Ah, I’m naked!
In my dream, I am enjoying a public space. I casually look down and am shocked to discover I have no clothes on. I make feeble attempts to cover up, but of what use it that?
Ever had this dream?
Unfortunately for me, it seems to be a recurring experience.
Even though just a dream, I feel intensely vulnerable, fully exposed to too many seeing eyes. Overwhelming feelings of self-consciousness and shame paralyse me. Even if I could move, there is no way I can make a discreet exit without anyone seeing.
For me, being exposed to other people in a dream is trauma enough. At least it’s only a dream in my head, and only lasts for those few moments. However, last year, my fear of being naked in front of a group became reality.
I was waiting for a scheduled groin surgery. One day, it suddenly overwhelmed me that I would need to be fully exposed to a team of medical staff working on this sensitive area. Thinking about it surfaced a growing anxiety within me. My dream was about to become real life.
When the day came, it certainly was humiliating to disrobe and then lie down naked on the operating table. No hiding anything. It was only the sharp pain of the needle going into my spine that distracted me from the shame associated with my nakedness in front of the medical team.
My strong desire to cover up my physical nakedness offers me deeper insights into the ways I also desperately want to cover up emotionally and spiritually. Why do I want to hide my guilty pleasures, faults, flaws, and weaknesses? Where does my intense desire to hide come from? What is it about being exposed that feels so traumatic?
Naked and unashamed?
Given my desperate desire to cover up, I can hardly imagine what it was like for Adam and Eve to live in the garden, naked, and yet unashamed. Why did they have no problem with this radical vulnerability? I can’t even cope with the shame of my nakedness in my dreams or an operating room.
Imagine their scenario. It’s the cool of the day and, as a couple, they are prayer walking with God in the garden, in the nude. Is there even a word for that? Yet, immediately, after eating the forbidden fruit, they feel ashamed and immediately want to cover up.
What changed? What did they lose? What new awareness created such a strong impulse within them to cover up and hide? Obviously, it was not their loss of clothes. No, their physical nakedness had never prevented them from prayer walking with God prior. They lost a covering that was far more significant.
They lost their covering of righteousness. They lost their purity, acceptability, and worthiness before God and one another. In a feeble attempt to cover up their nakedness, they immediately sewed fig leaves. They also hid from God among the trees of the garden. Their nakedness was, all of a sudden, traumatic to them.
I too have things to hide
No wonder I feel shame when I am exposed. I, too, have eaten forbidden fruit and have strayed from God. I, too, have lost my covering of righteousness. I, too, have guilt to hide. This is why I, too, desperately want to control what God, and others, see of me. This is why being physically naked or emotionally vulnerable is so terrifying for me.
I fear that whoever sees the real me will see my guilt, impurity, failures, faults, and imperfections. I feel shame and worry about their judgement, rejection, and condemnation. I only want people to see my good, so I promote it. I hope to elevate my acceptability.
But I hide the things I think people will reject me for. I think the only way I can be loved is to hide all my weaknesses. My life is one cover up after another.
Creative fig leaf making
It is my instinct to cover myself, and when it comes to sewing fig leaves, I get very creative. Most of what I do and aspire to do, my concern for what others say about me, and what I possess, is motivated by my desire to cover up.
I want to control and secure my future status. Much of my work is characterized by image management—efforts to make myself look good—so that I can gain acceptance, approval, and advancement. My drive to succeed professionally is to cover my insecurities—to quiet those shaming voices that say I don’t measure up.
I am concerned by what others think and say about me. I am tempted to photoshop my life, to only show my best face and post selectively flattering highlights, giving the impression I am more amazing than I really am. My consumption of media allows me to hide the shameful parts of myself while scrutinizing the lives of other people. It affords me to see and not be seen.
I take pride in what I can buy, or put my hopes in what I can someday purchase. I cover myself with trendy fashion and the latest technology. All my dreams of prosperity, possessions, travel, security, and comfort are extensions of my ego—ways I cover myself, to feel good about myself. And wow, am I ever prone to take pride in how well I have covered myself.
But the shocker of shockers to me? Even my most selfless and altruistic efforts are subtle ways I try to cover myself, to feel better about myself in comparison to others. I am motivated to do good things to people-please. I want be noticed, respected, liked, and even idolized for the good I do. But my attempts at covering myself in my own self-righteousness are counterproductive.
