The Scars of Christ and the Shame of Man

Sin and shame are not the same. Quite often, we readily receive the grace that takes away our sins but struggle to grasp the resurrection power that also wipes away our shame.

The very first thing that the risen Christ did when he met with all his disciples was to show them the scars on his hands and side (John 12:19-20).

But why? There are two questions here that beg an answer.

First, why did Jesus show them his scars? But more importantly, why did the risen Christ even have scars?

Is not the new resurrected body a glorified body, totally free from the pain and limitations of the old?

So why did the risen Christ still have scars?

The Song of the Scars

The first question is easily answered. Jesus showed his disciples his scars so that they would see, understand, and believe that he did not rise again merely as a spirit. He rose again physically, in bodily form.

Jesus invited Thomas to not only see his scars, but to also touch and feel the scars so that he would be convinced of Christ’s bodily resurrection (John 20:27).

The bodily resurrection of Christ is a crucial doctrine. It gives a bodily shape to our hope of eternal life.

But there are other reasons why God did not smooth out the scars when he raised Christ from the dead.

Yes, the scars remain to remind us of the excruciating pain Christ endured on the cross. He was whipped, scourged, beaten, bruised, nailed, and finally perhaps asphyxiated to death.

But, to bring into focus the central idea of this article, the scars of Christ remain to also remind us of the shame of Christ. For it is only his shame that can fully wipe away ours.

People spat on the son of God (Matt 26:67). Christ was slapped across his face (Matt 26:67). He was verbally mocked and insulted (Matt 27:28–29). He was stripped of all his clothes before he was mounted on the cross (Matt 27:28). And, as he hung there naked, in the throes of a cruel, despicable death, passers-by insulted and shamed him some more.

The son of God was shamed, but not for his failures, for he had none. He was shamed for ours.

The scars of Christ also speak of the shame of Christ.

The risen Christ still carries his scars so we can see that he is not ashamed of the what he endured for our sake.

Because Christ does not hide his scars of shame, we no longer need to hide in our shame.

The Anatomy of Shame

Scars almost always carry shame.

Most teenagers are ashamed of the scars left by their pimples.

Many young mothers, even though their joy of childbirth is great, still look down at the stretch scars of their pregnancy and feel shame.

The scars of Christ also speak of the shame of Christ.

A warrior may show off his scars with pride, but only if he is alive. How can a warrior boast of his scars, if he died from his wounds?

Shame is a deep and fundamental reality of the fallen human condition. It is also the most debasing part of the fallen human experience.

Not sickness, not poverty, not losing a job, not even hunger or thirst—nothing makes us cringe more than shame.

Deep inside, we are all afraid of being shamed. The fear of shame is one of our strongest motivators in life.

All of our past shame is perhaps shaping how we live in the present. Shame is as adamant as it is unyielding.

Shame also makes us pretend—leaving us smiling on the outside, but wincing inside. Many who are not ‘strong enough’ or foolish enough to pretend, will withdraw and hide.

Either way—through pretension or withdrawal—shame will disconnect us from God and from gospel community. 

All of us experience three forms of shame. 

Personal shame. This is inside out. It is what we feel on our own.

Social shame. This is outside in. It is what others make us feel.

Theological shame. This is downward up. We feel ashamed because we have failed God (Gen 3:9-10).

The Downward Spiral of Shame

Shame is the opposite of faith. 

When we sin, faith helps us run to Christ and to gospel community. Shame chases us away from both.

This is what shame did to Adam and Eve. This is what shame does to us, still.

Shame is dangerous for the soul.

In her book, Unashamed: Healing our Brokenness and Finding Freedom From Shame, Heather Nelson, offers helpful insights into the downward spiral of shame.

Firstly, shame, when left unaddressed, can leave us feeling deeply unworthy and insecure. 

Secondly, we are ashamed not only for our sins. We often also feel shame when others sin against us. 

When parents keep fighting or break up, a child will very often feel shame for it even though he or she was not at fault.

When we sin, faith helps us run to Christ and to gospel community. Shame chases us away from both.

A victim of sexual abuse has committed no sin. But most victims will very likely be haunted by shame from such incidents even though they did no wrong.

Thirdly, many people who feel shame will very likely also perpetrate their shame on to others.

A mother who is ashamed of her body, will overly criticize her child’s eating and clothing choices passing on body shame from one generation to another. 

Shame can linger for a lifetime.

Countless Dalits in India’s villages, who are still feeling deep shame for no fault of their own, offer evidence that shame can perpetuate itself for generations.

His Scars Sing Healing to Our Shame

Sin and shame are not the same. Even though we often paint the two with the same brush, they are distinct from each other.

Shame is deeper than sin. For shame can linger even when sin is forgiven.

Quite often, we readily receive the grace that takes away the guilt of our sin. But the shame of our sin may still torment us.

Shame is also distinct from guilt.

The opposite of guilt is innocence. The opposite of shame is honour. 

Forgiveness can wash clean the stains of our sin and guilt. But we need more than forgiveness to be freed from shame. We need honour. We need glory.

The resurrection of Christ frees us from shame in two ways.

Shame is deeper than sin. For shame can linger even when sin is forgiven.

Firstly, because the risen Christ is unashamed to carry his scars of shame, all of our shame is also undone. 

Secondly, with the scars, his resurrection also points us to the glorious body we too will receive upon his return.  His resurrection points us to the coming beauty and glory of us, the church, his bride.

This gives us honour. It gives us glory.

If the death of Christ removes our sins, the resurrection of Christ wipes away our shame.

The gospel promises us more than mere forgiveness. It promises us glory. Nothing less can remove our shame.

But what about our scars? Like Christ, will we also carry our scars into eternal life?

I think not.

The scars we have are the scars of our sins. The scars on his body are the scars of redemption.

Our scars testify to our brokenness. They must go. His scars testify to his redemption. They will remain forever.

This makes me wonder: in the eternal life to come, will Christ be the only man (God-man) with scars?

If this turns out to be true, that will make us worship him even more.