Have you ever stopped and wondered why we wear clothes? If you think about it, it’s an odd custom. Before exposing ourselves to the public, we choose to hang colored material from our shoulders and hips and then cinch everything together with a strip of cowhide. It’s true that this whole business provides some consolation on a frosty morning, but let’s be realistic, shall we? It’s summer. And summer means sultry. And sultry means sweat. And sweat means my clothes play the sponge more than anything else. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got better things to do with my hot months than spend them in the arms of a soggy carpet.
Milton called our clothes “these troublesome disguises.” Far better for him was that “first naked glory” that Adam and Eve enjoyed, that verse of a moment when our parents were unclothed and unabashed (Genesis 2:25). But living as we do on the far side of the bitten fruit, east of Eden, our tenderer parts find themselves squirreled away under cotton and denim. And we’re left to wonder, Is this the way it’s supposed to be? Wouldn’t it be better to cast off these duds and trot around in the buff? Adam and Eve did it. Why can’t we?
What Nakedness Is All About
To answer this question, we need to ask another. What does nakedness represent? Some might say it represents innocence, an unvarnished simplicity, beauty distilled to its pure form. (Botticelli’s Birth of Venus comes to mind here.) Song of Solomon certainly seems to suggest this with its lovers praising one another’s bodies from stem to stern and from sea to shining sea. Following this mindset, Adam and Eve’s nakedness before the Fall was praiseworthy, a fitting counterpart to their porcelain-skinned consciences. But this innocence perished at the forbidden tree, nakedness became taboo, and Ralph Lauren said, “Let me help you with that.” Clothing, in this scenario, is a necessary evil, an accommodation to the curse, Milton’s troublesome disguise.
But what if there’s more? What if clothing isn’t merely a concession? When we survey the biblical depictions of nakedness and clothing we find that, overwhelmingly, nakedness is associated with deficiency and shame. For example, when Joseph’s brothers came to him during the seven-year famine, he accused them of spying on the “nakedness of the land” (Genesis 42:9, 12). Job, bald and childless, declared that he would leave this world as bare as he came (Job 1:21). Jesus pairs the naked with the hungry, the diseased, and the incarcerated, none of these a desirable condition (Matthew 25:35-40).
Even in Marriage
Then what about marital nakedness? We never read of Solomon exclaiming, “Behold, you are destitute, my love! Your hair falls down your neck like a thousand unemployment lines.” Does nakedness shake off all shameful connotations at the altar? Yes and no. It does in the sense that husbands and wives have full and glad access to one another’s bodies, no footnotes, no small print, no commercial breaks. But this is possible, not because clothing has vacated all its former meaning, but because the husband has covenanted to cover his wife’s bareness (think “flesh of my flesh”). Note the language God uses of Israel in Ezekiel 16:
I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:7–8)
Awareness Is the Difference
Returning to Genesis 2, Adam and Eve were stark naked and loving it not because this was an ideal state, but because they were ignorant of their need for dress. Genesis 3:7 reports that when they ate the fruit, “[T]he eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (emphasis added). The difference, I would suggest, between the pre-Fall and post-Fall couple is not the significance of nakedness, but the awareness of nakedness. Nakedness has always called for cover. The tragedy of Genesis 3 was that our parents settled for fabricated shrubbery when God would have clothed them like kings.1
So, why don’t people walk around naked? Because we were never meant to. God has always intended our wardrobe to point us to his provision. Moreover, in Christ we anticipate the day when, clothed in white, we will stand before him unashamed (Revelation 7:14):
O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.2
1 For more on this idea, see William N. Wilder, “Illumination and Investiture: The Royal Significance of the Tree of Wisdom in Genesis 3,” Westminster Theological Journal 68 (2006): 51–69.
2 Robinson, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”