The Psalms: Shame

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
    come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
    for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
    as for me, I trust in the Lord.
I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
    for you saw my affliction
    and knew the anguish of my soul.
You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
    but have set my feet in a spacious place.

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
    my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
    and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
    and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies,
    I am the utter contempt of my neighbours
and an object of dread to my closest friends –
    those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten as though I were dead;
    I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear many whispering,
    ‘Terror on every side!’
They conspire against me
    and plot to take my life.

But I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hands;
    deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
    from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
    save me in your unfailing love.
Let me not be put to shame, Lord,
    for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame
    and be silent in the realm of the dead.
Let their lying lips be silenced,
    for with pride and contempt
    they speak arrogantly against the righteous.

How abundant are the good things
    that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
    on those who take refuge in you.
In the shelter of your presence you hide them
    from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
    from accusing tongues.

Praise be to the Lord,
    for he showed me the wonders of his love
    when I was in a city under siege.
In my alarm I said,
    ‘I am cut off from your sight!’
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
    when I called to you for help.

Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
    The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
    but the proud he pays back in full.
Be strong and take heart,
    all you who hope in the Lord.

– Psalm 31

This Psalm is attributed to David but the specific context for writing is unclear. There was more than one time in David’s life when he felt threatened or under attack, whether as a fugitive running from Saul or as Saul’s successor sitting upon the throne of Israel. At the very least it is a reminder that none of us, whatever our status or position in life, is free from the sort of things mentioned here.

This particular Psalm is about a topic that is largely forgotten in the modern western world and that is the topic of shame, of public disgrace.

At the time of writing two Conservative MPs have been in the news. One for retweeting a highly offensive cartoon, going well beyond the bounds of normal political opprobrium, insulting Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. The other is in the news for sending highly explicit sexual texts to a couple of young women, neither of whom happens to be the wife and mother of his new born daughter. Neither MP has resigned. We live in an age without shame.

Yet in David’s society and in the majority of cultures around the world today it is very different. In honour/shame societies there is nothing worse than to be shamed. Losing face is far worse than losing money. Reputation is all you have.

Reading this Psalm reminds us of Jesus, ‘great David’s greater Son,’ and particularly what happened to him on the cross. From the moment the crucified was stripped of his clothing (strategically placed loin cloths reflecting artistic sensibilities rather than historical realities) to the minute the corpse was unceremoniously dumped in a common grave the whole horrific business was designed not only to maximise physical pain but to shame and dishonour the victim as well. The crucified was the rejected, the outcast, the shamed.

Of course, like the two MPs we can just be so thick-skinned that we ignore public opinion (a bit ironic given that their jobs depend on the public!) but most of us don’t want to be shamed, justifiably or otherwise.

Here’s the good news. The one who shared his Father’s glory, the one who is honoured by all the hosts of heaven, ‘broke the bonds, loosed the chains, carried the cross and my shame’ (U2).  In his grace Christ went to the cross to take away our disgrace so that ‘anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame’ (Romans 10:11) but might be brought to glory as a son or daughter of the living God (Hebrews 2:10).