Aren’t You Ashamed? A Quick Thought on Saving Face


There were many instances from my days of growing up under the moss-laced cypress trees of southern Louisiana that I would be asked by my father or my mother, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” Most of the time, I was not. I was only “ashamed” of getting caught.  Shame is not an emotion we naturally embrace.

I was reminded of our natural desire to avoid shame when I visited China this past summer. It is well documented by missiologists that the oriental cultures in general and Chinese people in particular value “saving face.”  They do not wish to be ashamed. Thus, missionaries learn to tweak their gospel language and tailor their ministry work to avoid shaming the very people they hope to serve.

My reminder came as we tried to order our lunch. We had scoured the streets of Guilin, looking for the best local Shame in Chinese culture saving facerestaurant to explore authentic Chinese cuisine.  When we saw little swimming pools filled with living squid, eel, snakes, turtles, crawfish, and spoon-billed catfish, we knew this was the restaurant for us. If nothing else, the food would certainly be fresh.

Once seated, we began perusing the menu for our palate-pleasing entrees. Delighted, we pointed to the giant bowl of fried rice.  After all, there is a limit to how many noodles a human can eat, and we had eclipsed that limit. Unfortunately, after a flurry of language negotiations with our waiter, we were informed that the restaurant did not have rice–only noodles. Why then was there a picture of a very large, very inviting bowl of fried rice on the menu?

Our waiter was in crisis at the question. He could either be embarrassed and admit the false advertising, or he could attempt a perverted defense of the picture in order to save face.  Choosing the latter course, he replied to our inquisition that the picture of rice is used to show that the restaurant serves noodles.  As contorted and inexplicable as this explanation was, it was his explanatory attempt to save face.

Missiologists in China are pleased to report on the saving face impetus in oriental culture. But, really, Chinese people avoiding shame are no different from American people avoiding shame. When we say, “It’s not my fault”; or “I didn’t mean to”; or “What’s the big deal”; or when we say, “I’m sorry if anyone were offended…”; Are we not doing the same thing as the Chinese waiter? Are we not simply seeking to save face and avoid shame? All these statements are simply different berries from the same diseased plant called “avoiding shame.”

In fact, this natural tendency to save face by avoiding shame goes back to Adam’s finger in the Garden of Eden. When God called Adam to account for sin, Adam responded with “that woman that you gave me, she…” (Genesis 3).  Rather than humbling himself before the Holy One, Adam pointed the finger directly at Eve and (indirectly) back at God.  It’s easier to blame someone else than it is to be ashamed of ourselves, isn’t it?

How have you seen this saving face tendency in yourself and others? What are some other examples I’ve missed? I hope we all will be humbled and accept our part of the blame and, even more, Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.

Why the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?


Recently, a friend and brother in Christ bombarded me with a dozen or so questions pertaining to aspects of the Christian faith which have recently been puzzling him.  I asked and received permission from him to post my responses here on this blog, thinking that if he has these questions, then others may have them also. So, I will be posting his questions and my responses in the coming days, hoping to help and encourage him and you. Feel free to add your responses and to send in your questions as well.

QUESTION 1

Why Did God Choose to Put the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden?

Interesting question. The smart aleck in me wants to answer, “Where else would you want Him to put them?”  But I know better than to mock an honest question!  Besides, we will see in just a moment that the two trees had to be at the center of the Garden.

If I understand the question rightly, then you are asking something like, “Why tempt Adam and Eve like this?”  Why is there both a tree of life and a tree of knowledge of good and evil?

I think the answer is simply profound. God takes ordinary elements and speaks profound life lessons through them (think of Jesus with bread and wine).  The two trees are named.  Notice the difference in the names.  The one is the tree of life, but the other is not the tree of death.  These two trees do not represent two ways to life; they only represent one way to live.  In other words, the two trees are not opposites.  Adam and Eve could not be tempted with death.  They had no desire for death, no appetite for death.  So, the second tree in the Garden is not the tree of death; it is the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Why is this important? It underscores the nature of God, the nature of Adam and Eve, and the nature of the Fall.  Adam, Eve, and all of creation were created by God and declared “very good” (Gn 1:31).  Adam and Eve were not stuck in neutral, deciding whether to live or die. They weren’t caught in the balance between sinning and not sinning.  They were, in fact, good.  They were walking in fellowship with God.  They would not have been tempted to murder each other like their offspring were.  That would have been contrary to their natures.

