“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
Nobody likes feeling embarrassed do they? We all have those moments when we just want the ground to swallow us up or wish we could press life’s imaginary undo button.
The trouble is, there is something inherently embarrassing about the Christian message. We believe in a personal God who created and remains personally and intimately involved with the world. We believe in a crucified saviour, who died in abject shame. Then we go and claim that he physically rose again and remains alive today. In a 21st century western society that simply doesn’t get “not-embarrassing.”
Then there are the moral and ethical entailments of wanting to live by submitting to God as King. There’s the inescapable exclusivity of the claims of Christ; “there is no other name under heaven by which you must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the biblical view of sex, gender, marriage, the beginning of life etc. Again, in a so-called ‘enlightened’ society those things simply don’t become not-embarrassing.
None of this is surprising, though. Paul knew it when he wrote 1 Corinthians. The gospel of Jesus is foolishness to the world’s ears.
But nobody likes to feel embarrassed do they?
Embarrassment takes all kinds of forms. Social embarrassment is probably the most common, but also the easiest to overcome. It can often be laughed off and makes for good ‘most embarrassing moment’ stories later.
The embarrassment of losing respectability can affect us much more deeply. Lose academic, professional, or moral respectability and we lose influence, position and credibility.
This has actually been an issue for God’s people since long before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, and certainly ever since. It was there when Israel asked for a king to be like the other nations. “How could any nation take us seriously without a king? It’s just embarrassing not to have one!”
And it’s certainly still a problem today. I wonder how much of our gospel-proclamation, how many of our responses to ‘issues of the day’ are deeply influenced by it? We might even try to convince ourselves that it’s all for the good of the gospel; “no one would listen to us if we don’t have any credibility.” So, we do our best to flag up our academic, or social-moral credentials, and avoid embarrassment.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t point out that we have good foundations for what we think and believe. I’m well-aware that Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship a number of times, which among other things, did aid his credibility.
But I suspect we would do well to watch our motives when we speak, write, tweet or post on Facebook. I’m realising I need ask how the desire to avoid embarrassment and maintain respectability influences what I say about what issue, to whom and why.
And then there's transferred embarrassment. Which of us hasn't had the experience of being embarrassed by the actions of someone else? Usually it's someone we love dearly, but wish wouldn't dance like that, or tell jokes like those, or talk about that topic in those terms. Of course as a Dad I know there are moments when the embarrassment of others can produce an odd sort of pleasure(!) but usually feeling discomfort because someone else is walking into the conversational hole they don't seem to be able to see coming is like watching a car-crash in slow motion. Excruciating.
And the thing is, we Christians are part of an embarrassing family. Every single other member of your Christian family believes deeply embarrassing things. Of course you know that, because you believe embarrassing things too. But then, some of them express themselves in clumsy ways and the cringe factor is enormous.
When my kids are (sometimes but not always deliberately) embarrassed by me in public there's an instinctive reaction: "move away and pretend he's not with me!" And I reckon if we're honest with ourselves that's a reaction we've each had to members of our Christian family at certain times isn't it? "I'm not with them. They don't speak for me."
Again, don't get me wrong, it's important that we carefully help one another to express ourselves and the truth of the gospel of Christ as well as we possibly can. Clumsiness sometimes is just that, and can be sharpened. Error sometimes is genuine error in need of correction.
But sometimes we would do far better to simply get behind that embarrassing brother or sister who has spoken truth, even if we wouldn't have expressed it in quite the same way. Far too often our responses to one another even in public amount to moving away, pointing and saying "I'm not with them!"
Because, in the end we won’t be able to avoid it. The gospel of our crucified and risen saviour is the greatest news in the universe, but to other ears, it’s also the most embarrassing. Yet the only hope they have is to keep hearing that embarrassing truth which points the way...
Onwards, to glory!