Proverbs 12:16

Proverbs 12:16 "A fool's wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame."
Proverbs 12:16 Bible-Believing Church Buffalo NY
The Bible is full of a particular word that our Western culture hasn’t broadly implemented until recently.  This proverb contains that word and because our culture hasn’t emphasized this word, it’s easy for Western Christians to overlook the importance of this and other proverbs that use the word.  The word is SHAME.  Western cultures are very different from Eastern cultures in many ways but especially as it pertains to morality.  Western cultures are Guilt Cultures while Eastern cultures are Shame or Honor Cultures.  In our Western world, morality is determined by our own sense of guilt or innocence.  In the Eastern world, morality is determined by how a community feels about a person.  In the Western world, a person feels guilty when we do something wrong.  In the Eastern world, a person feels guilty when the community disapproves of them.  Shame is used in the Eastern world to deter what they feel is immoral and unacceptable.  This is why mock funerals are held in certain non-Christian communities for those who convert to Christianity.  This is why public stoning and public whipping are used to punish evil.  Shame was and is used on a much larger scale in Eastern cultures than it is in Western cultures.

This is the most definitely the culture in which the majority of the Bible was written.  Judaism clearly implemented shame as a deterrent for evil.  By the time Jesus’ ministry began, shame clearly remained a cultural component as evidenced by the account of the adulteress woman in John 8.  While more prevalent in Eastern cultures, shame is not a cultural phenomenon – it is a human phenomenon.  Some cultures may employ its deterring qualities more than other cultures but shame is a part of the social structure of humanity.  When a kindergartener accidently urinates in class, he is NATURALLY ASHAMED.  When God created us, He gave each of us two natural deterrents to evil – a conscience and society.  The conscience is the internal deterrent to evil and society is the external deterrent to evil.  When we privately do something wrong, our conscience makes us uncomfortable.  When we publicly do something wrong, society is supposed to make us uncomfortable.  When we privately do evil, the conscience makes it uncomfortable to be around ourself.  When we publicly do evil, society is supposed to make it uncomfortable to be around people.  A community full of consciences is supposed to look at a person doing evil with a sense of disapproval, which then brings SHAME.
 
Shame is healthy when and only when it is the result of disobeying God’s word.  Many communities and cultures base their shame on unholy and ungodly standards, as is the unfortunate trend here in America.  This is why Paul told his son in the faith, “Be NOT thou therefore ASHAMED of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8).  For most of the Bible, shame is written within the context of a healthy and holy deterrent in an Eastern culture.  Paul told the Thessalonians, “If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ASHAMED (2 Thessalonians 3:14).  He also told Timothy to “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needed NOT to be ASHAMED (2 Timothy 2:15).  John wrote, “Little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and NOT be ASHAMED before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28).  Biblically-speaking, shame is something we’re supposed to respect and ultimately, avoid.  While hanging on the cross, Jesus Christ didn’t disregard the shame of a sinner’s death – He “DESPISED the SHAME” according to Hebrews 12:2.

This Ancient Eastern Shame Culture is the context of Solomon’s proverbs.  A man or woman who doesn’t have a healthy respect for the shame that accompanies evil is a fool.  The husband who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of how he talks to his wife is a fool.  The woman who doesn’t care what her children think of how she treats her husband is a fool.  The father who doesn’t care if everyone in his world thinks he is cruel to his children is a fool.  The mother who doesn’t care of if everyone in her world thinks she is pampering her children is a fool.  A fool doesn’t hide his wrath – it’s “PRESENTLY KNOWN.”  A fool lets his private problems become public problems very quickly.  A fool does nothing to get his anger under control.  Everyone knows his immoral behavior because he doesn’t do anything to change it.  A fool learns to silence his conscience and ignorantly disregards SHAME as a deterrent for his foolishness.

On the other hand, a prudent man by definition and by precise virtue can see down the road.  This man realizes that if he doesn’t get his private wrath under control, it will become public and visible wrath.  The threat of being known as an angry man motivates him to deal with his sin.  Sensitive to his conscience and fearful of shame, the prudent man gives urgent attention to his vice in order to eradicate it from his life.  A prudent man isn’t a perfect man but he is most definitely a proactive man.  A prudent man still has moral struggles and sinful tendencies but the real potential of shame motivates him to deal with those sinful tendencies with urgency.  When he sins, he confesses and forsakes that sin.  When he falls, he rises up again.  When he messes up, he gets cleaned up.  When he hurts someone, he apologizes to that person.
 
Because our Western culture is not a Shame Culture, we don’t fully understand this and other proverbs.  It would be easy for us to see this virtue as a vain one, concluding that “covering shame” is a path to hypocrisy and to a lack of authenticity.  Solomon doesn’t speak of “covering” shame as hiding shame as much as deterring shame.  This may be best understood when comparing it with the language of Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.”  Just as hatred stirreth up trouble, foolishness brings shame and just as love keeps past offences from surfacing, prudence keeps shame from surfacing.  A prudent man keeps shame from coming out of his life by foreseeing the damage present sins could become if he doesn’t deal with them now.  Shame is feared by a prudent man, not because of vanity or pride but because of the presence of obvious uncontrollable sin.  

Paul communicated perfectly the prudent mindset of a virtuous man in 1 Corinthians 9:27 when he wrote, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”  Deal with your private sins while they can be dealt with because public sins are hard to overcome.   

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