by Glenn Stanton
Satan tempts the first two humans – the first union – to disobey God. And they do.
What is the result of this disobedience?
Adam and Eve are no longer as God created them, living in the purity of their intimacy, fully knowing each other without limitation, hindrance or shame. In a sense, they no longer image God as they once did, for their perfect unity and intimacy is devastatingly diminished. The image is still there in a very meaningful way, but it is seriously marred – as if seen through a glass darkly, if you will. We know from our studies how fundamentally harmful the removal of intimacy is to a human. Satan knows this, too.
Adam and Eve become alienated not oly from each other, but from God as well:
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:8-10)
God asks a few searching questions of Adam, much as any parent would ask when he or she knows a child has done something wrong. They are not really questions seeking unknown information. They are asked to reveal truth. Every parent has asked such questions – and all children, in their ignorance, have had to answer them.
[God] said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11)
God is telling Adam and Eve that awareness of their nakedness was a knowledge or awareness that He never intended them to have; it was a destructive missile aimed at the gift of being God’s icons in the world. It’s a factor in their disobedience, and therefore a fundamental break in their intimacy with themselves, with each other, and – most troubling – with God. For the first time, humans are afraid and insecure. They try to protect themselves – curiously, not from the enemy who sought their destruction, but from God Himself, who gave them everything good. The first effect was this demolished relationship and the shame that came with it.
This devastating alienation is strikingly portrayed in a fresco by Tommaso Masaccio on display in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, Italy. On a recent trip to there, I spent more than two hours just studying this painting and all the other frescoes in that small chapel. The despair on the faces of Adam and Eve is evident:
Man must cover himself. He must hide, both male and female. And we have been hiding ourselves ever since. This nakedness business is not just about morality and clothes, for goodness’ sake. It is about who we were in our innocence and acceptance, and then how we would struggle with shame, alienation and disintegration. God is the author and source of the former, Satan the originator and perpetrator of the latter.
Pope John Paul II explores the significance of this part of the story in his Theology of the Body, explaining:
This change [regarding their nakedness] emerges from their consciousness as a fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. … This change directly concerns the experience of the meaning of one’s own body before the Creator and creatures. In particular, this change, which [Genesis 3:10] outlines in such a concise and dramatic way, concerns directly – perhaps in the most direct way possible – the relation between man and woman, between masculinity and femininity.
It is indeed an attack on the man and woman as well as on human masculinity and femininity, because it is in these that the very image of God is revealed in the world. The destruction and perversion of their God-blessed union and communion have been a dramatic and very consequential part of the human drama ever since, have they not?
Some have lightheartedly called it the “battle of the sexes.” But in the beginning, it was not so. This change in the nature of their original state, their nakedness, is a huge human cancer that has eaten us alive ever since in the depths of our souls and psyche. The effects are impossible to overstate.
And Satan is cackling with delight! He knows exactly what he has done.
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Glenn Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family, and the co-author/co-creator of The Family Project, as well as the co-author (w/Leon Wirth) of The Family Project book.