The Arab Muslim lives in a group-oriented context where vertical relationships are predominant. Daily living becomes a question of navigating successfully through the uncharted water that lies between honour and shame.
Western cultures live more in an individual context and tend to cohere around concepts of law and guilt, rather than loyalty and shame. A strictly Law-based, guilt-oriented expression of the gospel may be proper within Western cultures, but it doesn’t make the most sense for cultures that work by different convictions.
In the OT, the book of Jeremiah graphically expresses what ‘sin’ means, in terms of shame. Words are used like dishonour, disgrace, blush, derision, hiss or phrases implying shame like ‘lift up your skirts’.
The point of shame in Jeremiah’s prophecy is that the OT people of God have abandoned their loyalty to Yahweh, the God of their ancestors. They are engaging in every type of open sin including idolatry and yet they are denying that anything is really wrong because they are still offering sacrifices at the temple. Jeremiah declares that Israel has become shameless —
That’s why even the spring rains have failed.
For you are a brazen prostitute and completely shameless.
Yet you say to me,
‘Father, you have been my guide since my youth.
Surely you won’t be angry forever!
Surely you can forget about it!’
So you talk,
but you keep on doing all the evil you can.” – Jeremiah 3:3-5
— even though they are for sure breaking the law and are guilty of lawlessness.
One clear expression of repentance comes out in the book. It is that of Ephraim, and it occurs after the judgement of God has begun to fall on the inhabitants of Jerusalem. some of the leaders of the people are already in exile and God detects the inklings of sorrow among them —
I turned away from God,
but then I was sorry.
I kicked myself for my stupidity!
I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.’ Jeremiah 31:19
Repentance is expressed in terms of the recognition of shame and disgrace. That is why, in this chapter, the grounds are laid for a new relationship in a new covenant.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Jeremiah 31:33
The recovery is promised in terms of a renewal of kinship.
In sharing the gospel with Arabs and other Muslims who work within honour and or shame concepts, it will surely help if we learn to read our own faith from within those constructs. They may have the mechanical, outward ritual acts in place, but are they concerned about Gods honour.
A legitimate apologetic for the difficult issue of Jesus crucifixion could conceivably be expressed in terms of God’s honour. Lordship and submission are scriptural concerns and explain why Jesus acted as HE did, why the cross was a means of bringing glory to God, not a contradiction of it. To emphasise the vertical relationship between Jesus and His Father is as valid as emphasising the horizontal relationship between Jesus and people. Western Christianity applauds the latter emphasis, concentrating on incarnation and the personal self-giving of Christ so that whoever believes in Him might be born again. Perhaps it is time to stop expecting the Muslim to see the love of God in the cross of Christ. It might be easier for them to glimpse there something of Christs loyalty to His Father, something of the Fathers glory in watching His Son obey Him it the end, vindicating family honour.
In his short yet excellent paper, Christology and Cultural Themes, Huffard asks,
Must a relationship with Christ begin with love? Is there a biblical basis for the application of other themes, such as blessing or honor in interpreting the Cross? If so, could one initially respond to a message of the honor of God and grow in Christian love?
Of course such love is shown, but is it not significant that the synoptic gospels make little reference to it and Luke doesn’t even mention agape (Gods special love for people) in his recounting of the missionary sermons of Acts. A concern for Gods glory, honour, blamelessness and unmerited generosity seems rather to be documented – themes which make profound sense in the kind of cultural settings we are considering.