Clothed to Cover Shame
JANUARY 14, 2021
It’s easy to miss the wedding ceremony in the second chapter of the Bible.
After creating light, wildlife, and coffee beans, God makes humankind. And everything that’s made — the sights, smells, sounds — it’s all good. Really good. That is, of course, until something is said to not be good: Adam being alone.
So, God puts Adam to sleep in order to conduct surgery on him, cutting open his side, and fashioning new life out of the wound. The next scene is subtle but striking. God brings the woman to the man, an important verb that throughout history has served as a blueprint for wedding ceremonies. Here is why the father of the bride walks or brings his daughter to the groom at the onset of the marriage. This passage, however, speaks more to us than simple ceremony etiquette. Its primary purpose is theological, not logistical. Take a look:
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Standing at the altar of this newly formed relationship, before the corrosive disease of sin infects the hearts of humanity, we learn that marriage is fundamentally about two becoming one. If that seems obvious, the next part requires a bit more room for consideration. That is, this union is known by its form and feeling: nakedness without shame.
This nakedness is not less than physical, but it is certainly more. Not only are these two not wearing clothes, but perhaps more importantly, they’re also not dressing up their emotions, thoughts, or actions. Between one another, all that they are is uncovered and open for observation. Nakedness in marriage is the full knowing of another. It’s both seeing and being unfiltered. That’s the form.
The feeling is where things seem less intuitive at first glance. In premarital counseling, I always ask the soon-to-be newlyweds why they think “no shame” is the choice adjective here. Why not…blissful, complete, or really, really happy? More often than not, it doesn’t take one of them long to connect their own current fear of being exposed or a previous experience of discomfort after their soon-to-be spouse saw a part of them that isn’t available on social media.
To present our full self to another induces fear because of the threat of rejection. What if they don’t like that part of me? There isn’t a single relationship, no matter how intimate or instagrammable, that has known the perfect combination of nakedness and no shame presented here in the second chapter of Genesis.
Shame’s first act
It isn’t long in the story before we are introduced to shame for the first time. Adam and Eve feel its intense heat after they disobey the command not to eat of the one tree that results in death:
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.
Shame’s presence is quiet, not quick to identify or name itself but instead focuses its efforts on hurrying its targets to cover themselves. Not only does shame tell them that they have transgressed, but that they are transgressors and they ought to hide. Similar to the nakedness they once knew, Adam and Eve’s felt need for covering is representative of both body and soul. And so they intuitively begin working to cover themselves.
You need to be covered
In the ensuing fallout-conversation through Genesis 3, there’s a minor detail that often gets neglected. Following the curse in childbearing, thorns and thistles, and the promise of the serpent crusher, God zeros in on the sewn fig leaves. Interestingly, he doesn’t say they don’t need covering. Instead, he replaces their hand-made attempt to cover themselves with clothing he himself fashions out of animal skins.
By doing so, God is effectively saying, “You do need clothes — you do need covering — but not like that, not by your own sewing, not by your own self-saving. Instead, you have to be covered by the work of my hands.” Even the first set of clothes they wear will require looking to God and receiving the covering only he can provide.
Put on this love
There is a certain ‘fogginess’ to this narrative, at this juncture in the biblical story. However, as the story unfolds, the outline will be colored in. The New Testament will soon reach back on these very verses and bring them to bear on reality in light of the good news of Jesus:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Marriage has always been about God and his oneness. Sin has corrupted our ability to be fully known without shame, but redemption is preceded by and often comes through sacrificial death. This shame-covering death is first seen in the animals who are sacrificed in order to clothe Adam and Eve. God replaces our failed efforts with his rescuing grace through sacrificial death. It’s the biblical drama in one sentence, and it’s brought to a climax in the person of Christ.
Having never known sin and therefore without reason for shame himself, Jesus takes our sin up a wooden cross and drapes our shame on his own shoulders like a robe. He is stabbed in the side and suffocates by his own bodyweight. A fountain of blood pours from his wounds, covering once-and-for-all the shame of humanity. Like Adam, Jesus is a groom who is put to sleep, so that his bride can be brought to life through open-side surgery.
The big story of the Bible bids us to recognize our constant attempts at covering our own shame and to then put down the needle and the leaves.
Instead, wear the gospel like a garment. Put on the costly, mysterious love of God who bled and died to bring you back into the perfect intimacy of which you long for but have yet to experience in full. Let this word of Christ dwell in you richly. He has dressed himself in our shame and buried it in his grave so that we could be robed in his righteousness forever. Put on this love. Grow in it, one day at a time, until you meet him face to face.