The word ashamed carries many connotations. We may be ashamed or embarrassed because of a clumsy act, a misspoken word, a physical flaw, a sin or mistake. However, the scriptures present to us very different perspectives on being ashamed.
Perhaps one of the most significant lessons to be learned about being ashamed is recorded in the Book of Mormon account found in 1 Nephi 8. In the midst of Lehi’s dream of the tree of life he sees four different groups of people, three of which are making their way towards the tree of life. Two of these groups make it to the tree yet only one of those groups remain at the tree. At first glance this seems somewhat paradoxical.
The first group partook of the fruit, then later fell away and were lost (see 1 Nephi 8:25-28). The question that is often asked is “why did the first group fall away while the second group did not?” Because both groups were members of the Church, the answer should be very important to us (See "From Such Turn Away," Ensign, May 1985, p. 33). Lehi’s account gives us three very important clues that should help us understand the answer.
The first clue relates to how the first group held the rod of iron which is the word of God (see 1 Nephi 11:25). Group one appears to begin as the other group by “pressing forward” and catching “hold of the end of the rod of iron” pressing their way “forward through the mist of darkness” which represents the temptations of the devil (see 1 Nephi 8:24; 12:17). However, group one is described as “clinging to the rod of iron” (vs. 24) as compared to the second group who were described as “continually holding fast to the rod of iron” (1 Nephi 8:30). Because of the outcome, we can discern that “clinging” to the rod is not the same as “continually holding fast.”
Speaking of this distinction, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles suggested: “Even with faith, commitment and the word of God, this group was lost — perhaps because they only periodically read or studied or searched the scriptures. Clinging to the rod of iron suggests to me only occasional ‘bursts’ of study or irregular dipping rather than consistent, ongoing immersion in the word of God” (CES devotional, Feb. 4, 2007, p. 7).
The second clue comes as we compare the arrival of the two groups to the tree. Of the first group it is recorded “they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree” (1 Nephi 8:24), which does not trigger any concern. However, of the second group’s arrival we read: “they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree” (1 Nephi 8:30). This distinction clearly indicates these individuals who fell to the ground sensed a greater sacredness and value for the gift they were partaking of and that they understood Who the source of this gift was. After all, the fruit represented the “love of God” (1 Nephi 11:22).
In the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “The love of God for His children is most profoundly expressed in His gift of Jesus as our Redeemer: ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son’ (see John 3:16). To partake of the love of God is to partake of Jesus’ Atonement and the emancipations and joys which it can bring” (Ensign, Nov. 1999, p. 8).
The third point of significance is the most obvious. When the inhabitants of the great and spacious building were mocking those who partook of the fruit, it was the first group who “fell away into forbidden paths and were lost” (1 Nephi 8:28).
Speaking of the present day significance of this aspect of Lehi’s dream, Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote: "In Lehi's vision ... a most interesting outcome was described. Some Church members, 'after they had tasted of the fruit ... were ashamed' (1 Nephi 8:28). Why? For some objective reason? No. Simply 'because of those that were scoffing at them.' We see a few around us who simply can't stand to be separated from the 'politically correct' multitudes in the great and spacious building. These multitudes are 'in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit' (1 Nephi 8:26-27). The 'finger of scorn' has its own way of separating the faithful from those who have little or no faith (see 1 Nephi 8:33).
"Some have little faith which then fails, because they can't stand the peer pressure, the shame and scorn heaped upon them by the world. They simply cannot learn to 'despise the shame of the world' (see 2 Nephi 9:18), and they let go of the iron rod and slip away. Learning to despise the shame of the world means coming to think nothing of it, just as in taking no heed of temptation (see D&C 20:22)" (Lord, Increase Our Faith, p. 99).
Here then is a most interesting insight about those who are not ashamed. They “despise the shame” put forth by the worldly by simply thinking nothing of it. In Paul’s words, they are “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Romans 1:16). The scriptures declare that the people of the Lord who “wait” for Him will not be ashamed (see 2 Ne. 6:13; Isaiah 49:23; Joel 2:27).
The irony in all of this is that those who have rejected the words of the prophets concerning the Restoration and Christ’s Second Coming will one day stand with shame and awful guilt before the bar of God, and they will acknowledge to their everlasting shame that all his judgments are just (see Jacob 6:8-9; Alma 12:15). Furthermore, the Savior warned: “whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and my words; ... of him also shall the son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
May we determine to follow the council of the apostle John: “Now 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).