In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Eph. 1:7-10
The week after Easter we ought to reflect on what it means that Christ took away our guilt and shame. Western political tradition teaches us guilt through its rich legal tradition. On the other hand, Eastern political scenes can educate our western culture on the necessity of shame, which we have forgotten.
In America, a politics of denial reigns. Glibly we can observe that Saturday Night Live would not be iconographic unless, from time to time, our politicians avowed that they were not crooks. The problem occurs when “guilty until proven innocent” means, “I’m only bad if the law and officer catches me.” While the Western tradition has marvelously demonstrated that there is a standard that measures right and wrong and good and bad, too often we abuse it. That is why we disdain those who only feel bad because “they got caught.”
While Western politics appreciates the need for an external standard to structure our law, Eastern politics can educate our nation in the shame, which we have forgotten how to feel. When scandal hits in a shame-driven culture, people who have had no relation to the event may even apologize, retire from service, or pay penance in radical ways. Sin can be imputed before it is committed. This respect for shame affirms necessary things for our culture to hear. It tells us we can be wrong even if no one has written down how or why. Those individuals who spend their life looking for loopholes in the system demonstrate why it is so necessary for the law on the heart, rather than the law in the book, to govern our actions.
While the West may question this kind of principle for governing society, it is defensible. In many ways, shame happens when a relationship between a person and his family or his government becomes disturbed. Shame exists before the crime is proven because the simple appearance of wrong-doing undermines trust between individuals in their relationship. While in the West we immediately sense the “unfairness” of someone suffering for what they did not do, the number of active politicians on their fifth or sixth scandal should cause us pause on whether our law-guilt measuring rod apprehends the world as it should.
Moving from the political to the personal sphere, people all around the world oscillate between feelings of guilt and shame. The universal is that all we all feel that we have failed to measure up to the standard we have set for ourselves.
Easter enters the brokenness that both Eastern and Western cultures groan to express. In Christ’s death, his blood accomplishes the law’s requirement for the forgiveness of sins. Christ takes the rightful guilt of the law (Western culture’s emphasis). By his resurrection and redemption, Christ restores the relationship between all people (Eastern culture’s emphasis).
Christ’s rule that unites all things brings together Eastern and Western cultures by satisfying guilt and overcoming shame in a kingdom where the Holy Spirit rules in the hearts of men. Let us be guided in these principles in the kingdom of this world even as its hope causes us to wait for a “better city” (Hebrews 11).
Luke Wagner teaches third and fourth grade at Veritas Classical Academy. He is completing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Masters College in California.