Let us pray:
O God, bring us out of the depths so that we may hear you. Fill our hearts with your Word and our lives with your love. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Fruit and Clothes
This is a story that most of us probably know at least the outlines of. Even now, in a culture where so many people have avoided church, most people know at least the outlines of the story of the Garden of Eden, with the snake and Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit.
We’ve come in to the story at the end: after God has created the world, has created plants and animals and stars; after God has created humanity; after Adam and Eve have been given free reign of the Garden except for one tree’s fruit; after Adam and Eve have both eaten from the tree; after they begin to see things differently, as promised, and make themselves clothes to cover their nakedness. And so we come in after they’ve made this choice, as God comes for an evening walk in the garden, with everything that God has created, and the two humans hide from God because of their nakedness.
Which is where I’d like to pause, and ask if they were even naked.
I should clarify: I’m not saying they were actually wearing clothes through this whole story. There’s just a difference in English between being naked and being nude, between being filled with shame about your body and being comfortable in it. People who habitually wear no clothes are called nudists, after all, not naked-ists (I guess that’s what it would be?). Those who are naked want to hide their body again, find some clothes and cover up; those who are nude really don’t care. A lot of classical statues are nude, because they’re sitting there, “I’m not wearing clothing and it doesn’t bother me one bit.”
So, before they ate the fruit of knowledge, before they learned about concepts like nakedness, Adam and Eve were (arguably) nude: they weren’t ashamed, they just were. These were their bodies. That’s how things were; that’s how they were created.
I’m making this distinction because I was so very struck by the image of this passage, of Adam and Eve hiding somewhere in the garden from God as God calls out, “Where are you?” I was struck by how familiar that image feels. I have been there: in the months after I received my call to seminary, when I just didn’t want to think about it; when someone points out a sin and I go, ‘Nope, not a problem, everything’s fine, I’ll just be over here pretending it doesn’t exist’; this past week and every week, when I’m torn between needing to write a sermon and the deep vulnerability of coming to God’s word to open myself to what it says… I could go on, but I’ll just end by saying that there’s a reason that Jonah is probably the Biblical figure I identify with the most, with his determined running away from God: not want to be the most like, but actually am the most like.
And the reason Adam and Eve give for fleeing and hiding from God is because they’re naked, because they’re ashamed of their bodies that God created for them, that God declared when creation was done was “very good” (Genesis 1). They don’t like themselves enough to come before God as they are.
It’s more complicated than that, of course, because whatever Adam and Eve may say about their nakedness, they also know what they’ve done: they’ve eaten the fruit when God told them not to. They know that they’ve done wrong, that they’ve sinned. And, like any of us, they don’t want to face that. They don’t want to face God in the midst of their failings. And man, do I identify with that, too, with that desire to fix everything yourself so you can come before God clean and unashamed.
It’s the kind of moment when I feel the psalmist’s words deep in my soul: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?” (130:3).
But the psalmist doesn’t end there, in that despair. The story goes past our desire to fix ourselves, to hide our sin from ourselves and from God and from one another, to turn our heads and pretend it isn’t really there. The story doesn’t end there, with Adam and Eve hiding from God. God comes and finds them; God, instead of accusing, asks them questions. God still wants to be in relationship with them. Even after God’s reaction, even after what can be fairly accurately described as a total disaster, God does not abandon Adam and Eve, nor their descendants; instead, the Bible tells the story of God’s continued desire to know and be with and be in relationship with Adam and Eve’s descendants. God continues to come, continues to seek relationship with us no matter what we’ve done, no matter what we’re ashamed of, no matter how many times we’ve tried to run away from God. God seeks us out.
As the psalmist continues: “For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.” (130:7)