by Al Maxey

Issue #383 ------- January 25, 2009
Civil limitation daunts His utterance
never; the nymphs blush, not he.

George Meredith {1828-1909}

Neither Could They Blush
Physiology and Psychology of a
Social/Emotional Expression

In William Shakespeare's (1564-1616) fabulous work Hamlet, we find the following stunning question posed -- "O shame! where is thy blush?" (III, iv, 82). Blushing appears to be an almost universal condition of the human species, and yet it can also be amply demonstrated and documented that people can become desensitized to those triggers that bring on blushing. In other words, they can lose the ability to blush. This, as one might imagine, has led to a significant amount of speculation among a variety of researchers as to the possible causes and effects of such an unusual condition. Not only are some interested in why this happens physiologically, but other investigators are inquisitive as to the impact of this condition psychologically and sociologically. There is also considerable theological interest, as even God's inspired Scriptures speak of this condition. More about this in just a moment.

First, what exactly is this thing we call "blushing"? In physiological terms, blushing may be characterized as "an involuntary sympathetic nervous system response." It is an outwardly visible evidence of the dilation of the small blood vessels in your face (and at times in the neck and ears) leading to an increase in local blood volume. Thus, the flushed, at times sweaty, appearance to these areas. Experts inform us that this flushing is a completely normal response to "beta-adrenergic stimulation," and that such an outwardly visible reaction "is physiologically distinguishable from other types of facial flushing, such as that caused by consumption of alcohol, arousal, or hormonally induced 'hot flashes,' all of which are not caused by beta-adrenergic stimulation." A medical Internet site states that "adrenaline causes your blood vessels to dilate (called vasodilation), in order to improve blood flow and oxygen delivery. This is the case with blushing. The veins in your face respond to a signal from the chemical transmitter adenylyl cyclase, which tells the veins to allow the adrenaline to do its magic. As a result, the veins in your face dilate, allowing more blood to flow through them than usual, creating the reddened appearance." Many researchers have linked blushing to the same system that activates one's fight-or-flight response. Some people have a tendency to become quite distressed by the ease with which they blush, and a few of them have even elected to undergo surgical procedures to "correct" (although it actually only limits) this condition. That surgery is known as endothoracic sympathectomy (a snipping of certain tiny nerves in the spine). There are others who have a pathological fear of blushing. This is known as erythrophobia.

The physiology of blushing is not that big a mystery, however the psychology of blushing is another matter. WHY do we blush? What is it about a pretty girl winking at you that triggers this rush of blood to the head? What is it about tripping in front of someone, or discovering later that your fly was open, or realizing when you got home from work that you had left the tag on the back of your new jacket that instantly flushes one's face and brings an outpouring of sweat to the brow? Even more confusing to psychological and sociological (and even theological) researchers is the burning question -- What possible practical purpose does blushing serve?! In other words, what's the point?! This is obviously by divine design -- God made us this way. But, WHY?! What does it accomplish? Some, like Dr. Ray Crozier, a professor of psychology in the United Kingdom, believe blushing is simply one of many facets of evolution. As developing societies of primitive humans formed a code of social norms, there were consequences experienced by those who transgressed these norms. This would generate the adrenaline rush associated with one's inherent urge for "fight-or-flight." Thus, it became a visible "mark" upon a person that he had violated the accepted standards of his society or culture. Although one was initially tempted to either fight or flee, a third option evolved, and that was to evidence shame and contrition before one's peers: a visible demonstration that one had seriously misstepped socially. This would become a silent appeal for leniency and reacceptance. As one scholar stated, "blushing came to serve as a nonverbal, physical apology for one's mistake."

