13. Genesis 3:7-13

I. B.  continued

3. The Consequences and Limits of Death

a) Shame (Genesis 3:7-13)

When Adam made his choice, the covenant with creation, the whole relationship of God with His creation, was broken. We learn a lot about what a covenant relationship means and how it operates as we watch the web unravel. We also learn part of what the Bible means when it talks about death, and by contrast we learn what life was supposed to have been in the original creation.

The very first result of disobedience was shame at their nakedness. The striking thing about their shame is how quickly it appeared. They had been naked all of that time, however long it had been since Eve’s creation, with no shame. It would seem that they would be able to remember just one hour before this moment. How could they go from no shame at all to hiding in the bushes in such a short time? This dramatic, and somewhat inexplicable, change shows that death is fundamentally a multi-faceted thing – physical, emotional, psychological, and mental – but first of all psychological.  Physical death would wait some centuries to accomplish its slow work, but that Adam became more or less instantly ashamed of his nakedness shows that he was dead on the inside however long it might take to work its way outward.

The Scripture uses a particularly helpful phrase to explain the suddenness of the change from no shame into total shame: “their eyes were opened”. Suddenly they could see something they had never seen before. They had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and now they knew evil for the first time. It would be a mistake to suppose it was their nakedness that was evil. It was their eyes that were evil, that had been transformed from lamps of the body to let in light into lamps of the body that were themselves darkness. From this point on, our eyes were the issue. From this point on the issue was making our eyes once more capable of opening to goodness: “those who have eyes to see, let them see”.

Since it affects every aspect of our being, death, in the context of these few chapters of Genesis, means something like “the ruin of personhood”. When Adam sinned, he died; that is, his personhood ended and only the corpse remained, and that corpse began to decay immediately. This is the origin of ghost stories, of our present fascination with zombies and vampires: they are projections, metaphors, of who we all really are, of who we know ourselves to be.

When I say their personhood died, what I mean is that they were no longer persons in the sense they had been created to be. They were the vestige of persons, the shadows, the ghosts of what had been persons, and those ghosts carried on like persons out of habit. Their bodies continued to live on for a while, but the process of death began at the very core, in their hearts, in their intellects, their emotions, their self-image, their wills, all the components that go into making us who we are. Nothing in them was untouched; nothing was left actually and truly alive in them.

The life that continued in their bodies was an illusion; death was in every breath that they took, as it is in us all, just as if they were on their deathbeds all their days waiting for the end to come, as are we all. When we read about Adam and Eve suddenly needing to hide in the bushes it should send chills over us, for it is ourselves we are reading about. This is not a story about those two people; it is the story of us, of what we might have been but aren’t, of what we have become. We can not now know what life was like for Adam and Eve before the Fall, but the so-called life that we live now is what the Bible calls death, and the single word that captures it all is shame.

It was not so much that Adam and Eve were ashamed of their bodies; rather, the shame they showed with respect to their bodies was an outworking of the shame they felt about themselves on the whole. All the fig leaves of shame come from the same tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: we feel fundamentally and at the deepest level of our being that we are creatures that should be ashamed, that any impartial judge would find us gross and disgusting. Our shame is not necessarily attached to a specific sin, nor even to a sense of guilt. We need not do anything to earn the sense of shame; we simply have it always in us, a cloud in the back of our consciousness, the mark of death.

Shame does not always appear as embarrassment about our physical bodies; sometimes the shame is centered on some other aspect of our being. In our culture the ones who are particularly physically beautiful soon learn that they can use their beauty and nakedness to achieve success or to manipulate others, and for these people shame dwells in some other area of their existence. When we call a person “shameless” what we really mean is that we think they ought to feel shame for something that they don’t; but there is no truly shameless person. Usually what is going on inside us on the emotional or psychological level comes out in how we treat our bodies, but sometimes it is the reverse. Sometimes we behave toward our bodies in a way that attempts to compensate for or alter our psychological pain. A person who is outwardly “shameless” is a person who is “self-medicating”, who is so overwhelmed by a sense of shame on some other level that compensation is the only alternative.

The physical dimension of our personhood is where we act out the depths of our personhood, but the connection between our internal and external selves is complex, and if shame does not express itself physically for some reason, then it will be expressed in another way. Fundamentally, to be a “sinner” means to be a creature that defines itself by shame. Shame is more fundamental than guilt, and a more accurate measure of our spiritual state. We may deceive ourselves about guilt, we can manipulate our conscience, we can rationalize nearly any behavior; but we can never truly escape shame and the fear of shame. This is why the last judgment was described in these terms: “if you are ashamed of Me before men then I will be ashamed of you before My Father.”

