by Curtis Tucker, author of the coming book Damn Shame
In central Oregon where I live there is a favorite playground for outdoor enthusiasts called Lake Billy Chinook. Lake Billy Chinook has surface area of 3,997 acres (or 46 miles) and a max depth of 415 feet. The lake is fed by three rivers: Crooked River, Deschutes River, and Metolius River. Each river is unique in and of itself, yet the purest of the three is the Metolius. The water of the Metolius River is a pristine aqua blue and is quite a site to see. It is a twenty-nine mile river which begins in two clusters of springs near the base of Black Butte. The water flow is as consistent as its 48 degree Fahrenheit temperature. While all three rivers are brimming with life and are similarly beautiful, the Metolius stands distinct in its purity and beauty.
All three flow into one body of water and become indistinct in and of themselves. The outflow of the three is reduced to one on the other side of Round Butte Dam: the Deschutes River. Not taking anything away from the Crooked or Deschutes rivers, both are beautiful, but both are much warmer than the Metolius so while they are wonderful to look at they are more susceptible to contaminants. The distinctiveness and pristine beauty of the Metolius is lost however in the merging of three rivers.
God’s universal love for all humanity is like the Metolius River, pure and pristine…and constant. Yet God’s love is lost in the merging with another river, the river of shame. Shame is like another river that tends to override the purity of God’s unconditional and universal love. Shame speaks so loudly and so persistently that the message from God that He considers every single human being significant and worthy of love is lost in the vastness of a turbulent current of lies.
There is an occasion in the Bible where Jesus confronted the existence of two rivers in the life of woman He met at a well. (John 4:1-42)
When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, He knew very well that her life was such that the purity of God’s pristine love had been consumed by a river of shame. That river had filled her life like a lake and had drowned out the river of the life of God. She may not have ever even considered the headwaters of her shame, but she knew that she was less than…she was a Samaritan.
She asked Jesus, “How is it that you being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman.” (Jn. 4:9) And John adds the editorial comment in parentheses “(For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans).” She lived her whole life under the lie that God did not take to her kind! She may have blamed her parents who bore her into this “half-breed” race of insignificance. She could have even blamed the Jews who thought they were the only superior choice of God, consequently making her inferior and treating her accordingly. Bottom line, she had been dealt a bad hand and she considered herself unworthy and unlovable. And she was not alone.
The disciples, the ones who had been with Jesus, reveal another angle of shame that was at work in their day when we read “they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman.” (Jn. 2:27) Apparently in a male dominant society, that is a society where men are better and more worthy (and hence woman are not), that was another mark of shame. She was a Samaritan and she was a woman. And if that was not enough, this woman was a floozy! Married five times and now living with a man that was not her husband…she was not measuring up. It is no surprise that she was a bit shocked when Jesus asked her for a drink.
She was a Samaritan.
She was a woman.
She knew it…as did everyone else!
She was a promiscuous woman…a real sinner by the standard of her day.
She lived in darkness.
Shame had completely drowned out the purity of a loving God.
A sociologist or psychologist could have come alongside the woman at the well and offered her some helpful insights to why her behavior and decisions point to a deeper issue of shame. They may have been able to offer some insights as to why she experiences shame or why her parents used shaming techniques to raise her. That sociologist or psychologist may offer some valid exercises to help the woman move away from the shame to more whole-hearted living. But how long will it last? How sure will we ever be on the word of another human being, albeit one with credentials? How convinced will anybody be?
If you want to deal with the source of all shame you have to dam up the river of the lie, and open the floodgates of the river of life: the truth about who God is and how He sees every human being. He is our Creator so His word should carry more weight! Sociological and psychological studies and assistance can be very helpful, but until we deal with the issue of shame at the divine level, we are really only skimming the surface and have yet to unleash the river of life that overflows and leaves our thirst for significance completely quenched!
The Samaritan woman’s shame was sourced in the headwaters of a lie: that God is erratic, selective, and determines worth on the basis of external factors such as origin, upbringing, gender, performance, etc. No doubt her parents fostered the shame by teaching her that she was not as significant as others…even if they were oblivious to the source of their own shame and shaming. Others in her society reinforced the message of shame by isolating her kind, avoiding, and looking down at her. But all roads, or rivers for this matter, trace back to the headwaters of shame: a lie that God is as Satan has made Him out to be.
In contrast, Jesus said there is another river available that is able to not only fill you up but to overflow. That river is the river of life. That river is the life of God, as He truly is: a God who loves all and considers all worthy of His love. The river of life is God’s life, a God who does not pick and choose randomly, nor on the basis of performance, origin, gender, etc. This is the God who “had to go through Samaria” in a day when a Jew would walk miles to avoid it. This is a God who seeks such people to be His worshipers. (Jn. 2:23). This is a God who knows that while salvation is from the Jews…it is and always has been for everyone! (Jn. 2:22).
And guess what? She got the message…as did many others as well. The story ends with a very clear indication that the river of shame had been dammed up and the river of life was flowing…in Samaria. We read, “from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified…” (Jn. 2:39)
Modern research can help us greatly by identifying patterns of behavior that are indicators of the deeper problem of shame, but unfortunately lack a true solution to the source issue. We can tell people that they are significant because they are unique human beings, and they are, but deep down we long for a louder voice to cling to in times of despair; a voice that penetrates deep down and dispels lies…a voice of absolute purity in which we can have confidence. That voice is the voice of our Creator, the one Who made us, the one Who is Truth. His word is truth.(John 17:17) And when He speaks His word to us, and we take it in, it goes deep because it is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of the soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)
No matter how long and accurate sociological or psychological research is, it cannot even begin to match the soul effecting, heart healing word of God. And He says we are significant…each and every one of us: sinners, Samaritans, men, women, children…red, and yellow, black and white we are precious in His sight! This is what our soul longs for…thirsts for.