However, it would not have been contrary to their natures to become more god-like.  They had a right desire for fellowship with God.  Therefore, becoming more god-like suited them like breast milk suits the nursing infant.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented an increase in knowledge, an increase in wisdom, and an increase in understanding more of what God understood.  Surely, God Himself possessed infinite knowledge of good and evil.  So, for Adam and Eve to learn more of the knowledge God possessed would have been “natural” to them.

By nature, Adam and Eve would have been drawn to pursuing knowledge which would make them know more of what God knows.  And yet, this increase in knowledge was not good for them.  They knew that because God told them that it was not good for them.  He spoke a command against their partaking of the fruit from this tree.  So, in effect, Adam and Eve’s temptation came disguised in the form of two different good choices, each of which was according to their nature: Obeying God or seeking knowledge.

Adam and Eve had been given the responsibility of ruling over creation.  They needed knowledge suitable for the task.  They needed to understand animals and agriculture.  They needed to understand water, nutrients, harvests, and horticulture.  They needed to stay hungry for knowledge.  So, they were obviously able to be tempted through this otherwise good aspect of their nature as lords over creation.

They did not need the knowledge of evil in order to accomplish the work God had given them.  They could have had a very fruitful life (literally!) by tending the Garden and enjoying fellowship with God.  They needed knowledge, for sure, but they did not need the knowledge of evil. Instead, what they needed more than anything else was to depend upon the living God.  So, the first tree God gave them was the Tree of Life (Gn 2:9).  If they had eaten of that tree, continuing to rely upon God for their very lives, they would have lived.

Instead, they ate of the forbidden tree which instantly gave them the knowledge of evil (namely, their own!).  They immediately learned of their nakedness.  They were immediately ashamed.  And they immediately had the sentence of death hanging upon them.  Instantly, they went from being alive to needing salvation.  The instant one forgets his dependence upon his creator, he stands in desperate need of a redeemer.

So, the answer to your question is that God put the two trees in the center of the Garden of Eden to proclaim the central truth to Adam and Eve (and to all humankind) that He alone is the creator and sustainer of life.  In addition, the Lord used the two trees further to display His unspeakable mercy.  Even after Adam and Eve rebelled against Him and unleashed on themselves the curse of death, still, God acted mercifully toward them, sending them out of the Garden and sealing it off before they could eat of the Tree of Life.  If they had eaten of the Tree of Life after they partook of the forbidden tree, they would likely have sealed the death sentence on humankind forever.  God’s purpose was not to allow that; instead, God had purposed from the beginning to provide salvation.  So, he removed them from the Garden.

On a final note, God planted both trees in the center of the Garden to make known His glory to all humankind.  He did not need to “wait and see” what would happen with Adam and Eve.  He knew before they were created how it would all turn out.  Thus, his choice of the trees was not coincidental.  He ordered all of it so that His glory would be revealed—even through the sinfulness of Adam and Eve.

God put the two trees in the middle of the Garden—the central focal point of all creation.  The two trees stood at the center of the universe.  Life flowed forth throughout the rest of creation from this very central point (see Gn 2:10-14).  At the center of creation was the single question, “Who is God?”  A very close question, related to the first, was, “Who is man?”  These two questions were hanging in the air like ripened fruit on two different trees in the midst of the Garden of Eden.  Both questions were quickly answered in the Fall.  As it turns out, God is holy, just, and merciful.  Man is sinful, under a curse, and in need of redemption.  That, I believe, is why God put the two trees in the midst of Eden. To answer the two most basic questions of life.