffrey Kauffman postulated that one of the main reasons for our widespread aversion to shame, whether by the churches or the world, is that we are ashamed of our own shame even when talking about it.​30​ This in fact deprives shame of the serious attention that it merits. And unless God do something fundamental to deliver us from the evil concoction of our sin and corrupted shame, there is no hope for mankind.

Indeed, as a warning from God, the Bible tells us that following the Fall, Adam and Eve made coverings for themselves to cover their nakedness and shame (Gen 3:7) but God provided them with long tunics made from animal skins (Gen 3:21). God did for the couple what they cannot do for themselves adequately concerning their corrupted shame. If Adam and Eve as the first homo sapiens are representative of humankind, then the narrative of the Fall tells us that only God can deal adequately with humanity’s corrupted shame. To get the animal skin to cover Adam and Eve from their shame, a sacrifice is required, thus foreshadowing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for both our sin and shame.

The Shame Aspects of Jesus’ Mission and Crucification

If shame is just as central in the fall and redemption of mankind as sin is, the life and ministry of Jesus must also be reflective of the centrality of shame. Indeed, we can find in the Gospels many honor-shame encounters faced by Jesus from the start of His active 3-year ministry to His eventual crucification in which He responded in profoundly intentional ways to lay the foundation of His mission by His word and deed to nullify the potency of the corrupted shame that was generated by the culture of His time and community. The recent works of theological writers like Robin Stockitt and Te-Li Lau gave ample examples of these encounters.​31​ Indeed, the word limitation of this paper does not permit the description of these encounters save for one incident highlighted below as it is directly pertinent to the fact that Jesus has healthy shame and not corrupted shame, but on the cross, He bore our corrupted shame and won the victory over our corrupted shame.

Fast-tracking to the finale of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth, Malina and Rohrbaugh see deaths by crucification on the cross as the ultimate in public degradation and shame.​32​ As the soldiers had cast lots for Jesus’ garments, He was stripped naked. Indeed, crucifying a criminal naked was the usual practice in those times.​33​ In addition, the execution usually took place along a widely traveled road for all to see. Marlene Yap says that the inscription of the charge, “The King of the Jews” was part of the status degradation of Jesus as it “serves to insult the Judeans by portraying their king as a naked slave for all to mock.”​34​ Another status degradation was to crucify Jesus between two thieves, associating him with criminals.

Jesus was also subjected to heaps of verbal abuse and humiliation while on the cross. The religious rulers taunted Him to come down from the cross if He was the Christ (Mk 15:31, 32). Even one of the thieves who were crucified with Him heaped insults at Him, yelling, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luk 23:39) The passers-by sneered at Him by saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in 3 days, come down from the cross and save yourself” (Mk 15:29, 30).

The temple rebuilding remark was uttered by Jesus after He was challenged by the Jews on what authority He had for clearing its grounds when he drove out the merchants (Jn 2:18). Jesus did not respond by showing a miraculous sign as they demanded and according to Richards, his mere temple rebuilding statement was unpersuasive and also unprovable at that point of time. Thus, “the leaders treated Jesus’ answer with disdain and contempt.”​35​ Hence, at the cross, Jesus’ failed defense and shaming at the temple was recapitalized here to rub salt into the wound to further deride Him.

Jesus Died for Our Sin and Corrupted Shame

At the cross, Jesus bore for us two primal aspects of our fallen nature to deliver humanity from our fallenness: our sin and corrupted shame. As for sin, Jesus was conceived supernaturally and born of a virgin so that He did not inherit the sinfulness of our fallen humanity. Indeed, the apostle Peter, quoting Isa 53:9, proclaimed that in the entire life of Jesus on earth, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth (1 Pet 2:22). Again, John concurred with this fact by stating, “in Him is no sin” (1 Jn 3:3). Like the scapegoat which was without sin, upon it was laid all the sins of the Israelites, and then left to die in the desert (Lev 16: 20 – 22), the sinless Jesus bore unto death all the injustices and cruelty of His crucification as representing the epitome of sin, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Isa 53:6b that God “has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” The Scripture verse in 2 Cor 5:21 further declares that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.”

As for corrupted shame, being conceived supernaturally and born of a virgin, Jesus also did not inherit the corrupted shame of our fallen humanity. It is important to note that Jesus while on earth was not without shame nor was He shameless. He had a sense of the natural and healthy shame as part of the emotions originally created in the first humans before the Fall. To illustrate the point that Jesus had His sense of natural and healthy shame just as created in the first humans before the Fall, it is noted that after the incident when He was shamed at the temple for not defending His authority to drive out the merchants, Richards avers that Jesus did not “misbehave” again, for He “visited the temple three more times and … ignored the market activities” there.​36​ Indeed, when one is shamed, he is honorable if he has a sense of shame and complies with the group expectations. And so, just as Jesus did not come to die for His own sin but the sin of our fallen humanity, He did not die for His own healthy shame but for our corrupted shame.