But God created us to be naked and unashamed. Religious people sometimes discuss nakedness as if the nakedness itself were the sin, but they entirely fail to grasp what is written here. We were created to be naked; it is sin that has made nakedness impossible for us, or else has spoiled nakedness so that we cannot understand it or value it. Clothing is the result of sin, not nakedness. Clothing is the sign of sin. Nudity is not sin, but it is dishonest; it pretends that sin, that death, that shame, can be healed just by going backward, by throwing away its badge, as if acting without shame physically would be enough to cure the shame we bear in our spirits, as if acting without shame physically might make us innocent. Nudity, in the present life in this world, is a lie; it is a way of saying that we do not need God to clothe us, that we can heal ourselves, that we have nothing to be ashamed of, that we are OK without Him, that we didn’t really die, that we aren’t really dead.

Clothing is a symbol of all that is wrong with us and with the world, with what is still wrong with us and the world despite all we can do. Disposing of a symbol has no effect on the reality it symbolizes; it just makes it harder to think. Our hope  is a resurrection in which the glory of the naked body will outshine the stars and never again will clothing have any meaning for us. Some claim that nudity now can be an eschatological sign of our hope in the resurrection, but I am skeptical. The Scripture itself chose a sign of our hope: that we put on the righteousness of Christ like we put on clothes. God made our parents their first clothes and even today He acts as the great Tailor, who clothes our shame with the glory of Christ until there will be no cause for shame left in us. Perhaps we should be content to bide our time and wait for the day when nudity is appropriate.

God took His time appearing on the scene, even after the forbidden fruit was eaten. At least Adam and Eve were able to contrive a way to sew leaves together to make some makeshift clothes, and inventing clothes and sewing would have taken some time. Why did God wait so long to confront them? Because it was not His purpose to expose them; He knew they would be ashamed and He gave them time to cover themselves so they would not be humiliated in His presence. It is not God’s purpose in the world to shame sinners before the rest of the world; it is people who do that. There are no spiritual tabloids in the Kingdom of God.

The other side of the shame coin is fear. All fear is the same: the fear that some one will see us, the fear of exposure, the fear of being helpless and vulnerable because of the shame we have in our pathetic weaknesses. Adam and Eve hid from God though they had been accustomed to meeting Him and speaking and walking with Him. What were they afraid of? They were afraid, of course, that He would know they had disobeyed concerning the tree. They couldn’t know what death meant, but in hiding from each other and from God, they were behaving like dead people. To fear is to be dead. Fear is not simply realizing that we must die; fear is death itself reaching back into our lives to kill us now.

God asked Adam where he was, not because He didn’t know, but because Adam didn’t know. When God asks questions it is obviously never because He needs the information; it is because we need the information and we do not know the right questions to ask. He asks us what we ought to be asking ourselves. Adam was in hiding because he was no longer in Eden, for Eden had died when he died. He no longer had a home, he no longer had a place he belonged; he was a trespasser. Adam’s answer was all that was necessary to fully disclose the whole nature of death:  “I was afraid because I was naked…”

And then God asked him a very peculiar question: “Who told you that you were naked?” Who had told him? Had the word ever been used in conversation before this? Surely not. Why name the condition of being without clothes when there were no clothes to be without? It is as if Adam knew the word for a condition as it made its appearance, as if the word were hanging in the air waiting to be required; or rather, hanging from a tree waiting to be plucked. He was naked, and he had never known it before, but now he did, and he knew the word for it, and this is the knowledge of good and evil.

But it is the knowledge of good and evil from the viewpoint of the evil, it is the knowledge of nakedness from the viewpoint of shame and the need to hide. If he had refused to eat, if he had preferred God over his wife, then he would still have discovered that he was naked, but it would have been the knowledge of nakedness from the viewpoint of a Beautiful One, a Glorious One, such a One who can stand before the universe and deserve only praise and admiration and awe. Now he was just such a one that all who looked on him would have to turn away their eyes in embarrassment or revulsion.

“Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” This was a rhetorical question; the answer was obvious. But it was not purely rhetorical either; it was an opportunity, if there was any real life left in Adam, to express that life and admit freely what he had done. But there was no life left in him: first the shame, then the fear, then the infinite ability for self-deception and lies and evasion. He would not admit his decision to eat the fruit: No, it was Eve that had given it to him; he really hadn’t done anything but follow her lead; it was her fault. And he even tried to implicate God as bearing some of the blame. After all it was God who had given him the one who offered the fruit; if God hadn’t created Eve then none of this would ever have happened, so it was really God who was to blame.

This same line has been repeated by Adam’s descendants ever since. Adam’s answer was simply another part of his hiding. Like all lies, it masqueraded as a truth; it even was the truth on one level of understanding, but it was a lie on the only level of understanding that mattered. The question had to be asked so that later Adam could remember it, so that his descendants could remember it through all the horrible millennia of death, so we could all understand something more of what death means. You might think that being experienced in death as we are would mean that we understand it well, but the reverse is the case. Our experience in death is what prevents us from understanding it, like being asleep prevents us from understanding sleep.

Adam is the proto-type of every fool in the world who thinks there are gods to be preferred to God. He chose his wife over God and then betrayed her the first chance he got. It is the pattern for all our collective choices since then. We repeatedly choose something we desire more than God, and then betray it. To be an idolater is to be a traitor. First betray God with some other love,  some other thing to worship, and then invariably bring betrayal into every relationship we have. It becomes natural, inevitable, to us to betray whatever we choose rather than God. The bitterest seeds of our own misery are always planted by ourselves in our own desires. Thus, adultery is the most fitting model for all of sin: the one who betrays his wife will shortly betray his lover.

In contrast, Eve’s answer was straightforward. Her response was the simple truth: the dragon had deceived her and she had eaten the fruit. Unlike Adam, she had nothing to hide. She had been carried into death apart from her choosing. But then God did not ask the serpent to account for himself. Why is that? Why didn’t this dragon have to give some account of himself to God? Or had the dragon already answered to God, already given an account of himself and already become known by what he had previously done? The temptation was a mythical event, an event performed before the whole creation, before all other creations, but it was a sequel to what had come before, a sequel to deeds which had been played out already and which we have not seen. The dragon was an old character, familiar to the heavenly audience from the previous scenes in this super-cosmic drama, and needed no introduction; and to future generations of Adam’s descendants any excuses the dragon could make would only have brought either confusion or pathological curiosity. Adam and Eve were the new characters in the play now; they needed to provide an explanation to the audience, and to their children whose lives they had ruined, for who they were and what they had done. Thus God turned to the dragon to pronounce judgment and did not seek any further explanations.

4 Comments on “13. Genesis 3:7-13”

  1. godanalytics Says:

    This is dealing with a song that I’m working on, but only the first part is what I wanted, the second part seems kind of contrived. maybe I can come up with some more depth from this post.

    started out
    with one look
    One temptation
    Before I knew it
    I was hooked

    It was beautiful, innocent, convenient
    Now I’m standing in this Garden of Eden
    Naked, shamed and alone.

    used to be
    so simple
    Before I tasted
    what didn’t seem
    so evil

    It was beautiful, innocent, convenient
    Now I’m standing in this Garden of Eden
    Naked, shamed and alone.

    I hear you calling from a distance
    But I’m hiding
    can’t believe I did this
    What you meant for good I misunderstood
    It seemed like there was something more
    than what you had in store

    Where are you
    I never thought I’d lose you
    This is what it’s like to feel alone
    This is what it’s like to lose my home

    There’s no going back
    God closed the door
    But He forgave me
    sustained me
    even promised more

    It was beautiful, innocent, convenient
    God clothed me before I left Eden

    But I’ll always miss home
    I miss us walking in the garden
    Before my eyes were opened
    God forgive me I don’t want to live in sin
    I need what we had back then

    Where are you
    I don’t ever want to lose you
    I know you’ll always love me
    You gave me back my dignity

  2. godanalytics Says:

    ok. I posted that comment BEFORE I read the whole post….but that is kind of strange…..”the no home” part and all that. Just wrote this yesterday.

  3. arkvet Says:

    This is gorgeous! So much packed into this story: deception, rebellion, death (and all that that means), fear, nakedness, shame, idolatry, betrayal — all introduced to humanity for the first time. And all contained in a few verses of Genesis. I see what you mean by the story requiring the mythical form. It explains so much so very efficiently. When stacked up against the pagan mythologies, it is singularly ambitious and cohesive. Your unpacking of it is quite thorough and thought-provoking.

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