Let’s take the idea of nakedness a little bit further, by taking a look at the history of clothing.
The first garment ever modeled by humans was a fig leaf, or several fig leaves, sewn together by Adam and Eve to cover themselves after they ate the apple. Shortly after that, God made them clothes out of animal hides to cover them better. You don’t get a lot of wear out of fig leaves, apparently.
At the same time they were stitching their fig leaves together they were also listening for God coming to them in the garden, and when they heard him come, they hid themselves.
What changed? Before they ate the apple they were naked together without shame, and they conversed with God face to face without fear. What changed? How did they suddenly become ashamed of themselves? To answer that, we follow the two trends, for they continue to this day. We are still making clothes to hide from each other, and we are still trying to hide from God. The reason for both is the same.
Nakedness is an expression of vulnerability. This may seem self evident, but take a moment to think it over. When you were an infant people changed your diaper, bathed you and dressed you without your consent, but as you grew older you learned to do all these things (except, perhaps, change your diaper) for yourself. “I can do it myself, Mommy,” is an expression of both maturity and of control. It is now possible for you to set boundaries. Privacy is introduced. Some children have more trouble learning this than others do, but eventually most people develop a sense of modesty, which is the ability to say to the world, “This is private, none of your business.”
Why do we teach this, and why is the instinct learned so readily? Because on some level we all learn fear. The nakedness of the human body was designed for a purpose, the purpose of affecting a union. The union is to be a union of free choice, and total self-surrender, which is why it is so beautiful and powerful. It is a gift. The essential ingredient of a gift is freedom, both freedom to receive and freedom to give. What Adam and Eve did was to reach out and attempt to seize a gift (“you will be like God, knowing good from evil”) that was not given them. They violated the freedom. As soon as they did that their “eyes were opened” and they saw each other in a new way. Adam saw Eve and saw that, if he didn’t want to, he didn’t have to wait for her to give herself freely to him. He could take her by force and dominate her, physically and emotionally. Eve saw that he could do this, and she saw that she could control him more subtly by charm and seduction. Each learned, all in a second, that it was possible to use the other, rather than wait for the freedom of gift. Did they really think it out that far? I doubt it. I very much doubt they could see in an instant all the long history of abuse and domination, manipulation and rape that they set in motion. They could not see the horror of depression, self-mutilation, suicide and sheer emotional and spiritual pain that they had unleashed. All they knew (I would guess) was that the other was no longer fully trustworthy. Each feared, where fear had been unknown before, and they created barriers to hide behind.
The relationship with God was much the same. After trying to snatch out of His hand something that He had not yet given them, they realized they had betrayed His trust and love. Unable to stand the guilt and shame they hid. I wonder if they didn’t project their own selfishness on Him and fear that He would take from them and use them. They certainly tried to shift the blame, Adam shifting it to Eve, and through her to God. Eve blamed the serpent. But they feared God, and they hid. Foolish gesture, of course. Nothing and no one is hidden from God, but God is not like us. He will not Lord His power over us. He wanted Adam and Eve to lay their souls completely open and free before Him, but if they wouldn’t consent to be naked before Him (spiritually) He wouldn’t force them. He allowed them to hide.
The rest of salvation history has been His coaxing, His wooing of us. This is symbolized in human courtship. We talk of smooth lady’s men who can “charm the pants off” the women they want, which is a perversion of the gift. A profound and deeply right symbol of that gift is a husband slowly wooing his wife’s heart until she has no fear of giving him her body. She feels comfortable and safe with him because, as John says in his letters, “There is no fear in love for perfect love casts out all fear.” We are all still trying to hide from the God who loves us. We clutch our dirty rags of vanity and self-delusion around the nakedness of our souls and scream in fear at the slightest hint of being asked to strip them off. We fear God using us (for we use each other and ourselves) but He never will. He will spend our lives slowly teaching us to be comfortable with Him and feel safe with Him, but He will not be satisfied until we shed every last stitch of our pitiful scraps of covering and allow Him to wash us clean and dress us in robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. He wants to marry the Church, His Bride. He Himself will provide the wedding garment, but it will be to adorn the beauty of His Bride, not to hide her shame. She will have no shame left.
She will be perfectly willing to appear before Him naked, seen through and through by His piercing gaze, and she will not shrink. Perfect love will have cast out all fear.
We are that Church.
I am that Church.