Indeed, Jesus who was free of corrupted shame, bore the most intense corrupted shame that our fallen nature can place on Him at His crucification. He could feel the pain of the corrupted shame heaped on Him but He was not destroyed by it. Instead, like the scapegoat, Jesus was obedient to God, suffering till His last breadth to offer humankind an atoning sacrifice to deliver us from our corrupted shame.

Heb 12:2 affirms that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame.” The Greek word used here for the shame that Jesus bored and scorned at the cross is αἰσχύνη, translated in the English language as referring to dishonesty or dishonor. Its characteristic is very different from the Hebrew word בּוּשׁ used for the shame of Adam and Eve before the Fall which carries a connotation of blissful innocence with no implication of any moral violation in our relationship with God. The Greek word is an obvious reference to a moral transgression characteristic of our fallen nature. Therefore, the shame that Jesus bored and scorned at the cross is a different dimension of the original and natural shame first created in humans before the Fall. It is the corrupted shame of our fallen humanity and not our healthy shame.

Importance of Knowing the Distinction

At the cross, Jesus nullified corrupted shame of its intense power to shame us maladaptively so that we can be restored fully to our natural and healthy shame to function within us adaptively for the purposes for which this emotion was originally created by God within us. Thus, it is important for us to distinguish what type of shame Jesus came to die for, due to the following points:

a. From the theological perspective, if Jesus came to conquer shame in general without us making any differentiation which aspect of it, then He has nullified altogether an emotion that forms an integral part of what God created in humans that He deemed as “very good”. Healthy shame is also an affect that Jesus Himself possessed from His virgin birth, and a quality found in God’s very own nature.

b. From humanity’s perspective, when we distinguish that Jesus died for our corrupted shame and not our healthy shame, it gives mankind the hope that having our corrupted shame taken out of the way, we can be delivered from our corrupted shame baggages and pathologies, and in the longer term, the decay of our societies. Our sensitivity to the healthy shame can also be fully restored. This means that through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, we can now adequately benefit from the adaptive purposes for which shame was originally created by God within us, particularly for its Godward focus to deter us from sinning against Him.

c. From the missional perspective, it is noted that much of Western literature commonly associated shame as being harmful to a person’s wellbeing.​37​ For example, Western clinical definitions of shame tend to refer to it as a negative and soul-destroying emotion. This included terminologies such as “a soul-eating emotion”​38​ or “a sickness of the soul”.​39​ There are even Christian books from the West that to a large extent demonize shame as an emotion.​40​ However, in many Eastern cultures, shame is also a virtue to be pursued. The adaptive function of shame is seen as constructive for one’s personal well-being and the good of society.​41​ Indeed, shame can teach us good and pro-social human virtues such as cooperation, empathy, compassion, modesty, humility, and gratitude. As a result, shame functions to motivate us towards personal growth as we continue to relate to others in a respectful manner. In fact, Li, Wang and Fisher stated that “In Chinese culture, if a person is perceived as having no sense of shame, that person may be thought of as beyond moral reach, and therefore is even feared by the devil”.​42​ It is thus not logical or beneficial to many people, particularly those in shame-based Eastern cultures, to listen to our proclamation of the Good News that Jesus died to conquer our shame in general. Therefore, it is important for us to make the distinction that Jesus died to conquer the corrupted dimension of our shame, which is maladaptive and pathological, to restore us fully to our natural and healthy shame that God originally created within us.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


Edmund Ng

Text Footnotes

1.See, for example, Chapter Six of Mark Baker and Joel Green, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (2nd ed.) (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2011), 166-192.

2.Baker, Recovering, 164.

3.To know more, read Jayson Georges, The 3D GOSPEL, Ministry in Guilt, Shame and Fear Cultures (Brooklyn, NY: Time Press, 2016), 35-52. See also Jackson Wu, Saving God’s Face, A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame (Pasadena: WCIU Press, 2012) and Jayson Georges, “Why has nobody told me this before? The Gospel the world is waiting for,” Mission Frontiers. Vol. 37, no. 1 (2015): 8-9.

4.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, trans. Fuller (New York: Macmillan, 1963), 25.

5.Marlene Yap, “The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ: From Extreme Shame to Victorious Honor,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies. Vol. 21, no. 1 (2018): 44.

6.Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society (London: Norton, 1950), 25.

7.June Price Tangney and others, “Relation of shame and guilt to constructive versus destructive responses to anger across the lifespan,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70(4) (1996): 797-809.

8.Edmund Ng, Shame-informed Counseling and Psychotherapy: Eastern and Western Perspectives (New York, NY: Routledge, 2021), 19-23.

9.Te-Li Lau, Defending Shame, Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020), 24-25.

10.June Price Tangney, “Assessing Individual Difference in Proneness to Shame and Guilt: Development of the Self-Conscious Affect and Attribution Inventory,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59, no. 1 (1990): 102-111.

11.Joseph Sadler and others, “The ego ideal and the ideal self,” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. 18 (1963): 139-158.

