Guest post by M. L. Detwiler
Have you ever stopped to wonder why humans even wear clothes at all? I mean, there is literally no other living creature on the planet that takes so much time and expense just to cover their bodies. Of course, there’s no other creature that can compare to humankind at all. The differences between us and animals are really too huge to grasp fully.
But what is the reason behind clothing? We are relatively hairless and unprotected compared to most other land-bound mammals. So is the primary purpose of clothing to serve as a protective layer from the elements?
Or what about the fact that we are sexual beings? Is the primary purpose of clothing to serve as a protection against lust and sexual immorality?
The answer to both of those questions is, I believe, a firm negative. Although protection against the elements and against sexual immorality are two significant reasons for clothing that cannot be ignored, both of them tie back into the primary reason for clothing. If you think about it, the only reason that there is any weather or thorns or destructive sun-rays to protect against in the first place is because of the fall. In addition, the only reason that lust and sexual immorality are problems is also because of the fall. In a perfect world, there would have been no need for protection from anything at all, and indeed, the Scripture states at the end of Genesis 2 that, “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
In a perfect world, there is no need for clothing. But when the fall comes, and with it the shame and separation that sin brings between us and God and between one another, the first and most obvious ramification is… you guessed it: clothing. Or, more properly speaking, a faulty, hurried attempt at covering nakedness. Genesis 3:7: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
The very first reaction that Adam and Eve had after sinning against God was putting up a barrier. This was a barrier between them as individuals and also between them and God. Before sin, there were no barriers, and no need for any symbols of separation. But with guilt, fear, and blame comes shame and a desire for separation. Sin builds walls. No longer did Adam and Eve feel unashamed around one another. No longer could they feel unashamed before God. The safe atmosphere of complete openness had been shattered by sin, and for the first time, their shared experience and joy was splintered into egotistical shame – an immediate change of focus from outward to inward. They both became more concerned with the shame that they had to hide from one another than with the joy and love that they could bring and show to one another, and the worship that they were to bring to their Creator. For the first time, they set out on individual paths of fear and sin and doubt, instead of continuing to share a common path of holiness and happiness. As those who walk in darkness do not want their deeds to be brought to the light, so they did not want their most intimate body parts to remain any longer in the open. The parts of themselves that most revealed their vulnerability, trust, and openness with one another were the very first to be covered up.
The significance of this is huge. It tells us that the primary reason and purpose of man’s desire and instinct for clothing is to provide a tangible symbol of the separation that sin brings. Clothing exists to cut ourselves off from one another in a visible way, a physical outworking of the massive separation that sin causes between each and every one of us.
However, I believe it is key to our understanding of God’s design for clothing that we don’t stop here. The second time that clothing is mentioned in the Scriptures comes several verses later in Genesis 3:21: “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”
In the single act of God providing Adam and Eve clothing, we can glean three very important truths. First of all, God reaffirms that clothing is right and needed now that the fall has come. He ordains and requires it by giving clothing to our first parents. Instead of rebuking Adam and Eve for attempting to cover their shame, God provides them with even better clothing. He affirms the truth that sin does indeed bring separation and shame between us – even between those in a marriage relationship, like Adam and Eve – and that that separation properly shows itself in clothing. Covering ourselves is not simply the natural response to the shame and division that sin brings, it is also the right response.
Secondly, more than simply affirming clothing, God improves it. Adam and Eve did the best they knew how and in their fallen state covered only their sexual organs. They made themselves loincloths. Out of fig leaves. God, however, made “garments of skins and clothed them.” Doing a word study of “garments of skin” reveals that the Hebrew word in the text here refers to a tunic – a long shirt-like piece of clothing that extended from the shoulders to the knees or toes. In any event, regardless of the exact length, these garments of skin were far more extensive than the fig leaves that Adam and Even made for themselves. God presents quite clearly that the need for clothing is more extensive than a few fig leaves thrown together. The garments He presented Adam and Eve with extended from the shoulders down to the knee or longer. Although Adam and Eve had the right idea in covering themselves, they did not understand just how much they needed to cover. God, however, quite clearly revealed how we are to cover our bodies.
There is a clear distinction here being made between the inadequacy of man’s efforts, and the full sufficiency of God’s gracious provision. This extends all the way from the area of good works to the area of proper clothing. Man’s works will always fall short, but God’s provision (in Christ!) is more than enough. Man’s clothing only covers the genitals, but God’s clothing covers the whole body.
In which clothing, therefore, ought we to walk? The kind of clothing that Adam and Eve mistakenly created for themselves out of fear and shame? Or the kind of clothing that God provided for us out of love and grace?
In the third and last place, we see an affirmation of the assertion I made at the beginning, that the prevention of lust/sexual immorality is not the primary purpose of clothing. God gave clothing to Adam and Eve, who lived in the context of marriage. There were no other individuals present who could lust after either of them, so it becomes clear from this that the primary purpose of clothing is to serve as a reminder of the fall.
In light of the truths that we learn from God’s gift of clothing to Adam and Eve, we have a firm basis on which to understand the theological significance of nakedness in a post-fall world. To begin formulating this understanding, we need to recap that the primary purpose of clothing is to serve as an effect of the fall – a necessary and God-ordained result that is a practical and symbolic representation of the separation and shame that sin creates.