In a very scholarly, as well as a fascinating, article titled "Why Do People Blush?", the author, Josh Clark, observed, "Since we humans are animals too, a glance at our neighbors on the Tree of Life shows us that insults can lead to violence. As a result, animals have developed ways of displaying apologetic signs to show others that they're sorry for what they've done. Think about your dog rolling over after being caught digging in the yard. Exposing his or her belly shows you the dog is not challenging your anger at the situation -- it is a demonstration of contrition. For most people, it is pretty difficult to continue to feel anger toward the dog once he or she has rolled over. So blushing could be a way humans show their own contrition for bad social form." Therefore, a sudden flushing of the face is believed by some to be the evolutionary physical manifestation of the emotions of shame and embarrassment associated with a social misstep perceived by oneself to be serious. Yes, bringing evolution into the discussion will guarantee a lengthy debate for those who reject this theory. Whether by intelligent design or by evolutionary development, or a combination thereof, I nevertheless believe there is some merit to these perceptions of the purpose of blushing. Whether generated by positive triggers (such as a wink and smile from a girl one likes) or negative triggers (some social or cultural blunder), the reality is that one is suddenly placed in a position where the spotlight has been shined upon them, and they are instantly outside their comfort zone. Adrenaline is released, one's urge to flee becomes strong, and a person most definitely feels SEEN (whether in a positive sense or a negative sense), which may be characterized as "self-consciousness" and/or "conspicuousness."

But, focusing our attention upon blushing that evidences a sense of shame or embarrassment for a misstep, psychologists have concluded that such a reaction truly begins to evidence itself in humans at a fairly early age as a child begins to interact socially with others, and thus begins to learn what is approved and disapproved in his or her environment. Blushing, therefore, shows that one has developed both empathy and social intelligence. In other words, one is cognizant of the social norms and one truly cares how others may perceive his attitudes and actions within the overall context of these accepted social norms. Josh Clark, in the above mentioned article, insightfully observes, "By studying the development of this social intelligence, psychologists have found that blushing from embarrassment develops alongside our consciousness of others." It is this awareness of a standard greater than ourselves, and of how others may perceive us in our relation to that higher standard, that will generate either feelings of personal accomplishment and self-worth or embarrassment and shame. With the latter, if one truly cares what others think, comes blushing, and studies have shown that people tend to react far more favorably toward those who blush after a misstep. They are also shown to be far more willing to extend forgiveness and reaffirmation.

Which leads us into the theological realm with this present study. If the above referenced theories are true and valid, and I believe they do indeed have merit, then from a biblical perspective blushing would be public evidence that one was cognizant of a higher standard of behavior (godly behavior), that one cared what others thought (and in "others" we would include the Lord), and that when one failed to abide by that standard, and attention was brought to said failure, one felt a sense of shame and embarrassment ... and visibly evidenced such. When we are living according to the dictates of that Divine Norm, then there is no need for one to blush. Tertullian (155-225 A.D.) observed, "Truth does not blush." Neither do those who abide in Truth; who walk in its paths. However, when we depart from the paths of Truth, and stumble about in sin, such transgression should lead us to blush with shame before our God. Ezra, speaking for himself and his people, said, "My God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads, and our guilt has grown even to the heavens" [Ezra 9:6].

The prophet Jeremiah informs Jehoiakim, king of Judah, "Then you will surely be ashamed and will blush because of all your wickedness" [Jeremiah 22:22]. Later in his prophecy, Jeremiah speaks of the "remedial effects" of blushing -- "After my turning, I repented; and after I was instructed, I struck myself on the thigh; I was ashamed, yes, I also blushed, because I bore the reproach of my youth" [Jeremiah 31:19]. David acknowledges before his God, "Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my blushing" [Psalm 69:19]. These are statements and physical evidences of a contrite heart, of a sense of shame over one's failure to abide by the Standard given by God Almighty. Blushing, therefore, manifests before God and men, and even to ourselves, an awareness and a concern for one's attitudes and actions that are contrary to the expectations of our God and His people. That sense of shame, that flushed, sweaty countenance, should prompt us to turn our hearts and our steps back to the pathway of holiness. It is physical, thus it gets our attention, and I believe it was divinely designed to do just that. A blush is hard to ignore. It is our Maker's way of telling us, who still have hearts that can be touched, that we have stumbled and faltered and perhaps even fallen, and that it's time to redirect our steps to a safer path.

