“Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:25, CSB)
That hasn’t been my experience.
Healthy body image aside, the vast majority of both men and women have a natural aversion to having their nakedness exposed—indecent exposure isn’t only enshrined in law, it is embedded in our deepest being. But maybe natural isn’t quite the right word to use here. It seems that our shame was never meant to be natural, it only became that when we exchanged God’s glory for a lie.
In the beginning, God would look over all his hand had made and say, “It is good,” but as he watched the crowning glory of his creation discover each other—man and woman unclothed and unashamed—he would nod his head in approval and say, “It is very good.”
But then sin
“Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:22–25, CSB)
This has been my experience.
At the root of all sin rests the false notion that we may become like God, and in this, the naked body has not escaped. We have desired to stand in God’s stead, where it is we who gaze on another’s nakedness and say, “It is very good.” This is the power of pornography. This is the posture that fuels a multi-billion dollar industry. This is the lie that destroys relationships. This is the lie we’ve worshipped. We’ve willingly traded glory for shame.
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:7, CSB)
“So the LORD God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”” (Genesis 3:9–10, CSB)
Behold the duel effect of sin. First, shame entered and deeply attached itself to our nakedness. But secondly, attested to by sin’s long history in this world, our shame grows even more as we revel in the nakedness of others. Shame grows beyond what we can ignore, weighing down the spirit with an unbearable weight. It is a shame that leads to the grave.
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, CSB)
But then God
It seems that the shameful history of humanity has been one long exercise in stitching together our own fig leaves in a dismal attempt to cover our nakedness. Yet from the beginning, God has made a better way.
“The LORD God made clothing from skins for the man and his wife, and he clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21, CSB)
In his book, ‘Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave’, Ed Welch connects light, darkness, and shame in a helpful way.
“…the light of Christ exposes the ugliness of our lives that is hidden when the lights are out. The bad news in this is that the light exposes our guilt and shame. The good news is that the fear of the Lord exposes us without leaving us shamed, forever guilty, and powerless to change. Rather, it exposes us in order to cover our shame, cleanse the guilty conscience, give grace to change, and restore fellowship with God and others.”
So it is right that we should join with Paul in his joyful celebration of grace,
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25, CSB)
As a recovering sinner, this celebration of grace is the joy of my hope in Christ. Yet sin does not untangle so easily. The shame of my own sinful exposure, and the temptation to revel in the exposure of others, still taints my days with the threat of shame. I am always tempted to sit in the shade of the Laodicean Church, pronouncing my strength and wealth, yet unaware that apart from Christ I am wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17). But the grace of my Saviour reaches into the depths of even these shadows.
“I advise you to buy from me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:18, CSB)
So, dear brother, dear sister, I know the shame of exchanged glories still haunts you. The shame of a life past is oftentimes compounded by the failures of yesterday, and even the battle you still wage today. But the light of Christ is brighter still. The exchange has been reversed. We have an advocate, one who took on our shame, and in return has freely shared his glory with us.
“Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, CSB)