Of Nakedness and Clothing
Of Nakedness and Clothing
The West’s confrontation with the Muslim faith brings into focus the question of clothing. It stares one in the face: Muslim women are covered to far greater degree than western women. Just what is the place of clothing? Is it simply a deterrent against sexual advances? The controversy sparked by Australia’s al-Halali’s ill-spoken words could have us think the answer is Yes.
It is not so. Genesis 2 describes the situation in Paradise when God gave Eve to Adam. We read in vs 25: “the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” That Adam and Eve were ‘uncovered’ was not a problem – not to them nor to God.
The following chapter relates the fall into sin, and then mentions clothing twice. The first mention occurs in vs 7: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Gen 3:7). With their effort to cover themselves, Adam and Eve expressed their sense of vulnerability, of being exposed, on display. Exposed to whom? Peeping Toms? No, for there were no other people on earth. Rather, they felt exposed before the eyes of holy God! Why did they feel exposed and vulnerable now, and not the day before? That’s because they had sinned, had disobeyed God, and their sin was like a black stain on their skin that drew God’s judgment upon them. So they sought to cover their guilt from the eyes of holy God by means of fig leaves sown together. Yet they also knew that the coverings they fashioned were insufficient to hide their guilt from the all-seeing eyes of the Almighty, for when they heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden to visit them, they trembling fled to hide themselves from this God (3:8). Their clothes, they knew, could not stop God from seeing their corruption (see Hebrews 4:13).
And they were correct. Holy God knew of their wickedness, confronted them with their sin, exposed them for the sinners they were – and then in incredible mercy set before them the gospel of Jesus Christ; the Seed of the woman would crush the seed of the serpent (see 3:15). What delightful revelation of God’s identity as a God of grace is caught in that promise-to-naked-sinners!
That gospel of grace was impressed upon Adam and Eve in the second reference to clothes in this chapter, verse 21. God “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Though the two were married –note the phrase “Adam and his wife” and there were no people around to look upon them, the Lord God Himself made a point of giving them clothes – and hence giving them a continual reminder of how their sinful hearts are covered in the blood of Jesus Christ. The Lord saw to it that an animal gave its coat to the sinner and his sinful wife, and that’s to say that God had this animal lay down its life for man’s sake. There’s the glorious gospel of substitution: another would die in place of man! The Other one is ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ, who would die in place of sinners on the cross of Calvary so many years later. For His sake God would spare sinners and give them forgiveness of sins and life. Note it well, dear reader: as a constant reminder to both God and people of the redemption God would give through His only Son, God had “Adam and his wife” wear clothes! Clothes are not first of a cultural phenomenon, nor are they first of all protection from cold or from the sun, nor even disincentive from groping hands; clothes are first of all God’s constant reminder of the Savior! How positively merciful this God is!!
That God intended clothing to depict the gospel of grace is pointed up by God’s command to Israel concerning the priests. When the Lord established His covenant of grace with Israel at Mt Sinai and determined to live amongst His people in the tabernacle, the Lord gave instructions not only about how the tabernacle was to be decked out and what sort of ceremonies were to be carried out in the tabernacle, but He gave instruction also about the clothing those who labored in the tabernacle were to wear. Under no circumstances was the nakedness of the priests to be exposed in any way (Ex 28, esp vs 42f; 20:28); they were always to be covered. More, they were to be covered with the best of materials (28:5) – costly linen. The clothing of the priests in the tabernacle spelled out for Israel that the blood of Jesus Christ is the best covering a sinner can ever find.
That’s also the significance of Jesus’ nakedness on the cross. John 19: “when the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took His clothes…” (vs 23). All the sins of God’s own were piled onto Jesus Christ, and there was to be nothing at all behind which Jesus could hide; this Man-become-Sin had to be fully exposed before holy God so that all the righteous judgment of God might be poured out on Him – and He atone for our sins.
And atone for sin He did, so that the saints of God may stand before God dressed in “white robes”, garments purified in Jesus’ blood – and therefore acceptable in the sight of holy God. In fact, John sees the saints of God “wearing white robes” (Rev 7:9; cf Isaiah 61:10), and even sees a vision of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (21:2). That’s the people of God of every tribe and race, with all their sins washed away. Then they’re not left naked (as in Paradise), but they’re covered, delightfully covered as a result of the atoning work of the Bridegroom – to His greater glory.
So it follows: the human race after the fall is not to go naked. (Of course, what happens in the sanctuary of marriage, the bedroom, is a different matter, as the Song of Solomon, for example, makes abundantly clear.) In faith God’s Old Testament people had to portray the gospel of redemption in the fact that they dressed themselves, and dressed themselves well. By the grace of God they were covered in Jesus’ blood, and they were to proclaim that gospel in their clothes.
The same is true in the New Testament dispensation. The Christian does not wear clothes because our culture expects it, or as protection from sun or cold – as if when the weather is right and the public not looking its OK to go naked. The Christian does not wear clothes either as a disincentive to another to seek sexual activity. Rather, the Christian wears clothes because of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. He believes, with profound gratitude, that Christ has atoned for his sins, so that we now wear those robes of righteousness. We show our gratitude for that wonderful gospel by covering ourselves, and covering ourselves well.
The implication is this: what drives the Christian’s sense of good fashion is not the trend of the day – for the world associates nakedness with sexuality instead of with sin, and as a result so much of what’s fashionable in today’s clothing flirts with sexuality. What drives the Christian’s sense of good fashion is the gospel of redemption; I’m completely covered in the white robes of righteousness Jesus obtained on the cross, so why shall I dress scantily (as if Jesus work didn’t cover me all the way), and why shall I dress as if the fashions of the world excite me – when in fact it’s the gospel of redemption that electrifies me!?
Please hear me well. It is not so that we have to dress today the way our grandparents dressed years ago, when one exposed only the face and the hands, and perhaps some arm. But the other extreme as we see it today, with open shirts and low cuts exposing lots of flesh, does not portray the perfect work of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, it plays games with the heart’s desire for mischief. Let the Christian demonstrate what he’s learned from Scripture: we wear clothes because of the redeeming work of our Lord Jesus Christ; they symbolize the robes of righteousness which permit us to stand in the presence of holy God. From that perspective, those of the Middle East dress more appropriately than do many North Americans.
Let the world read from the way we dress that we have understood the Biblical connection between clothes and redemption. For that reason too, let fathers –for God has made fathers primarily responsible for our sons and daughters– see to it that our children are well covered – and make sure we and mother set a good example.