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Monday, February 28, 2011

Naked and Afraid: Discussing Adam and Eve

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. --Genesis 3: 6, 7 NIV 2010
 As a child reading this passage, I always wondered why Adam and Eve suddenly felt the need for clothing after they ate the fruit.  Their condition of nakedness had been the only thing they had known until that point, so I couldn't see why the fruit would suddenly have given them a sort of moral conviction against the way they had always lived--after all, eating the fruit was the sin, not living as God had made them, in the garden.  I realized that there was more to this than my teachers were explaining.

Now I think I understand it better.  It was both a literal and symbolic gesture of fear and weakness.  Adam and Eve felt naked, that is, exposed, before God and the retribution their consciences told them was coming.  They suddenly were aware of their weak and exposed state as two people who had dared to challenge the supreme Lordship of God.  Could they stand against Him?  Could they defend their own skin from the God who had made it?  They didn't believe they could, so they used the covering they had on hand to protect their skin and camouflage themselves.  Why didn't it work?

Man-made Armor

It seems laughable now, in the age of Kevlar and armored flak jackets, that they thought they could protect their skin from harm with fig leaves (which aren't even very tough).  However, I see that they had no experience in creating armor for themselves.  This was the first time that mankind had really tried to defend themselves from an opponent that could harm them.  Forgiving their naivety, I realized something about modern people as well--even the best Kevlar and armor are as feeble as fig leaves before God.  As the psalmist wrote, "It is you alone who are to be feared.  Who can stand before you when you are angry?  From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet—when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land" (Psalm 76: 7-9 NIV 2010).

Adam and Eve were frightened of the unknown, convinced that they were about to suffer a sudden, painful consequence of their disobedience, but instead of violence, they found mercy at the hands of God.  He could have immediately tortured them, killed them, and destroyed their world, but instead He gave them only the punishment He had already told them about--death, which they would come to understand better.  God didn't strike them with some new thing they had never heard of; He let them live out their days in contemplation and repentance, and gave them better clothing made from the skin of an animal.  This clothing could keep them warm, was tougher protection from the elements, and lasted longer--but it had another, deeper significance that went beyond fashion.

God's Armor

We might also laugh at the notion that an animal skin was sufficient armor against God, considering all our modern advances in armor and self-protection, but it was more effective than the best steel.  Righteousness, the condition of being without sin and disobedience, is sufficient to turn away God's anger.  He has stated His position on this and does not stray from the theme.  God is righteous, which means He cannot tolerate sin--it is unjust, it is unpleasant, and it is capable of destroying everything good He has planned for everyone.  Who could make Him change His mind on that, and why would He?

Therefore, God must see that justice is served, and all is set right, before He will stop prosecuting sin.  Since the punishment for sin was death, God decided something had to die to pay that price.  Instead of putting Adam and Eve to death immediately, He covered their fee with the death of an animal.  The skin covered their nakedness, both literally and symbolically.  I'm sure they didn't miss the significance, either.

This sacrifice was an imperfect protection against sin, though it was ordained as the proscribed penalty and re-confirmed in the covenant with Israel in the desert.  It was imperfect since it did not demand full payment, but rather served as a regular reminder of the full payment that was to come, when Adam and Eve died. God was not content with this, so He sent a more perfect sacrifice to pay in full what animals had only seemed to pay.  It was Christ's skin, which was broken and destroyed on the cross, that was the perfect symbolic covering for our nakedness.  He is the ultimate armor of God, and in Him we find protection from God's wrath.  See Hebrews Chapter 10 for Paul's explanation of this.

Camouflaged and Visible

 Adam and Eve had a second reason for donning those fig leaves after they had sinned.  They were trying to hide.  If my reading is correct, this is the first recorded instance of people using camouflage to hide themselves in the landscape.  We use it now because we understand that it is harder to hit a target when you can't see where it ends and the area around it begins.  Could it be that they meant the same thing by this gesture?

Until that point, Adam and Eve, like the garden around them, had been pure and untouched by evil.  God had not yet cursed creation, so as far as they understood it, they were still surrounded by what was untouched by the shadow of death.  Were they trying to gain some of that purity, as if it could rub off on their skin with contact?  If that was the goal, it didn't work.  God still found them, no matter how well they had camouflaged themselves.

Hidden in God's Hands

Even today, we try to blend in with what is around us, to hide what is in ourselves.  We may try to compare ourselves to everyone around us, saying, "See, he is as bad as me!" (see Genesis 3: 12-13).  Still, we are judged on an individual basis, separated from the landscape around us (Ezekiel 18: 14-18).  There is no camouflage for sin inside the human heart.  Before the presence of God, everything is laid bare, and darkness flees from God's presence as if from a bright light.  God saw darkness in the garden He had planted, and it stuck out from the rest.

Why is it that camouflage didn't work?  First off, it is impossible to hide from God, since He looks down upon the whole earth and sees everything on it.  As Isaiah wrote, "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in," (Isaiah 40: 22 NIV 2010).  Who can truly hide out from a God who sees us all like bugs in a jar?

I think God's statement to Samuel when he went to anoint David reveals what it is that God really meant when He said to Adam and Eve, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3: 9 NIV 2010).  God said to Samuel, "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart," (1 Samuel 16: 7 NIV 2010).  Adam and Eve had changed their outward appearance, but what had really changed was their hearts.  This they could not camouflage.  It stood like a curtain of separation between God and mankind, and He was readily aware of it.

God sent Christ to remove that veil from the inside of a person, so that they could truly fit in to the landscape of righteousness, which exists in His throne room (see Hebrews 10:19-22).  While many religions require an outward change to acquire righteousness and purity, God requires the inside to change.  Eventually, if that veil of sin had changed the outside of the person, God's righteousness can sweep away all residue of sin there as well--but it has to start with the heart.  Christ is not merely our symbolic armor, but also our symbolic cleanser.  He can remove the reproach of sin as it already stands between us and God, but He can go further than that, instructing us on righteous living and how to please God.  Christ can change our hearts by changing our thinking and our habits back to the pattern God had intended (see Romans 12: 2).  What other religion can transform a mind and make it new again?

I hope you will give these things some thought in the days ahead.  What ramifications do they have for modern audiences?  Can you think of any more nuances of meaning, or Bible references, that could shed more light on this topic?  I'm anxious to read your responses.


Kamal Singarapu said...

Rachel -

Brilliantly written. I liked how you pointed out that God punished Adam and Eve with the punishment that He has alreay told them about. Yes, God did not strike them with some new thing they had never heard of.

The content under the side heading of God's Armor is note worthy. You gave a clear picture of God's righteousness, man's sin, the imperfect sacrifice which served as a regular reminder of the full payment that was to come and how Christ became the perfect sacrifice and a perfect symbolic covering for our nakedness.

You also pointed out the reaction by Adam and Even might have used camouflage to hide themselves. Even this cannot deceive God as He not only can see where the man is but also can see the thought process in his heart. We can do all we want but escaping from God is impossible.

Finally you have mentioned that Christ not only is our symbolic armor, but also our symbolic cleanser. What a blessed hope. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Enjoying reading some thoughts that never occured to me.

Rachel said...

Thanks, Kamal! As usual, your comments are an encouragement to me. Glad God gave me some insight I could share. :)