Comparing myself to others only fills me with more pride and leaves me feeling either superior or inferior to others. The more I try to look good and be better than others, the more distant and lonely I feel. If I feel superior, I pull away from those undeserving and beneath me, judging and thinking of them as lesser. If I feel shame for being lesser than those I consider superior to me, I avoid them. They serve only to remind me of my failure and shame. Both forms of pride push me away from the very people I am seeking and need love from. I attempt to clothe myself with my religion and good works, while being the pharisee, criticizing and judging others.
Although subtle, sophisticated, and multifaceted, these are all fig leaves. They are only pathetic attempts to cover up my nakedness and shame. They are poor compensation for all that I have lost.
I can’t cover my naked
My fig leaves don’t work. They don’t last. My feeble attempts to cover up are only patchy fixes at best. Why? No matter how hard I try to deny it, my conscience bears witness to the reality of my impurity, guilt, and shame. Like Lady Macbeth, I can’t get out those damned guilty spots.
Even more troublesome for me is that my conscience cannot escape the only two unseen eyes that really count. Those unseen, seeing eyes, see right through all my image management, pretension, swagger, and hiding. There is no fooling those eyes. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” Hebrews 4:13 NLT
Those eyes are inescapable. I can’t cover up and hide from them. Those eyes expose my greatest need; if I am ever going to be confident while naked before those eyes, I need to be clothed again with the righteousness I lost. But how?
Jesus was stripped bare
Then, it dawns on me. Jesus is the only human that never needed fig leaves. He never did anything shameful that needed covering up. He was the only human ever to be fully clothed in righteousness and shamelessness before God and every human. I am astonished, grieved, and humbled to consider that he was willing to be exposed and stripped of everything for my sake.
His lifestyle of humility and poverty left nothing for him to hide behind. Even though clothed with only good deeds, he was demonized, and his intentions twisted by prideful human hearts. Jesus was stripped of human dignity and justice; he was stripped of his right to a fair trial. He was stripped of life by haters who shouted, “Crucify him!”
At the foot of the cross, he was stripped of his garments. Jesus was crucified bare. What could he hide when exposed by the worst form of torture, in public? I can’t think of any worse shaming. I cringe to think of what it would have felt like to be exposed, my naked body nailed to a cross, a spectacle for gloating sport, on display for the enemy’s pleasure. I can’t comprehend the shame and pain that Jesus endured from the worst of human tortures.
If that wasn’t horrid enough, Jesus was ultimately stripped of his covering of righteousness. He clothed himself with our sin and took all the traumatic consequences in our stead. In his utter nakedness, he was forsaken by God, because he wore all our evil and shame. Nothing to cover him but our human accusation, judgement, condemnation, torture, and death. God damned him to hell and all its torments—ones we can barely imagine that hell could unleash upon him.
Only Jesus can cover my naked
What motivated Jesus to endure a hell of torment, nakedness, and shame? One of his motivations was that he was demonstrating ultimate compassion towards me. He saw my feeble attempts to clothe myself. He took on my nakedness and shame to offer me his robe of righteousness.
He clothed my nakedness. He covered my shame.
“Remove the filthy garments from him. See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.”
Jesus is the only covering sufficient to cover my nakedness and shame. Only he can sufficiently cover me with his righteousness. He takes away my filthy rags and clothes me with perfection. It is a passive covering of his righteousness—something I cannot put on myself.
Of what use are my fig leaves? My attempts at image management utterly fail. My ambitions to cover my nakedness with a successful career, peoples’ respect, or possessions, are superficial attempts to cover my deep inner nakedness. They have no power to assure me, deep inside, that I am loved despite my ugliness of heart.
Jesus lived the perfect and pure life I could never live; he needed no fig leaves; he had nothing to hide. In grace, he offers me an astounding trade for my covering. I can trade in my pathetic fig leaves—a poor covering for my true nakedness—for his robe of righteousness.
His robe of righteousness makes me spotless, bright, pure, dazzling, and radiant before God. He will defend my covering of righteous to any accuser. He treats me as if I had never sinned. Mind blowing, cleansing, refreshing, freeing, and joy inducing.
When I have assurance of this covering, I can come out from my hiding, be naked, confess my guilt and shame, and be assured that I am clothed in his righteousness.
As I learn, more and more, to treasure his righteous covering of me, I grow less dependent on the temporal and insufficient coverings this world entices me with. I don’t need to stress myself about being successful professionally, guarding what people see of me, or clothing myself with the latest fashion labels and tech. I don’t need to buy into the things of this world.
Only when my nakedness and shame is covered in the righteousness of Jesus can I be naked and vulnerable, with nothing to hide; this enables me to experience God’s grace from others.
“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2 ESV)
These reflections are on the sermon by Tim Keller entitled “Nakedness and the Holiness of God.”