“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Genesis 2:25
“So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Genesis 3:6-7
I recently began seeing a chiropractor for what turned out to be a compressed disc. He took routine x-rays to facilitate his diagnosis, and on the day he was to go over the results with me, I was placed in a conference room to wait for our consultation.
On the screen hanging from the wall there was a picture of my spine. I knew it was my spine because the x-ray had my name on it, but I was stunned to see that, instead of a nice straight spine from top to bottom, mine started out well, but about midway it took a dramatic jog to the left before heading back down. When the doctor arrived, he referred matter-of-factly to my scoliosis, assuming that I was already aware. When I sort of sputtered, he was quite surprised to learn that I was unaware of my condition. I told him I remembered being checked in school and that my parents were told that I was borderline, and that nothing needed to be done. The doctor then confirmed that what this x-ray showed was definitely scoliosis. What I found to be remarkable was that no one, in all the intervening years, had mentioned it to me again, most likely assuming that I already knew.
As I mentioned, the problem I am currently experiencing with my back is due to a compressed disc, which is unrelated to my scoliosis. The scoliosis is simply what I have always lived with, unawares, and my new awareness of what has always been true has had a profound effect on me. The doctor began to explain things like, my back is not made to “stand up straight”, so that after I attempt it for a while, my muscles begin to complain and I absolutely must “slouch” to get relief. He assured me that bad posture did not cause this and good posture will not fix it. He also explained that my lifelong lack of balance is a result of the scoliosis and not just that I’m a klutz.
The unexpected by-product of this surprising revelation is that layers of shame began to peel away. I grew up during a time when all little girls paraded around the house with books on their heads because good posture was a sign of good breeding. I could never pull off the balanced book trick, at least not for very long. I knew that neither my posture nor my tendency to careen through tight spaces, bouncing off one object or another, spoke well of my mother’s efforts to train me properly. Suddenly, I had an explanation for my failure to be able to stand up straight and walk like a lady. I had a condition that caused it!
I was relaying my story to a friend who then shared with me his own experience of shame. He had always been somewhat overweight and once, in counseling, he was given an exercise to do at home where he was to stand, unclothed, in front of a mirror and list 10 things he liked about his body. He told me that he tried, but the longer he stood there the more painfully obvious it became that he couldn’t think of anything he liked, until, in despair, he ran from the room and, sadly, was too ashamed to go back to counseling.
All of this got me thinking about shame, and it occurred to me that, ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden, shame has been our natural state. The very first consequence of sin noted in scripture is that the man and woman, who had been naked and unashamed, suddenly became ashamed of their nakedness and took immediate steps to hide it. We have been carrying shame and trying to conceal it ever since.
The Law of “Be Perfect” is written on every heart. With The Fall, sin ushered in condemnation. The purpose of law is to reveal sin and condemn it. Romans 2:15 says that even those who did not have the actual Law of Moses, “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them….” From the time of Adam and Eve, law diagnosed and condemned sin, but could offer no cure; until, finally, Christ arrived to offer us hope.
He took all of our imperfections upon himself and, in turn, gave us his spotless life, removing the basis for shame. The unique message we as Christians have to proclaim to the world is not one of condemnation but of the cure for shame. Yet, so often, we offer exactly the opposite.
Sadly, many churches continue to preach law with little to no gospel, or to preach such a poisonous mixture of the two that people leave hearing only “shame on you”.
My friend, who used to be a Christian but is no longer, said that once he had let go of all the “stuff”, the guilt and shame, which all the religious beliefs had caused in him, he felt a huge burden lifted off of his shoulders. However, he sees his body-shame as something separate from that.
While I understand what he means, I see it differently. I believe that all shame stems from the Garden, and therefore the shame I feel for my wrong actions is a part of the same shame I felt for my lack of good posture and balance. I also believe it can be addressed by the same message of hope. I am certain that my friend never heard that message.
The Law of “Be Perfect” tells us that we are failures. It tells us that we are not as good, smart, strong, witty, charming, loving, patient, kind, generous, self-controlled, beautiful or graceful as we should be. It diagnoses us and leaves us in despair. Then the gospel comes and says, “It’s true. Try as you will, you are not and cannot be that perfect person you wish you were or believe you should be. This has left you feeling ashamed and defeated. That desire, to be perfect, was written on your heart specifically so that when you discovered the truth—that you could not do it—you would be pointed to the only One who could, the only One who did.”
This is good news: We have always been unable to obey the law perfectly, because of our condition. This was true even when we were unaware of our condition. Our desire to be perfect was always intended to point us to the One who was perfect in our stead. This is what we are to proclaim. This news will always have a profound and shame-releasing effect on those who hear it.
This message of hope brings us all to the place where Christ can remove the woefully inadequate fig leaves, behind which we have unsuccessfully tried to hide, and clothe us with his own perfection. The gospel brings us, finally, to the place where we are no longer naked and ashamed.