The tragedy, of course, is when a people lose their ability to blush. In a word, they have become desensitized to all internal or external stimuli that might serve as a trigger for blushing. Their hearts have turned to stone, their consciences are seared over, their skin thick and devoid of feeling. Simply stated, they can no longer be touched. They feel no shame. Indeed, the apostle Paul spoke of those who had grown so cold spiritually that they actually gloried in their shame [Philp. 3:19]. Such men care only for themselves, never for others, and like raging waves of the sea, they cast up their own shameful deeds [Jude 13]. When a people lose the ability to blush, judgment is certain ... and near. God will give them over to their shame, and to the effects of that shameful behavior [Romans 1:28]. "Although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are all worthy of death, they not only do the same, but they also give hearty approval to those who practice them" [vs. 32]. There is no shame; there is no blushing.

The people of Israel had reached this point ... and it was going to cost them very dearly. In an indictment against His people, the Lord addressed them through His prophet Jeremiah, bemoaning the reality that "their ears are closed" and "the word of the Lord has become a reproach to them; they have no delight in it" [Jeremiah 6:10]. "Everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely" [vs. 13]. "Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; they did not even know how to blush" [vs. 15; cf. Jer. 8:12]. Therefore, the Lord said they would be cast down. Why? Well, in part because, "You refused to be ashamed" [Jer. 3:3]. The people had become so desensitized to their sin that blushing was unknown to them. As a result, our God cast them from His presence.

Brethren, I genuinely fear that we have reached that state once again. In our nation men "call evil good, and good evil; they substitute darkness for light and light for darkness" [Isaiah 5:20]. We are confronted at every turn with a complete disregard for the will of God in our lives, and far, far too many in this nation (as well as in other nations) have completely lost the ability to blush. You'd have to be blind not to see this. It surrounds us like the darkness of a moonless night surrounds a lone candle flickering in the breeze. We're in trouble. We're headed away from our God more every day. We're in need of national repentance. And I genuinely fear it is not going to come. Thus, what will is a "casting off" by our God. A time of great tribulation is descending upon us, and those few faithful flickering flames are going to have to be strong and band together, lest even they be overcome.

But it is not just our nation. This inability to blush is also being evidenced in the church. And this pains me most of all. And I'm not just talking about immorality and worldliness that is creeping into our midst, although that is most certainly taking place. I'm especially talking about the loveless, heartless, cruel, spiteful spirit that is being demonstrated toward one's spiritual siblings, and all without even a hint of shame over one's actions and attitudes. Indeed, it is all done with a sense of pride. When men gleefully consign those who dare to differ with them to the fires of hell, even laughing with their buddies about how such heretics will be "hopping from brick to brick" in their torment, the ability to blush has been lost. As George Meredith (1828-1909) wrote, "Civil limitation daunts His utterance never; the nymphs blush, not he." When one can evidence in his public utterances the most intense hatred for another soul, a desensitization has taken place that effectively disables all triggers for blushing, and, as a result, one is far removed from the Father and His other children. Brethren, we're witnessing this more and more within the Family of God, and it is heartbreaking.

Brethren in Christ are separating from one another over personal perceptions, preferences and practices. It doesn't even bring a blush anymore that our numbers are diminishing because of our "walled fortress" mentality when it comes to fellowship and cooperation with our fellow disciples. They are "not following along with us" (to use the words of Luke 9:49), we cry to our shame! And yet, we feel no shame in uttering such foolishness. We've lost the ability to blush, and it is killing us. Mark Twain (1835-1910) made a very insightful observation. He wrote: "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to." We NEED to blush ... and yet we are NOT. Instead, we persist in our arrogant refusal to embrace one another in love or to work alongside one another or even to acknowledge one another as beloved brethren. What unblushing arrogance!! We should be ashamed of ourselves ... but, tragically, we are NOT ... which is an indictment that will one day bring terror to our hearts if we do not repent and evidence a more loving, accepting attitude toward our brethren. May God soften our hearts and remove our sectarian blinders, and may we learn once again how to blush. Repentance and restoration depend upon it.

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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in South Africa:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for your Reflections. Of late, I have been feeling so spiritually empty over the very matters about which you have been writing, for those issues have simply not made any spiritual sense to me for a long time. Yet, to dare to talk about them to my fellow brothers had caused a lot of consternation. I now feel so good after having read several of your articles! You have aptly articulated my thinking on some of these issues (which really are non-issues) to which the Churches of Christ subscribe. I would like to know if you know of any brethren here in South Africa who are equally revolutionalized regarding these issues? Also, please add my name to your subscription list for your Reflections.

