A couple of weeks ago I posted a painting that I recently completed for a Loveland, Colorado church that goes by the name of Beggars’ Gate. I titled the painting Water to the Thirsty. Pictured below is the second painting, titled Clothing to the Naked. I alluded to the theme of “nakedness” in the first Beggar’s Gate post, but this second painting provides an excuse to elaborate a bit on the theme.
The first and most obvious meaning of the painting has to do with helping those who are in need of literal, physical clothing. This is a part of what the church of Jesus does. But more importantly, there is another, more profound clothing spoken of throughout the Judeo-Christian scriptures. It is this clothing that really interests me, and this is what the painting is really about.
In the Bible, virtually every common aspect of our physical existence has a more primary, spiritual counterpart: birth, food, water, nakedness & clothing, home & shelter, marriage, family & inheritance, warfare & peace, slavery & freedom, seedtime & harvest, and even life & death, all are spoken of in spiritual terms with the coming of Jesus and His new covenant. These physical realities are real, but the spiritual realities are just as real. In fact they are eternal. The apostle Paul states, “…for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:18).
Consider the puzzling subject of clothing. Clothing is a fascinating aspect of our common experience that is unique to humans. Even if you’re sitting all alone in your house right now with your computer, there is an extremely high probability that you’re wearing clothes. By contrast, if your lovable household pet is nearby, there is an equally high probability that it is blissfully buck-naked. Only humans bother with clothing. You may respond that this is all merely a result of social conditioning, and I would agree to some extent. But maybe there is something deeper going on with this business of nakedness and clothing.
Let’s look in the Torah where the subject of nakedness first comes up. It says YHWH produced a creation that He pronounced “very good” (Gen 1:31). He placed the first couple in charge of tending the garden, and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply” (1:28). This sounds like a very nice gig. Then, of all the things that could’ve been pointed out about the situation, the text somewhat weirdly says “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (2:25). The situation described is that of perfect community – communion and unity between the couple and YHWH, as well as communion and unity between the man and the woman.
It is interesting that when communion/trust is broken between YHWH and the couple, the first thing it says is “the eyes of both were opened, and they realized that they were naked” (3:7), so they hid themselves among the trees from the presence of YHWH (3:8). Also interesting is that they make coverings out of leaves to cover themselves. Why? Strange.
What happens later is more interesting still: YHWH makes coverings for them out of animal skins, implying that their leaf coverings were insufficient (3:21). So the first blood shed in YHWH’s creation was shed by YHWH Himself, in order to provide sufficient covering for the man and the woman. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this can be seen as a prefiguring of the sacrificial death of the Messiah.
Some thousands of years later, when the Messiah does arrive, he teaches His followers to look beyond the physical to the spiritual. Not that the physical is negated or unimportant, but that the spiritual is foremost in importance: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Jesus – Matt 6:25-33)
After the bodily resurrection of the Messiah, the apostle Paul writes, “…For in this tent (physical body) we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor 5:2-5).
So, to clarify, according to the Bible, this business of nakedness, clothing, and shame does not seem to be about sex. We know this because sex was a gift from YHWH, and part of His “very good”, unified creation. Furthermore, at the fall it says the couple hid from the presence of God, not from each other. Rather, nakedness seems to be about vulnerability. In Genesis 2 the root of the Hebrew word “naked” means “exposed”, and I believe this is the heart of the matter. Before the fall, humanity was vulnerable, but protected by virtue of being in loving relationship with God. When that communion was broken, humanity was left exposed (naked) to the consequences of disobedience – to all of the imperfection and suffering that we now live with, ultimately ending in physical death. In willfully “unplugging” from the Source of life, humanity was left in a state of mortality.
If that is true, then one might ask why God didn’t do something about it. The short answer is, He did – in sending a Savior. It is the role of His church to let people know about that. The question of why He took so long is the subject of another post.
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27,28).