What then is the significance of nakedness – the opposite of being clothed? Nakedness represents the curse being lifted, the separation removed, the walls torn down, and complete unity and harmony being restored once again. In short, the theological significance of nakedness is that it is an expression of the reversal of the fall. Now where things really get amazing is when you ask the question: In what context is nakedness (and the accompanying activity) blessed? Marriage. The only context in which nakedness is considered a good thing is in the context of marriage. Why?
Because marriage is a picture of the reversal of the fall: the union between Christ and the church! See Ephesians 5 for proof of this. Marriage is a full-color painting of the complete and total lifting of the curse. The interconnectedness of all of these truths blows me away every time I think about it.
Clothing reflects the fall and nakedness reflects restoration, so nakedness is only proper when it points directly towards that final restoration.
Nakedness only does that within the context of marriage.
Outside of marriage, full or even partial nakedness represents a blasphemous rebellion against the God-ordained effects of the fall. It is, in essence, saying that sin and the fall have no effect on us and we can regain the communion and intimacy that we had before sin separated us apart from the redemption that Christ brings. In essence, nakedness outside of the context of marriage is a rejection of Christ as the one who lifts the curse brought upon us because of sin. It is a rejection of Christ and His sacrifice, saying that we don’t need Him, that we can bridge the gap on our own.
To the degree that we are naked/less-than-fully-clothed, then, is the degree to which we have symbolically rejected Christ’s salvation! My point in saying that is not to hold guilt over anyone, but to show just how important and necessary it is that we get this right.
I have approached this topic of clothing in the way I have because I believe that the truths in the above paragraphs form the necessary foundation which absolutely must be firmly in place before we even dare to have a conversation about modesty in clothing. It is these truths – primarily theological in nature rather than practical, pulled directly (I trust) from the Scriptures, which give the proper shape and character to our beliefs and standards.
Beginning this discussion with an understanding of the Scriptural and theological context keeps us from creating our own individual standards and attempting to impose them upon one another as less or more holy depending on how far the hems of skirts and shorts are from God’s good earth. We will steer clear of trying to find the exact letter of the law, obsessing over inches and appearances and personal ideas of ‘legality’ and propriety. And on the other hand, we will not be left with the mushy, Scripture-less, tasteless conclusion to let every man do as his conscience bids.
The bottom line that I’m trying to make here is that we have not been left without a standard. We don’t have to create our own personal standard because God already gave us one.
God clothed Adam and Eve with tunic-like garments made of animal skins. Therefore, underwear are sinful, wearing anything other than leather is sinful, and we must never wear anything that isn’t a tunic.
Obviously. (Please understand my sarcasm…)
On the contrary, the simple and unadorned truth is that God clothed his people – fallen but still beloved – with an article of clothing that (according to the meaning of the original word as it is understood by Hebrew scholars) extended from the shoulders to the knees or lower. As the second mention of clothing in the entire Scriptures, and in direct contrast to the loincloths that Adam and Eve crafted for themselves, I believe that it is safe to say that we can take that as our standard – as we do with much of what is found in the first chapters of Genesis. Marriage, procreation, gender roles, earthly dominion, work… we trace our beliefs in all of these areas back to the first chapters and verses in Genesis.
I believe we ought to do the same with regard to our standards of clothing.
To my mind, it really makes everything simpler – as following God’s Word almost always does.
I know countless girls who have expressed frustration because they simply don’t know what is appropriate to wear in what context, because everyone seems to have different standards, every guy has a different level of maturity, and on and on…
I have been confused by those who seem to have very different modesty standards depending on who they are with, seemingly cow-towing their clothing standards to the most conservative of those around them to avoid giving offense or causing a stumbling block, and then demonstrating very different standards in other situations.
I have seen the damaging effects of creating an artificial standard of inches and lines and applying that standard to others in a judgmental fashion.
I have seen the discussion of modesty be completely taken over by whether or not it’s the guy or the girl who bears the greater responsibility: …whose fault is it if a guy lusts? …how short is too short? …how low is too low? …and many other largely irrelevant questions like that.
I have almost universally seen the discussion dominated by the belief that clothing is really only there to prevent lust and sexual immorality – instead of primarily an effect and reminder of the fall.
I have heard the complaint that guys have it easy and can basically wear what they want, while girls are held back by social stigmas wherever they turn.
I have seen, heard, and experienced all these things. But really, when you look at the issue from the perspective I outlined above, it’s not a complicated issue at all. God gave both Adam and Eve the same type of clothing: shoulder to knee (or lower). That is the divinely sanctioned standard. We have no reason to deviate from that. We have no reason to change that standard depending on who we are with, or where we are – because we can be confident that God is pleased. We have no reason to ask if we’re going to be a problem to some people, because we are doing all that God expects of us. We have no reason to judge others by any standard other than clear Scripture. We have no reason to ask complicated questions of responsibility in the case of lust – quite obviously, it is a sign of immaturity on the part of the guy. We have no reason to complain that guys have it easier. God didn’t give Eve a burka and Adam a pair of jean shorts.
He gave them both tunics because His standard is the same for everyone, regardless of gender, age, race, time period, activity, or location.
It’s simple. It really is.