Despising shame requires a powerful act of imagination, and, unless you have trained for that, you may fail in the moment of trial.
On His journey to Calvary, Jesus received shame—abandoned by disciples, humiliated by soldiers, rejected by the crowd, and despised by Pharisees—yet He declared that shame had no power over Him. It could not steal His joy. That is what it means to despise shame (Heb. 12:1-2).
Although Jesus Himself is the preeminent shame despiser, Hebrews 11:24-26 tells us that Moses did his own share of shame despising, too: “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Moses had to imagine the reward in order to look forward to it. Our imaginative faculty must be functioning properly for us to choose Christ over sin, to despise the shame that will come by identifying with Christ over the comfort of acceptance by friends or family or the culture at large.
But that imaginative capacity does not just happen. It must be trained.
C. S. Lewis believed that imagination was the organ of meaning, the cognitive ability to translate sensory inputs—a word, image, or experience—into something meaningful. If untrained or improperly trained, the imagination will fail us by giving false meaning to some things or failing to imagine what is true. In the pivotal chapter from Perelandra in which the protagonist, Ransom, first grasps the nature and extent to which he must fight evil itself and commits to do it, Lewis identifies “the habit of imaginative honesty” as a key resource that keeps Ransom faithful (Perelandra, p. 122).
Satan’s success in tempting Christians to succumb to peer-pressure and shame depends on a faulty imagination. Only those with a healthy imagination can suppress the horrid images of loneliness or the feeling of dashed hopes. “Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider,” Lewis warns in an address to students, “an outsider you will remain.” But how does one conquer such a fear? Only by imagining himself as an outsider and despising the shame of it.
Moses had to practice such imaginative honesty to see the “pleasures of sin” as “fleeting.” All of this takes practice. We must practice taking our sights off of fleeting pleasures and setting them on the solid, lasting pleasures at Christ’s right hand (Psalm 16). We must fortify our souls against the terrors of being outside and of being ignored (which for some might feel worse than even persecution), and in the moment of trial, it must be habitual or our imaginations will fail us, and we will give in to the temptation.
As I prepare to teach my first group of freshmen at Bethlehem College & Seminary, I feel the great burden of guiding each student’s imaginative faculty. We study the great books because they awaken and train our imaginations, but we do not stop there. We test the truth these books claim in the piercing light of the Greatest Book, which must be the lodestar that guides every act of imagination.
Zach Howard Instructor of Theology & Humanities
1. Please continue to pray for the summer to be refreshing and productive for our students as well as our faculty. These weeks are important for recharging for the coming school year.
2. Please be in prayer for our incoming students. We expect to have a strong class for both the college and seminary. Pray that the Lord would be with them and protect them as they transition to Minneapolis and to their new programs of study, and that God would give our incoming students places to live, jobs to work at, and hearts ready to study these excellencies of Christ.
3. Please pray for our upcoming Faculty and Staff planning days. These are important days of setting the tone for the year and encouraging one another.
4. Please pray that Christ be proclaimed through our students, faculty, and administration as we gear up for the Fall.