From a Minister in Montana:

Brother Maxey, I have just heard about your Reflections from a brother here at our congregation, and I would like to subscribe. I read your article "The Assurance of Faith" (Reflections #369), that this brother sent me, and you have a pretty good handle on that issue. Well done!! With open hearts we can all come more fully to the Truth of God's Word. I'll enjoy reading your thoughts further. Thank you for adding me.

From a Minister/Author/PhD in California:

Brother Al, Your latest article on the plurality of a pastor's progeny was right on the button. Of course, the reason it was so good is because you agreed with me!! Seriously, this is an issue I have dealt with all through the years of my ministry, and you have done a masterful job with your article. I truly value your scholarship, and, believe me, we need more true scholarship in the brotherhood instead of parrotship and echo exegesis. By the way, my new book, Storms of Life, continues to be a big seller, and I am sure it's because both Randy Travis and Al Maxey (whose names and endorsements appear on the back cover) are celebrities (well, at least one of them is!!).

From a Reader in the Philippines:

Brother Al, Your most recent study was again a model of lucid and sound interpretation of biblical passages. The way I see it, this issue of plural and singular is so much like the way languages use gender pronouns. In the Bible, people are often referred to with male pronouns, but I do not hear anyone saying that such usage of male pronouns excludes women. Of course, those who think otherwise do so because their minds have been enfeebled by the spirit of legalism. May our God bless you, brother.

From an Author in Texas:

Bro. Al, If Paul had written that an elder must be one who keeps his "child" under control (rather than using the plural -- "children"), would the legalists then argue that a man with more than one child could not serve as an elder?! Sadly, they probably would.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you for your writing ministry! You do a superb job. The question of how many children an elder must have is very interesting. In too many groups, "fits and spats" arise every summer about elder pickin' time! It is so sad the way brethren treat one another. The literalist holds the view that the elder must have at least two children. Thus, I appreciate your well-stated proposition that the intent of the text is not to limit. "Children" can mean just a single "child." I agree with you.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, "Overseer Offspring Quota" was another winner! Well-written with compelling logic and application. Keep up the good work, brother!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I once sat in an adult Bible class at a very legalistic Church of Christ and listened as the subject of the number of children a man must have in order to be an elder was discussed. The discussion became quite lengthy until a college professor, who was tiring of the subject, stated that it appeared to him that too much emphasis was being placed on the prospective elder's breeding ability. That brought the discussion to an abrupt end, and I never heard the subject discussed at that church again!!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, A picture is truly worth a thousand words! What a great picture of you, your sister and your dad ... and, also, that was another good article. Thank you!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, That was another good lesson. I will say it a thousand times -- please keep up the good work and Soldier On, dear brother! God loves you for the person that you are, and all the Christians out there love you too. I pray for nothing but good for you in the coming years.

From an Elder in Kentucky:

Dear Brother Maxey, Thank you so much for the Reflections article discussing whether an elder candidate should be barred from consideration if he has only one child. You have presented Scripture-based reasoning clearly and convincingly to help us understand Paul's instruction as given in 1 Timothy and Titus. As always, you've researched the issue in considerable depth, making use of the reasoning of other scholars and striving carefully and thoroughly to come to an understanding of what God has to say to us through His holy writ. Thank you again for doing this research and for sharing your insights with us. May God continue to bless you!

From a Minister in Kansas:

Dear Brother Al, One Cup man here. I just wanted to let you and your readers know that a very good article appears on Todd Deaver's blog site Bridging the Grace Divide. I see that he has placed a link to your web site on his blog page, so I assume you know Todd. It looks like he is making some changes in his view of fellowship. Things are slowly but surely changing across the board in the Churches of Christ. God bless you, brother!

