The Nakedness Motif and the Fall

The concept of nakedness is too deep for the human mind to unravel. What it was before the fall can only be guessed at. What it is now, both dark side and bright side, and how it relates to our human psyche and person-hood, is unfathomable; the more one contemplates it the more layers of theological reflection is exposed. At the bottom of it all is the imago dei. As we said previously on May 28 “The Jewel of the Seventh Day; The Imago Dei,” the imago dei must extend to our physical form as well as the spiritual in spite of the fact that God is not corporal. There is something about our bodies that is compatible, or analogous, to the divine, in both its male and female expressions, and this explains why human nakedness is ever so mysterious, as well as its power. The powerful attraction to the human form is more than just chemical. In nakedness we gaze into God ─ the power of it can, and often does, drive us mad!

The temptation narrative is framed with the idea of nakedness (Genesis 2:25-3:7). Those familiar with the Hebrew understand that the text turns on a pun. Adam and Eve were “naked” (Heb. `arûmmim, 2:25), meaning transparent and innocent, in contrast to the serpent, who was “crafty” (Heb. `arûm), meaning opaque, sinister. By the end of the narrative in verse 7, Adam and Eve are no longer “naked” in their original way, but in a way that resembles the serpent. The demonophany (satanic possession of this creature) succeeded in remaking the imago dei into its own image, but only to an extent. The body lost its original glory but still reflects the imago dei, albeit in a corrupted form. The dark side of nakedness now becomes the playground of evil.

What has happened to humanity in the fall is best expressed though the imagery of nakedness. Before Adam and Eve were innocent and transparent; now they are opaque and untrustworthy. Before they were not ashamed, “shame” being a spiritual category necessarily related to the confusion brought about by a fall from original glory. Now they knew shame. Before they had no need to cover themselves ─ either from one another or from God. Now they had to protect themselves not only from their own stares, but also from divine eyes that cannot tolerate sin and its consequences on the mortal frame. Before they were protected in a Garden, but now they are exposed to the elements and all the discomforts of a fallen environment. Before nakedness was a gift, now it takes center stage in a self-centered power game. Tight boundaries must now be maintained, or human society will come unglued.

So much more can be said here; there is no end to the nakedness motif! All that we need to establish here is that sin and its consequences are portrayed in a very vivid image and not in abstract theological or philosophical terms. To be a sinful person is to be naked and vulnerable both physically and spiritually, in need of clothing. We might even say that death is nakedness. God warned Adam that in the day that he eats from the tree that he would die (2:17). In the Bible, death is not understood as a cessation of existence but diminished existence. This explains why Adam and Eve did not cease to exist, but rather “knew” that their condition changed from glory to a nakedness that is best described as a death, a death that is finally complete when the body falls away from the spirit and returns to its dust. To St. Paul, this situation is absurd! A disembodied spirit is a naked spirit desperately in need of clothes (i.e. a resurrected body, II Cor. 5:1-5). The fact that Jesus hung absolutely naked on the “tree” completes this association between nakedness, sin, and death.

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