Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.Genesis 2:24, 25
Shame. It is the most apparent curse of sin. Shame is what drives humanity to hide in fear, often behind fig leaves of pride. In some cases, shame drives people to drown their sorrows in substance abuse. In still others, shame drives people to run from the safety of the fruitful garden into the dangers of fruitless denial. However, there is only one remedy for shame and that is the sacrificial blood of the Lamb.
Created Without Shame
God created humanity without any need for shame. We were exposed to the elements in all of our created perfection. There was no need for shame for sin had not yet reared its ugly, serpentine head in our existence. The very concept of shame implies there is something wrong within our world. Our own internalized shame implies the belief that there is something imperfect within our hearts and minds. This was not what God intended for His creation. He created you to be free from the debilitating madness of shame.
“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25) The Hebrew word for “naked” is עָרוֹם (ʻârôwm). The term is used 17 times in the Old Testament to reference a state of being completely naked or at the least, very poorly clad with clothing. In this context, the first man and woman were both naked and exposed as there was nothing to hide from their Creator. As husband and wife, there was nothing to hide from one another. It is a picture of complete exposure and vulnerability. Nothing hidden. Nothing secret. And no cause for fear of judgement as there was no sin or guilt yet present in the world.
Judgement does not create guilt or shame. Divine judgement comes as a external result of guilt. Shame comes as an internalized verdict of guilt. However, in our modern world, the mental understanding of shame is distorted and often exaggerated by circumstance.
A child is beaten into submission by an abusive parent. A wife or girlfriend is abused into submission to her spouse or a companion. The weak are bullied into hiding by the strong. A man is harshly disciplined at work to the point of only seeing his failure, in spite of his successes. Shame has the potential to rear its head any time expectations go unmet. Whether it be the expectations of an unreasonable boss, an abusive parent, a domineering spouse, or even your own expectations of yourself, shame can be paralyzing and demoralizing and lead to an array of self-inflicted remedies that pale in comparison to the true remedy.
An abused child grows up to be an abuser. An abused spouse hides behind the facade of alcoholism. A bullied teen turns to suicide. A worker desiring to please his employer becomes a workaholic in order to overcome the deficiencies of past performance.
However, shame also has a useful purpose. Shame exposes our own sin. It pricks the conscience. It lets us know that something is indeed wrong within our world. However, in our broken mental state, we often do not process our shame in a healthy manner. Typically we turn our shame in on ourselves in self-destructive acts or habits. Abuse victims tend to see themselves as nothing more than a victim with no capacity to rise above their circumstances. So victims often “sew together fig leaves” (Genesis 3:7) to hide behind.
Interestingly, in the case of Adam and Eve, they tried to hide from God with the works of their hands to hide their exposure. Their secret was out. They had disobeyed the command to not eat of the forbidden fruit. They listened to the serpent that promised wisdom of their own apart from Him. Yet, the moment they ate of the fruit they were immediately aware of their sin. They immediately knew the difference between good and evil because the consequence of their sin immediately ripped the fabric of creation in a violent collision of epic proportions.
Consequence of Shame
Interestingly, as God went looking for his wayward child, Adam’s response was “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Adam was afraid that he had been exposed for his sin, so he hid thinking he could keep secret that which the God of Creation already knew had come to pass.
He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” God begins with a rhetorical question. Of course, nobody told Adam or Eve that they were exposed. They discerned that for themselves. God had already built into them the capacity to know the difference between good and evil. At its simplest core, good is obedience to the will of God and evil is disobedience to His will. Now that Adam and Eve had transgressed God’s command, they knew good and evil in a more intimate, experiential sense as opposed to mere intellectual assent.
And all of humanity to this day has fallen for the same lie that we can decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil. Michelangelo Buonarroti once defined the humanist ideal this way: “I am a poor man and of little worth, who is laboring in that art that God has given me in order to extend my life as long as possible. Many believe – and I believe – that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him.”
His belief, as was that of some of his contemporaries that the humanist philosophy was such that God has gifted each of us with certain talents and it is our responsibility to honor Him by being the best that we can be with that gift that He has entrusted to us individually. The Enlightenment period distorted this ideal and took God out of the equation to elevate mankind to the compete on the level of the idealized gods of Greek and Roman antiquity, a mistake that continues to this day.
Cleansed of Shame
There is only one remedy for shame and that is grace. Grace that is purchased with the price of blood. The blood of the Lamb. As a result of Adam and Eve’s sin, God pronounced in His righteousness and faithfulness to His word a curse – a three-fold curse that would change the way of the world as a result of the sin of doubt and disbelief.
First, the serpent received the first and greatest curse. He would be remanded to crawling on his belly and eating dust for the remainder of his days, as will his offspring. But his curse doesn’t end there:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,Genesis 3:15
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
Here in the Protoevangelion, the first declaration of the gospel to come lies the promise of ultimate deliverance. Even in the midst of the curse, God provides a glimpse of the grace that is to come in the ultimate final victory over the enemy. The victory that would be secured on the cross of Calvary, and assured with an empty grave three days later. The sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary was the bruising of the heel of the seed of the woman, but the bruising of the serpent’s head was the victory over the grave.
Secondly, instead of immediate death for the woman, He prescribed greater pain in childbirth. Pain that would know relief in the joy of parenting in the fulfillment of the command to be fruitful and multiply. Finally, for Adam, instead of immediate death, he would now have to work by the sweat of his brow to make the earth bring forth food for him and his family. While the garden was provisioned for the man and woman without the need for him to do much to make it reproduce, now Adam will have to contend with thorns, thistles, and toil to bring food to the table.
Yes. Death would eventually come for them both, but their lives would now be marked by pain and toil. They will also know joy in the birth of their children. They will learn grief and mourning in the murder of their son, Abel, and sorrow at the exile of the eldest, Cain, as a result of his own sin. They will know grace in the form of another son, Seth, and daughters and live to a ripe old age of 930 years.
However, in the midst of all of this, if you aren’t careful, you’ll miss it. “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) God replaced their hand-sewn fig leaves with garments of skins. Skins taken from the God’s own sacrifice from within His creation. He shed the blood of innocent animals to cover their shame and reconcile their hearts to Him. Thousands of years later, His own innocent blood would be shed to cover our shame and reconcile our hearts to Him as well.
Perhaps your life is marked by shame and regret. There is hope and grace at the foot of the cross. Perhaps you know the shame of abuse. There is peace and healing at the foot of the cross. There is enough blood shed at the cross to clean away the stain of the shame of all of our sin. Perhaps you live your life hiding behind the fig leaves of pride and arrogance and work in order to keep secret your failings and insecurities. The ground is level at the foot of the cross and spacious enough to lay down all of your failures.
To quote Michelangelo once again, “I live in sin, to kill myself I live; no longer my life my own, but sin’s; my good is given to me by heaven, my evil by myself, by my free will, of which I am deprived.” Come to the cross today. Pick up the cross and carry it with you as a lighter burden, identifying with the sacrifice that Christ made to rid you of the shame and make you a part of His spotless bride.
Let us rejoice and exultRevelation 19:7-9
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”