Naked in Shame / Clothed with Grace

Rev. Taylor Hall Avatar

Let’s imagine a scenario together.

Let’s say one afternoon you get a call from someone dear to you, one of the people you love most in this world, perhaps a spouse or a best friend. They call you, and they are frantic, “I need your help! I need you to come to the garden section of Home Depot right now! Hurry, hurry! Please! It’s an emergency! But don’t tell anyone; don’t even call 911. I just need you! And bring a large jacket!”

So you rush off to Home Depot to find your loved one. As you get to the garden section store, you hear their cries but you can’t seem to locate them. “Where are you?!” you call out to your friend! 

“Psst, over here!” And then you see your loved one, standing behind a fig tree… and then you see it… your loved one seems to be missing some clothes… in fact, all of their clothes… they are naked!

What might be your very next question to your loved one?

Was it something along the lines of “Why are you naked?!”

Now let us turn to Genesis 3 to hear a similar story. But before we do, I want us to approach this story as if it were the first time. I think there is a common assumption that this story is about Adam and Eve, God and Satan, the Fall and the first sin. And although we might have been taught this about Genesis 3, theologians and scholar can’t seem to agree how accurate the story really is. Most likely, this story actually never took place, or at least in this way because Genesis was written to help explain and establish God’s relationship with God’s people. So first, let’s understand Genesis, especially Genesis 3, as a story to describes the relationship between God and humankind. This is not just a story about God and Adam & Eve, or really in this case “a man and his wife” as the two are not named until the end of the passage where just Eve is named. Second, there’s a serpent, which we might understand as Satan. But once again, how true is that? Satan or the devil is not named in this passage.  Here, the serpent represents doubt, temptation, shame, and death. And it’s not really against snakes, as snakes were created in creation and called good and snakes will return in our biblical stories. And last, this story is titled as “The Fall” or the first sin, and yet in Hebrew, sin or the fall are not words used in this passage. So  please let go of every preconceived notion about this passage, and instead try to hear it for the first time, through our own eyes, as we are part of humankind that God is establishing a relationship with in the book of Genesis.

We head into the metaphorical Garden of Eden. We can imagine the lush greenery, the vibrant colors of the flowers, the gentle rustling of leaves in the cool evening breeze – but really Eden describes a paradise created by God, perfect in every way. A man – Adam in Hebrew – and his wife – the first humans lived in this Paradise in perfect harmony with God and with each other. There was no shame, no fear, no hiding. They were naked. They were created naked. And they were unashamed.

Our passage begins with a seemingly innocent question posed by the serpent: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). But this question is the first recorded instance of doubt being sown into the human heart. This question sets off a series of events that would lead to a shift in the relationship between humanity and God because doubt is introduced to humankind. Not sin, but doubt. Their doubt would lead them down a path of temptation. But it wasn’t just temptation to eat the fruit from the tree; humankind is tempted to listen to a voice that contradicts God’s voice for the first time. Temptation has now been introduced. Doubt and now temptation.

Humankind then eats from the tree, and their eyes are opened. And they realize they are naked. They were naked all along but now they realize they are naked. In their newfound awareness, they sew fig leaves together to cover themselves because they see their nakedness as bad. And so when they hear sound of God walking in the garden, the man and his wife, now aware of their nakedness, hide among the trees. This is because the two are ashamed of their nakedness; ashamed for what they have done. Shame has now been introduced to humankind. Not sin – but doubt, then temptation, then shame. Sin still hasn’t been named.

Because the man and his wife are now hiding from God, God asks, “Where are you?”

The man responds, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.” “I heard,” “I was afraid,” “I was naked,” “I hid.” Humankind’s fear and shame drive the man and his wife to hide from God.

But the next question to them is unlike any human question. Going back to our scenario, if we saw a friend naked in the garden section of store, we might ask, “Why are you naked?!”

But God asks the two, “Who told you that you were naked?”

Not why! But “Who told you?”

Because God knew the two were always naked. They were created naked. And God and humankind felt no shame in their nakedness because humans were created in the image of God, and God called them good. Think of the youngest of infant and toddlers; they have no shame in being naked because they were born and created naked. But eventually we as a shame-filled society teach them there is shame in being naked. And then unfortunately we teach them shame, not just about nakedness, but shame for their very own identities.

This is what creates the divide between God and humankind because doubt, temptation, and shame cause the goodness we feel about ourselves and the goodness we were created in to feel tainted.  This divide is death.

