Why Is There So Much Nakedness in this Story? A Sermon on Genesis 3

This is a sermon I preached on Genesis 3:8-21 at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church in Minneapolis on June 10, 2018. The text follows the audio, below.

Can we all just admit? This is a weird story.

A frustrating story. A confusing story. And that makes it a very human story.

And I’m not going to pretend to have the definitive interpretation of a story that has been wrestled with for millennia by people who are a lot smarter than me, but I think it’s possible that at least one of the important things that this story is trying to say is that human beings were created for connection.

That might not be immediately apparent in this morning’s reading, but it’s there. It’s there mainly in the abundance of disconnection that is so prevalent in this portion of the text. We’ll come back to that.

But like any good story, to understand what’s happening now, you have to understand what happened before. So let’s go back a chapter or so.

I said that I think one thing this story is trying to say is that human beings were created for connection, and that’s true, but it’s actually much more radical than that. The truth is that everything, all of this—the earth, the animals, human beings—were created for connection. Connection with each other and with God.

In fact, the story tells us, everything is made of the same stuff: the dust of the earth.

The text says, The Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth.

And again, Out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the sky.

It seems strange. We like to fancy ourselves as something wholly other than the rest of creation, superior somehow, but no, Genesis reminds us that we’re not as different as we like to think—we all come from the dust of the earth. The dust of the earth brings forth trees and plants and food and animals and us.

Connection is central to who we are intended to be.

There is a special connection between human beings, of course. And, according to this story, particularly between men and women. That whole part about the woman being taken from the side of the man. That’s been distorted over time to justify the subjugation of women, but actually it’s a symbol of their special interconnectedness. They come from the same essence, the same body.

As Adam says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  And again: “Therefore a man clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

One flesh. One. Differentiated, yes, but deeply connected.

Human beings were created for connection.

There’s another part of the story that we have to wrestle with before we can understand what’s happening in today’s reading.

And that is, well, let’s just name it outright, there seems to be an awful lot of nakedness in this story.

Many interpreters throughout history have suggested that the nakedness in this text is about sexuality. I don’t doubt that’s part of it, but I wonder if, on an even deeper level, it’s about vulnerability.

At first, we’re told, Adam and Eve are naked and not ashamed. In their interconnectedness, they’re able to be perfectly vulnerable with one another. To show each other every part of themselves, without fear or shame.

Of course, we all know what happens next. Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the one tree in the garden of Eden that God told them not to—the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

That’s a heckuva long name for a tree, I prefer aspens, but apparently the fruit from this tree imparts knowledge. And not like book knowledge, like E=MC2 or the intricate details of the nitrogen cycle, but a different kind of knowledge. Moral knowledge. An awareness of what is right and what is wrong.

And suddenly, upon taking that one bite, their eyes are opened and they realize that they’re naked.

You know what it makes me think of? The Dream.

You know the one. When you show up to work or school only to discover you forgot to get dressed that morning and you’re totally in the buff. And everyone’s looking at you and laughing and pointing. And it’s so embarrassing, so desperately uncomfortable, that all you want to do is run and hide.

Right?

Well, apparently, Adam and Eve wake up smack-dab in the middle of that dream. Only for them, it’s real.

The text says, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”

And their response to the sudden awareness of their nakedness is exactly like the dread you feel in that dream when you realize you’re over-exposed, that everyone can see the parts of you that you’d rather keep hidden, the aspects of yourself that you barely admit to yourself, let alone anyone else—let alone God.

It’s an everyday reality for most of us, but for Adam and Eve, this seems to be their first foray into that overwhelming compulsion to hide—that familiar white-hot sensation we call shame.

And why are they so ashamed?

It goes back to the knowledge of good and evil.

You see, the awareness of what is right and what is wrong is one of the characteristics of God. In fact, after Adam and Eve eat of the fruit, God says, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”

Of course, there’s an important distinction here. Adam and Eve might’ve become like God in this one important way, but that’s a very different matter from being God.

And it sets up an unavoidable tension that each of us knows all too well: that knowing good from evil is one thing, while doing good instead of evil is quite another.

In disobeying God’s command and plunging into the bewilderingly complex world that awaits them when their eyes are opened, perhaps Adam and Eve discover that evil is not just an abstract force that exists out there—but in here as well.

