Nakedness, Shame, and When Christian Leaders Fail


Noah is one of those Bible characters that we love to tell our children about. We sing songs about the arky, we remake movies based on his life, and we lift him up as one of the early heroes of the faith. And in many ways, he is a hero. But there’s also a part of the story that we tend to leave out.

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father's nakedness.

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” - Genesis 9:20-27

Imagine what that must have been like.

Noah was the man that God chose to start over with and moments after the flood, we witness one of the first moral failures from a leader of God’s people. Noah, who was the only righteous person left, gets off the boat and ends up drunk and naked with the door to his tent flapping around in the wind.

And Ham catches him. And his first instinct after seeing Noah drunk and naked is telling his brothers so that they might see the shame of their father. Imagine… his response to the brokenness of his father reveals the broken of his own heart. He can’t help himself but shine a light on the shame.

The sad truth of our sinful broken world is that our Christian leaders will fall face first into sin. They will fail us. They will hurt us. They will disappoint us. They will hurt friend and family, they will hurt congregations, they will hurt their communities. Because sin makes no exceptions and curves even the most influential and prominent leaders inward on themselves.

Martin Luther in his commentary on Genesis said, “If, then, the saints fall into sin, let us not be offended…remembering…we may suffer what happened to them today.”

When you watch a leader you love fall into sin, you will be hurt. You will be disappointed. You’ll be angry and confused. You may feel betrayed. But in the midst of whatever you feel, remember… “we may suffer what happened to them today.” The moment we believe that it would never happen to us is the moment we are most vulnerable to the same temptations.

Tullian Tchividjian once wrote, "God uses broken and messy people because broken and messy people are all that there are.”  Unfortunately that means sometimes we see all to clearly the mess. Sometimes we see these messy and broken people in their tent with their shame exposed for the world to see.

To all those who have felt exposed with your identity threatened as somebody else sees the mess, consider Noah’s other two sons.

Without even looking at their father’s nakedness, they walk backwards and cover what would bring Noah great shame. The scarring, reputation damaging, embarrassing, identity-threatening moment for Noah gets covered over by the love of his two sons.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus, love walks backwards without even looking at our shameful disobedience and it covers us. The multitude of shameful, disheartening sins are covered by the love of the one who was publicly shamed before men yet rose victorious. And as Jesus put to death our shame, we were given new life and resurrected from the pit of shame.

"God disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Jesus.” - Colossians 2:15

What do we do when someone we love publicly fails? When we are hurt and when we witness the hurting, may we walk backwards and cover over their shame.  May we show the grace and mercy that has been shown to us. When the law kills and reminds us of our shame, may we speak the words of grace that will bring life.

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