Pride and Shame: Strongholds of the Self-Centered Soul

Strongholds of pride and shame can keep us wandering aimlessly through a desert of unrest leading to confusion, anxiety, depression and despair. This article is a series of proverbial insights into these strongholds.

Pride is an “alternative god” designer. It is the most common attribute of character relied upon by man for the fashioning of other gods.

Pride is not patient, it is not kind. It does envy, it does boast; for it is – pride. It is rude, it is self-seeking, it is easily angered, and it keeps records of all wrongs. Pride rejoices in evil and avoids the truth. It protects for selfish reasons, it cannot afford to trust, it is its own hope, and it perseveres only for personal gain. (Compare to love in 1 Cor. 13:4-7)

Man’s first sin was pridefully self-centered. Man’s first reaction to his sin was shame. Shame is also self-centered. Just like pride, its central focus is self. “When we were self-centered, the sinful passions aroused through the law were at work in all the parts of our body, so that we bore fruit for death.” Romans7:5

Pride is self-centered. But persistent shame can also be self-centered. Long-lasting shame often legitimizes its self-centered focus by promoting one’s victim status. Thus, just like pride, its central focus is self. Pride promotes self. Shame demotes self. But both are increases to self-centeredness. To demote oneself is not to decrease oneself. It is simply a different, though negative, self-centered view of oneself.

Shame insinuates to the vulnerable; “Sure, Jesus died on the cross for you, but don’t you still feel unworthy?” Then pride exhorts, “Therefore, you must rely on past accomplishments, the work you are now doing, or what you are able to accomplish in the future to feel acceptable to yourself.”

Pride encourages us to rely upon personal performance to overcome unpleasant feelings of shame. Then, as we are gratified, shame is covered over for a time.  – Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. Psalm 34:4

Where there is much pridefulness, there is powerful judgment:
“On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, ‘This is the voice of a god, not of a man.’ Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:21-23)

But, where there is little pridefulness, there is powerful grace:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:32-33)

Unrepentant pride and shame are often circular allies. When shame is tired of its suffering, it turns to pride for relief. When pride’s shallowness is exposed, it often turns to shame for absolution. Thus, they perpetuate one another and cause a spiritual blindness regarding true repentance.

Shame is a great impetus for both action and inaction.  Shame can bully a person to works requiring tremendous effort or intimidate a soul to virtual impotence.

Shame resides in the relative safety of relational isolation. By avoiding intimate relationships, shame shields a person from the fear of further rejection. But, by avoiding intimate relationship it can also shield that person from apprehending the healing power of God’s unconditional love.

Shame and pride are like a dog and a cat. They both determinedly desire to be stroked.

Pride and shame are fraternal twins. Though they do not look alike, they were born one right after the other. Pride was the firstborn, then came its inevitable brother, shame (Gen 3:1-10).

Shame is sometimes the primary method of establishing religion. When this happens, pride is the governing body of that religion.

Pride led religious leaders to want to kill Jesus (Mark 11:18). In order to flourish, pride must conquer what it perceives as competition.

And yet, it was also pride that caused men to want to raise Him up as King of Israel (John 6:15)! But Jesus resisted them. Jesus knew the method by which He must be lifted up in the eyes of men (Jesus predicts His death in John 3:14-15). Scripture tells us that Jesus “would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men” (John 2:24).

Self-centeredness is the captain of the ship christened Pride and Shame. “Sink or swim” is its motto. Through stormy seas, it endlessly sails. It has no home port, where it may rest from the winds of selfish determination.

Shame is a thief, stealing the treasure of life from a person.

The rich may have pride and the poor may have shame, but each is merely vanity. They are both mirrors used to gaze upon one’s self.

An attitude of worldly shame denies the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and is in direct conflict with the proclamation of scripture:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1,2).

Pride looks for who’s watching. Shame watches for who’s looking. But both are in bondage to the opinions of others.

Pride and shame are like merry-go-round horses; one goes up and the other goes down, but they both keep going round and round.

Pride and shame are the natural bodyguards of the unrepentant soul. They will do whatever is necessary to protect the unrepentant soul from healthy change.

Chronic shame is like a tree with many roots underground, but slender trunk and very few branches above the surface. Persistent pride is like a great tree with long branches reaching upward from a portly trunk, but very little root structure. The wind comes and blows mightily against the shame tree. Some dead branches are blown off, but the roots remain firmly entrenched. Then the strong wind comes and blows against the pride tree. The whole tree comes crashing down, with its shallow roots exposed for all the world to see.
Which tree is more resistant to the Spirit of God? The one that displays itself boldly to the world or the one that hides itself safely beneath the surface?

Jesus chose to bear the shame for our past sins by dying on the cross. It is no longer available to us. Jesus ordered the entire supply for His own use. He’s keeping it all for Himself. He’s not sharing. You can’t have any. If you have some, you’ve stolen it from Jesus. Give it back. It’s not yours.

Pride is a whip in the hands of the arrogant. Shame is a shovel in the hands of the willing victim. The willing victim digs an emotional hole, too deep to climb out, then jumps in. The arrogant, prideful one lashes the willing victim for jumping into the hole. The willing victim accepts the lashing as appropriate and deserved. The arrogant, prideful one leans back and smiles in satisfaction.

It is easy to see that having much pride is shameful. But what is often hidden from our sight is that having much shame can be prideful. The person with much shame often believes that harboring a sufficiently large quantity of shame is a necessary self-punishment before God (and others) and a means by which he might earn some degree of personal acceptance. In this way, his shame has become a self-determining, self-dependent, work of atonement denying the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for his sins. This is pride.

Shame denies light to the dark places within the soul. The soul cannot grow without the light. Shame denies air to the empty places within the soul. The soul can not breathe without the air. Shame denies water to the dry places within the soul. The soul can not live without the water. Shame denies while the soul dies.

Pride is a source of false hope. But Shame is a source of false hopelessness.

Shame is like a flower that grows up out of the ground and then refuses to bloom in the sunlight. But place it in the shade and it will open.

When we are proud of our children, is it because they did something better than someone else’s children? When we are proud of our jobs, is it because we do our jobs better than someone else? When we are proud of our community, is it because we believe our community is better than someone else’s community? If we need to feel better by comparing ourselves to others, is it really because we are better than them?

Worldly shame is an active rejection of God’s forgiveness of us through Christ based on feelings of personal unworthiness. If you have rejected God’s forgiveness, whose worthiness have you really rejected, yours or Christ’s?

It is not easy to stop being prideful and it is not easy to stop being ashamed. The way to stop being prideful is not by being ashamed, and the way to stop being ashamed is not by being prideful. Both are overcome by humility. And humility is appropriated by submission to the Spirit of God.

It is sin to believe pride and shame’s definition of ourselves. It is righteous to believe God’s definition of ourselves.

In the end, shame will be the great equalizer for those that are unrepentantly prideful.




Copyright © 2000 by R. Thomas Brass
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