In knowing good and evil, they are confronted with the ambiguous goodness and badness that is simultaneously present in every human heart.

And when their eyes are opened and they see it for the first time, they do what we’re all tempted to do when confronted with our own propensity for evil.

They hide.

Of course, it’s not really possible to hide from God. So when God finds them, as God always does, they take the next option open to them: they blame each other.

I’ll admit that there is something about this scene that has always struck me as funny.

You could almost imagine an inappropriate slapstick version a la the Three Stooges: Adam and Eve are shocked to discover that they’re naked, so they rush frantically around, trying to cover up—first with a flower, perhaps, and when that doesn’t work with a fern, and when THAT doesn’t work with a ferret—until they settle on, of all things, fig leaf loincloths.

(I feel like I could come up with any number of things in a garden paradise that would be significantly more effective than fig leaves, but what do I know?)

Even the dialogue makes me chuckle:

“It wasn’t me, it was the woman YOU gave me!”

“It wasn’t me, it was the snake!”

And God, fed up with the lot of them, basically responds: “Why I oughtta!”

Because here’s the thing. Like peanut butter and jelly, shame and blame go together. When we’re ashamed, when we’re hiding, when we know the difference between good and evil and do what is evil anyway, and we’re suddenly caught out, the only way we feel like we can live with ourselves is to deflect or minimize what we’ve done. And that often takes the form of blame.

  • Like my five-year-old said the other day when I chastised her for fighting with her sister: “Well, SHE started it!”
  • Or the way we make excuses for dishonesty: “Everyone else is cheating, I’ll fall behind if I don’t.”
  • Or how we justify humanitarian atrocities: “If THEY didn’t come here illegally, we wouldn’t have to separate children from their parents at the border.”

And at the bottom of it all is disconnection.

An unwillingness to see others with respect and dignity. An inability to trust one another—or ourselves. A resistance to vulnerability.

God makes this abundantly clear in the section where God spells out what life will be like from here on out for Adam and Eve. This shame and blame stuff have changed things, and God names the consequences: new life will come through pain, the relationship between men and women will be strained, even the ground will no longer yield its fruit easily.

It doesn’t take much to realize that’s an accurate description of the world in which we live—a world that seems to be built on sin, shame, and blame: pain, fractured relationships, hiding, deflecting, disconnecting.

But, for all its humanity, this isn’t just a human story.

This is a story about the true and living God.

And like all stories about God, hope is never fully lost, and there always seems to be a surprise twist ending.

This time it comes in the form of a fur coat: “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife, and clothed them.”

You could imagine it going another way. You could imagine a Fitness Coach kind of god who says, “You just have to do all the things that will get you back to a beach-ready body.” (Or a garden paradise body?)

You could imagine a god justifiably saying, “Too bad. You brought this upon yourself—deal with it.”

You could even imagine a god abandoning humanity over the betrayal. “You didn’t listen to me—this relationship is OVER.”

But that’s the difference between God and us. That’s the difference between knowing good from evil and doing good instead of evil—which God does every time, all the time.

When we’re confronted with our evil, we turn away from each other and God. When God is confronted with our evil, God turns toward us.

We hide away in fear and shame. God comes and finds us.

We blame. God forgives.

We wallow in disconnection. God reaches out to reconnect.

We create comically terrible fig leaf loincloths and try to pretend they cover the important bits. God says, “Oh, honey,” and clothes us in divine garments that God has crafted out of God’s own hands in God’s abundant mercy and provision.

Now, I’m not here to tell you it’s all roses. You wouldn’t believe me if I tried—your eyes have been opened, too. You know full well that both good and evil exist, and that there is more than enough evil to go around.

The truth is, sin, shame, and blame change things. They make life harder. More painful. More fractured.

But God doesn’t abandon us to the worst parts of ourselves. In the goodness and the badness, the joy and the pain, the connection and the disconnection, God remains faithful to us through it all.

And when God is faithful, we can’t help but be deeply connected to all that is, despite ourselves. We can’t help but be clothed in God’s mercy. And just as sin, shame, and blame change things, God’s faithfulness and mercy restore us to right relationship with one another—and with God.

May our eyes be open enough to see that, too.

Thanks be to God.

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