We all know shame is a problem. The question is: how do we get rid of it? There’s a lot of people in the missionary world who say that people get rid of their shame by being covered in glory and honour. It’s obvious why they want to say this – if Jesus takes our “shame” and give us his “honour”, then the way we share the Gospel doesn’t really need to change very much to speak to the needs of the shamed. I’ve never been convinced that this is how we deal with shame in the real world. (I think we deal with shame by death, either real or symbolic.)
But then something happened yesterday which made me think I might be wrong: Steve Smith got a century.
I use Steve Smith, the former Australian cricket captain who was dismissed for ball-tampering, as an example to help us understand the difference between guilt and shame:
What Steve Smith did was wrong. So why did the headline in The Australian newspaper that day read “SMITH’S SHAME”? When do we talk about shame and when do we talk about guilt?
In the article about “Smith’s Shame”, the Australian Prime Minister was quoted as saying that “our cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play”, while the head of the Australian Sports Commission said that “this is about the values that Australian sport and Australian teams represent and stand for.”
“This is about values.” On the one hand, Steve Smith tampered with the ball; but that wasn’t actually what people talked about. Again and again, what people emphasised was that he didn’t represent the values that he was expected to. His “shame” came from the fact that he did not live up to what it meant to be a good cricket captain, or a good Australian. It wasn’t about what he did; it was about who he was.“Telling guilt from shame”
Yesterday at Edgbaston, Smith walked out to bat to the sound of boos from the crowd. England fans waved pieces of sandpaper in the air to mock him. But after a wonderful display of cricket, he left the ground to applause from all sides. Is this an example of a glorious redemption over shame? I’m not the only one to wonder this:
How to describe Smith’s hundred here? The temptation will be there to linger on his ban over the ball-tampering incident, to see some kind of cheese-laden personal redemption, and no doubt that is part of the drama for Smith and for those around him.“Steve Smith enters as the pantomime villain, but departs a hero” – Guardian Sportsblog
Sport loves this kind of ham storyline. Does one really speak to the other? Does brilliance with the bat redeem a shabby, ludicrously over-censured piece of poor sportsmanship? Does it matter either way? What is certain is that Smith produced an act of pure sporting will here, achieved while appearing more furiously Steve Smith than Steve Smith has ever been before. England might yet struggle to recover.
Mighty deeds seem to have turned Steve Smith back into a hero again. But I wonder if he will remain one, what the judgment of history will be on him – will he be remembered as the man who scored a test century, or the man who tampered with the ball?
I suspect that, in the long run it will be the cheating that defines him. My feeling is that unless we dispose of shame, no amount of glory can cover it over. What do you think? Does this redeem his reputation and “pay off his debt” – or will he still be remembered for his disgrace more than his glory?