And He said, “Who told you that you were naked?” Genesis 3:11 NASB
Naked – Perhaps the real issue in life is not guilt but shame. It is possible to deal with guilt. Atonement sets aside guilt. If we are guilty, the law tells us what must be done to recompense and restore. Sometimes we have to repay. Sometimes we have to present an offering. Sometimes we need to ask for forgiveness. But guilt does not destroy a relationship. It puts the relationship in abeyance until the restitution is made.
Shame, on the other hand, destroys us. Guilt is about what I have done. Shame is about who I am. If what I have done incurs guilt, then there are things I can do (or someone else can do) that will take away the guilt. But shame can’t be undone. Shame is ontological. Shame doesn’t say, “What you did was wrong.” Shame says “YOU are wrong.” Shame says that there is something flawed in me, something that is part of who I am. In this sense, shame is like the doctrine of original sin. When I become the victim of shame, my very being is wrong. The only way to deal with this is to not exist.
Adam tells God that he is hiding because he is afraid. Why is he afraid? His answer: “because I am naked.” But this isn’t really an answer at all. We would expect Adam to say that he is afraid because he has broken the commandment. We would expect Adam to say that he is afraid because he is guilty. But he doesn’t say that. He says that he is naked. But Adam has always been naked. Why is being naked suddenly a reason for being afraid? Why has Adam’s perception of his very being in the world shifted so that what was once perfectly natural and acceptable is now terrifying and unnatural? Adam is afraid of being naked because suddenly being naked is revealing. What does it reveal? It reveals that Adam is able to look at himself from outside himself. For the first time, Adam experiences what he looks like through the eyes of another. He projects his discovery of an alter-ego into the world and what comes back to him is this: “You are no longer right with the world.” Adam’s own alter-ego, that part of him that is now concerned with how others perceive him, tells him that he is wrong about how he is in the world. Since he is guilty, he confirms that he is wrong. But now his guilt becomes a weapon against him, asserting that he isn’t just disobedient; he is flawed! There are cures for disobedience. There are no cures for flawed. At least that’s what we think when we feel shamed.
But God thinks otherwise. Adam and the woman did not listen to the external voice of the Lord with regard to diet. They listened to their heart, that inner voice of the yetzer ha’ra. The fruit that looked so good produced something hideously terrible – shame. Now God enters the scene and asks a question. Behind that question is another appeal to listen to the external voice of the Lord, not the now-screaming inner voice of shame. “Who told you that you were naked?” implies “I didn’t tell you that you were naked.” And if God does not tell us that we are shamed, then who are we going to believe: the inner voice that got us to this place, or the external voice of the Lord that restates our divine design? Who do you listen to when guilt floods your life? The yetzer ha’ra shouting that there is nothing worthy in you – or the Creator and Designer who asks why you are listening to yourself?
Topical Index: shame, naked, guilt, Genesis 3:11