12.For instance, missiologist Roland Muller posits that there are three prominent cultural worldviews in the world: guilt and innocence, fear and power, and shame and honor. The honor and shame worldview is found mostly in Asia, including the Middle-east and extending to North Africa. Within Asia is the 10/40 Window where the most unreached people groups are sited and, in the past, many missionaries find it hard to understand how to present the Gospel in the shame-honor context. See Roland Muller, Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door (Bloomington: Xlibris, 2001).

13.See for example Jin Li and others, “The organization of Chinese shame concepts,” Cognition and Emotion, 18(6) (2004): 767-797, and David Crystal and others, “Examining relations between shame and personality among university students in the United States and Japan: A developmental perspective,” International Journal of Behavioral Development 25 (2001): 113-123.

14.Wu, Saving God’s Face.

15.Lau, Defending Shame, 63.

16.Jayson Georges, “The Good News for Honor-Shame Cultures: Uncovering a Core Aspect of God’s Mission,” Lausanne Global Analysis Vol. 6, Issue 2 (2017), 2.

17.Donald L. Nathanson, “About Emotion,” Psychiatric Annals 23, no. 10 (1993): 543-55.

18.Thomas Scheff, “Shame in self and society,” Symbolic Interaction, 26(2), (2003): 239.

19.Gershen Kaufman, The Psychology of Shame: Theory and treatment of shame-based syndromes (2nd ed.) (New York, NY: Springer, 1996), 7.

20.John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications Inc., 2005), 3.

21.Christiane Sanderson, Counselling Skills for Working with Shame (Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015), 22.

22.Ronda L. Dearing and June Price Tangney, “Introduction: Putting Shame in Context” In R. L. Dearing and J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Shame in the Therapy Hour (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2014), 3-19.

23.Gregg Ten Elshof, For Shame: Rediscovering the Virtues of a Maligned Emotion (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Reflective, 2021), 4-5.

24.American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fifth Edition (DSM-5), (Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013).

25.Another example is the emotion of fear. A natural sense of healthy fear at our functional level will prompt us to flee, fight or freeze in the face of danger as a prudent response. In its spiritual role as fear that is directed toward God, the fear of God motivates us to hold Him in reverence and awe as the basis of our surrender to love, obey and serve Him (Deut 10:12). In fact, the Bible declares that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7). Fear that is corrupted after the Fall can easily erupt into disproportionate high intensity to manifest in anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other dreadful expressions that are considered in modern psychology as pathological. On the other hand, the lack of appropriate fear as an emotion way below the normal range of natural and healthy fear can endanger our lives in times of danger. Likewise, a natural sense of healthy anger can function adaptively to motivate us to right wrongs and change things for the good. An anger that has a Godward focus will give us the passion to act against those matters that are dishonoring to God, as in the case of Jesus getting angry with the moneychangers and traders doing their business within the temple courts and driving them out with a whip (John 2:14-16). From the corruption of anger comes uncontrollable rage and fury that lead to all forms of hostility and violence.

26.Ng, Shame-Informed Counseling, 77-79.

27.Ng, Shame-Informed, 77-79.

28.Robin Stockitt, Restoring the Shamed, towards a theology of shame (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012), 9.

29.Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society (London: Norton, 1950), 227.

30.Jeffrey Kauffman, The Shame of Death, Grief, and Trauma (New York, NY: Routledge, 2014), 5.

31.Referring to Stockitt, Restoring the Shamed, and Lau, Defending Shame.

32.Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 276.

33.Frank J. Matera, “Passion Narratives and Gospel Theologies: Interpreting the Synoptics Through Their Passion Stories” in Theological Inquiries: Studies in Contemporary Biblical and Theological Problems, ed. Lawrence Boadt (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1986), 42.

34.Yap, Crucifixion, 39.

35.Randolph E. Richards, “The Shaming of Jesus,” in Honor, Shame and the Gospel, Reframing Our Message and Ministry, eds. Christopher Flanders and Werner Mischke (Littleton, CO: William Carey Publishing, 2020), 78.

36.Richards, Shaming of Jesus, 78.

37.For a flavor of this inclination, refer to Millie R. Creighton, “Revisiting Shame and Guilt Cultures: A Forty-Year Pilgrimage,” Ethos 18 (1990): 279-307, and Kaufman, Psychology of Shame, 3-84.

38.Carl G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (New York: American Library, 1957), 23.

39.Silvan S. Tomkins, Affect, imagery, consciousness: The negative affects, Vol. 2 (New York: Springer, 1963a), 118.

40.Read, for example, Kurt Thomson, The Soul of Shame (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015).

41.Refer to Kwang-kuo Hwang, “Face and Favor: The Chinese Power Game,” American Journal of Sociology, 92 (1987): 944-974. See also Michael Schoenhals, The paradox of power in a People’s Republic of China middle school (Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1993), and Gregg Elshof, For Shame.

42.Jin Li, Organization of Chinese shame concepts, 767-797.

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