From a Reader in Virginia:

Dear Brother Al, I just read your most recent Reflections on how many children an elder must have. Wow! What prayerful stuff. What you wrote really hit home on so many levels. I am interested in what your readers have to say about this article. Any "fire and brimstone" responses yet?! Having heard so many "bad" things about you from your critics regarding your alleged teaching on the absence of an eternal hell and your alleged encouragement of the sin of adultery (through your book Down, But Not Out), I had to ask myself, "Why are they calling this person a 'pot smoking liberal'? And if he is indeed a 'burned out Vietnam vet on pot,' then how can he write so much that sounds so reasonable and true?!" I knew that you were under fierce attack, and I knew that it was (and still is) very popular with the people in this elitist group of "Christians" to try and destroy you. When I jumped into the middle of these guys (sending them an email) and tried to defend you, questioning their attacks against you, I got slammed more in one day than I could deal with in a month of Sundays! Brother Al, I am so sorry about all the stuff that some have written about you. I truly thought that I knew what HATE was, but Daniel Denham, Darrell Broking, Michael Hatcher, David Brown and Daniel Coe have given hatred a whole new meaning.

From an Elder in Ohio:

Brother Al, With all due respect, I do not believe a man needs to have any children at all. What if a man and his wife had their only two children die as little babies? He technically would still qualify, right? You see, it's not the number of children one sires. His worthiness lies in his qualities and characteristics. I know many elders who do not meet every one of the "things" listed by Paul, but the eldership as a whole in a congregation does! To insist that it is "required" to have one child instead of two is just as legalistic as saying a man is "required" to have two children instead of one.

From a Minister/Author in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, I am certainly in agreement with your conclusions regarding the plurality issue. I have in my files quotations from many conservative brethren who agree with your conclusions on this subject as well. It also surprises many people to learn that David Lipscomb did not even believe that a man had to be married to serve as an elder!! In response to the question: "Can a man be a bishop or a deacon who has no wife?" he wrote, "We believe an unmarried or childless man, if otherwise qualified, may be a bishop or a deacon. ... If a man gets his training in some other way and shows his fitness of ruling, even though he has no family of his own, shall the church be deprived of his proven talent?" [Questions and Answers by Lipscomb and Sewell, p. 204].

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for your thoughts and insights regarding the plurality of children for pastors. I completely agree with your conclusions. However, I really wonder if these passages demand that an elder have children at all, or even if they must be old enough to be "baptized believers." Could there be other ways that a childless man might prove his ability to manage the family of God? Just how far should we press these passages? Can the underlying intent of these character qualities be understood and applied more broadly than the actual statements?

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Brother Al, Thank you for getting this info out concerning the plurality of children (which some have made a requirement for being an elder of the church). Please also consider the phrase -- "having faithful children" (KJV) or "whose children believe" (NIV). In these two versions the word translated "faithful" and "believe" is seen by many as meaning that the children must be Christians. However, I think many have missed the whole point. This is the Greek word "pistos" which may be translated "trustworthy." The context seems to mean that the children or child is trustworthy, and in subjection to the rule of the father. Just a thought. What do you think?

From an Elder in Missouri:

Bro. Al, Again, very well done. On the same topic: I have heard arguments about men who did not "father" children, but who raised adopted children from birth, or from very early in their lives, or who raised foster children in their home. I believe the principle behind Paul's statements has nothing to do with whether the man can actually "plant the seed" in order to "father" a child or children, but instead has to do with whether he has been a good parental leader in the household. This ability can be seen just as clearly by rearing adopted children/child or foster children as any other way. Almost anyone can father a child, but it takes a real Christian man to be a spiritual leader and dad to those placed under his care. Our eldership here has been discussing the totality of the qualities given in Timothy and Titus, and the consensus reached is that it is NOT a check list as some seem to make it out to be. From a purely legalistic perspective, few if any men would qualify if they had to demonstrate anything resembling what I often hear is needed. We are all mere mortals, after all, and even the best men I have known do not have all the totality of the qualities described. Additionally, if you take Paul's "list" to Timothy, and the "list" to Titus, you come up with some differences in the "lists" that make the entire study, from a legalistic point of view, quite interesting, to say the least. Al, I would refer your readers to your other Reflections on the topic of elders as well [listed under the heading "Elders" on my Topical Index page. -- Al Maxey]. You have provided much to think about for anyone who is open-minded enough to see the Truth. However, many are just wresting the Scriptures, seemingly with no purpose other than to stir things up and further the division that exists among us! Keep up the good work, brother.

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