In Western culture, seniority is no protection against criticism - indeed it often seems to invite it! But in the part of southeast Asia where we live, people are very careful to show respect to their seniors. They avoid open disagreement and there is a keen sense of offence at any perceived slight. People feel that social harmony and order are best maintained through the giving and receiving of honour. Shame and honour are way more significant than guilt and innocence. The idea of the seriousness of sin as an objective fact is not readily understood and introducing a rule of law is fraught with difficulty. Disobeying a rule is not seen as a big deal, but the discovery of socially unacceptable behaviour is considered shameful.
So, we’ve been reconsidering the gospel from this perspective of honour and shame. As a transition between the accounts of Eve’s creation and the Fall, Genesis states ‘Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame’ (2:25). The first human experience of shame is after eating the forbidden fruit — Adam and Eve are uncomfortably aware of their nakedness and immediately set about covering themselves up (3:7). Their fig leaf clothing isn’t sufficient for the task though, as they also choose to hide among the trees when they hear the Lord’s approach (3:8). In the story’s conclusion, describing their expulsion from the garden of Eden, we read ‘The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them’ (3:21) from which we can infer the first sacrificial death. An animal has been killed to supply them with adequate covering. God made provision for their sense of shame.
Genesis itself describes the Fall with reference to the concept of shame, but we could also retell the story in terms of God’s honour. In choosing to eat the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve have shown utter disrespect to God as their creator and ruler. As Genesis 1 and 2 show, God has shown them great generosity and given them special status as image-bearers with the authority to manage the rest of creation. Prompted by the snake, they have called into question the truth of his words and the validity of his rule. This is deeply dishonouring to God and fatally damages their relationship with him.
Where we live, showing honour to one’s parents is a key responsibility and, to an extent, defines the upright. This is founded on the debt owed to parents for one’s very life, let alone their provision and care from birth to adulthood. Describing our offence against God in these terms may resonate more with our listeners as we explain the eternal provision God has made for us all.
This blog is taken from an article in the Crosslinks magazine. These mission partners are part of a small multicultural team with the twin goals of reaching out to Muslims and equipping local believers to do the same.
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