Doubt, then temptation; shame, then death.

In many ways, this narrative mirrors our own experiences. We too hide our full selves because of shame and brokenness. Society tells us that we are too fat, too skinny, too feminine, too young, too old, too black, too dumb, too weird, too poor, too weak, too different. We are told we are not masculine enough, not successful enough, not normal enough, not straight enough, not strong enough, not worthy enough, not good enough These labels, like the realization of nakedness, are not bad or wrong! They are beautiful! But we have been conditioned to view them as negative because society led us to believe that they are bad. Just as the man and the wife were always naked without shame until they were told it was bad, we too are influenced by the voices that tell us we are not enough.

Consider the various ways in which we experience nakedness and shame in our lives. We might feel exposed in our relationships, fearing rejection or judgment. We might feel vulnerable in our careers, doubting our abilities and fearing failure. We might feel inadequate in our spiritual lives, struggling with doubts and feeling distant from God. In all these situations, the voices that tell us we are not enough can be overwhelming.

But these moments of feeling exposed or vulnerable or inadequate do not make us less; it makes us human. Because being fat or skinny, straight or gay, man or a woman, white or black, weird or different, or anything in between or outside of those binaries is not a bad thing! It’s who we are. It’s what God created. It’s what God called good when God created, so it is good! It’s who God desires to be in relationship with; us! Our full selves. Every part of our identity. And there is no shame in identity because there should be no shame in who God created us to be.

But yet we still feel shame at times.

God’s question, “Who told you that you were naked?” invites us to reflect on the sources of these negative perceptions. Why do we listen to voices that contradict God’s truth? Why do we allow society to dictate our worth and our identity? This question is about our spiritual and emotional vulnerability. It is about the voices we allow to shape our self-perception and our relationship with God; it’s when we let voices that contradict God’s voice taint that self-perception and our relationship with God.

And while we might want to focus on the “punishments” of Genesis 3; all were reversed in Scripture. The serpent is considered evil, until God snakes return in scripture, including when God transforms Moses’ staff into a snake to show God’s presence and power. We hear that women will desire their husbands and their husbands will rule over them, until Song of Songs tells us that man will desire his wife, and that humankind is now equal in our desire for each other. Yes, humans will have to work the soil of the earth, but it won’t be our own works that will save us. Because ultimately, this passage also alludes to one more thing: Jesus victory over death, “as the offspring of woman will strike the head a serpent;” the serpent that represents doubt, temptation, shame, and death. Jesus will strike the head of death. And Jesus did. And Jesus was victorious.

The story of Genesis 3 points us to the grace of God. Because even in the midst of judgment, there is hope. The man and his wife are clothed by God with garments, a symbol of God’s provision and care. This act of clothing them is a powerful image of grace because God doesn’t just leave us in a shame; leave us to fend for ourselves in the divide because that divide is death.

Even when we leave the metaphorical garden, God remains with us. This truth is evident throughout Scripture. After the man and his wife, now named Eve at the end of Genesis 3, are expelled from Eden, God continues to interact with them and their descendants. In Genesis 4, God engages with Cain and Abel, demonstrating that divine presence is not confined to a perfect garden but extends into the messy realities of human life. And the story continues.

Because this passage is about our God who is with us even when we walk out on God’s story. It is about a God who finds us even when we try to hide in the world God created. It is about a God who asks us what we have done even when God already knows what we have done. This divine pursuit is an expression of God’s grace. It means that no matter how far we stray, no matter how deeply we hide, no matter how low we fall to shame, God seeks us out, desiring to restore our relationship and close the divide of death that was established. 

We are called to listen to God’s voice above all others, to let go of the shame and brokenness that weigh us down, and to trust in the grace that clothes us. We are called to see who we are as good, because that is what God called us when God created us. This journey is not always easy. We will face moments of doubt and struggle, but we are not alone. God’s presence is with us.

Remember, my friends, we are not defined by our mistakes or by the labels society places on us. We are not defined by our shame or brokenness.  We are not defined by the reasons we don’t feel good enough. We are defined by the love God has for us; by the grace God gives to us. Even when we falter, even when we hide in our shame, God seeks us out.

May we have the courage to listen to God’s voice above all others. May we embrace our true identity as beloved children of God, clothed in grace and redeemed by Christ. And may we walk in the knowledge that God is with us, even in our moments of nakedness and shame, guiding us toward a future filled with hope and promise.

This is the message of Genesis 3.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.