Nakedness & Perspective: Understanding Genesis 3

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Genesis 3 has been labeled as “The Fall” or some variation thereof. The ESV heading of my Bible says so as well as the NASB and NIV. The way we have been trained to see chapter three of Genesis is as the first sin. And, truthfully, it does enormous insights on sin. But sin does not appear in this chapter – well, not the word “sin.” “Sin” first appears in chapter 4 with Cain and Abel. We have been taught the answer while never knowing the question. For many of us, we see Genesis 3 simply as about humanity’s sin. The way we see this chapter has prevented us from seeing what it really is about: nakedness and perspective. And if we get this chapter wrong, it skews the rest of Scripture.

To understand what this chapter teaches about our perspective we must understand what it teaches about our nakedness. And to begin to understand that, we must start with the end of chapter 2: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). That is the statement immediately before the serpent arrives on the scene. This is the world as it was meant to be: naked without shame. This is the verse that sets the stage for the rest of God’s redemptive narrative. It is towards this state that God will attempt to return His creation to.

So what happens next? The snake tells Eve, “God knows that when you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).  Clearly the snake was not literally stating that Eve’s eyes were closed. What the serpent was implying is that Eve was not seeing everything from the right perspective – there was something she was missing. Then verse 6 says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…”

When Scripture starts listing things, we have to slow down and start looking for something. On the surface, this list describes how Eve was tempted.  The intriguing thing is that we have already heard part of this list in chapter 2. “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (Genesis 2:9a). God had already provided two of the three things Eve found desirable about the tree: trees pleasant to the sight and good for food.

The only thing different about this tree was that Eve “saw” it could “make [her] wise.” She thought there was something she didn’t know. The word for wise in the Hebrew (sakal) is not simply intellectual but is associated with prospering (c.f. Deuteronomy 29:9; Joshua 1:9). Eve saw this tree as a way of prospering more than she currently was. She wanted more and wasn’t content with what she had. She wasn’t enough. Rather than just relying on what was already provided for food and aesthetics, she questioned the goodness God created in her and around her.

How We See

When Eve eats of the fruit its immediate effect was nothing. Nothing changes. So she hands the fruit to Adam “who was with her” (Genesis 3:6). It is then – and only then – that “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). Once again, their eyes weren’t literally closed before hand and they obviously knew they were naked. What changed was the way they perceived the world, themselves, and others. This is what chapter 3 is about: perspective and nakedness. This is the fundamental change in humanity from which sin and death arise in the following chapter. The way we see our own and each others’ nakedness has fundamentally changed. The pristine state of Genesis 2:25 has been corrupted by shame. The way we perceive the world has shifted from being able to see another’s nakedness and to have our own nakedness be seen to a world that nakedness must be hidden out of shame.

Of course, nakedness is not about literal nakedness. By no means am I suggesting that we should revolt against the shame of Genesis 3 by tearing our clothes off and prancing through the streets. Nakedness here is allegorical and will be used by the Scriptures as such. Later in Genesis 9, “nakedness” will be used to describe a shameful act committed against Noah by his son1. The nakedness of Genesis 3 is about how we are seen by others and how we see others.

In response to this new way of seeing, Adam and Eve cover themselves, they hide themselves, and they blame others. As Genesis progresses, the extremes people will go to avoid being exposed will only escalate. And we find ourselves in the same spot as Eve: believing we’re not enough, afraid of our nakedness, covering, hiding, and blaming. Our perspective is still up-side-down. Perhaps this is why Jesus’ words seem so backwards: the last shall be first, the greatest is the least, and so forth. Perhaps God is trying to turn our backwards perspective right side up.

Self Reflection

Are you okay with being seen…really seen? Do you ever cover, hide, or blame? Do you ever create a false persona to present to the world? Are you so terrified of your failures that you search for any excuse to hide behind? Are you eager to inflate any success or trait you hope is worthy? Are you threatened by others’ successes, abilities, and knowledge? Have you ever sabotaged a relationship because you were afraid of someone getting too close? Have you ever found yourself proving to yourself that you were right and another was wrong? Do you ever purposefully avoid someone because you “know” what they think of you? Do you ever put off admitting you were wrong? You ever look for a fault in someone’s work so you can belittle it? Have you ever avoided putting your work out there because you couldn’t handle rejection? Have you ever put your work out there because you wanted the attention? Do you feel pressure to buy the next “thing” to keep up or ahead of others? Are you afraid of not looking put together, capable, strong, pretty, smart, unique, right, or attractive? I know I don’t2.

I have found most people can not handle a serious compliment. When someone seriously speaks of the good of your character and impact, you probably shift your feet, break eye contact, and struggle with coming up with something to say in response…or you just throw out a sarcastic comment3. I find it telling that we have no problem with little jokes and jabs at each other and ourselves but when someone sincerely blesses us with their words, we squirm. I think it’s because in order to sincerely accept a sincere compliment we have to let down our defenses and expose ourselves, and that terrifies us. If we could make encouragement the norm instead of sarcasm, I wonder how different our world would be.

I’ve become increasingly convinced the problem at the heart of humanity is not pride but insignificance. I know this seems to fly in the face of conventional churchiness which states pride is the reason we sin. I think pride is the thing we want. We want it because we don’t have it, at least we think we don’t. We are looking for pride because we feel insignificant. For me, this explains the tension between sinful pride and healthy confidence. Wanting to be important is good because we are created to be. In his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie states, “John Dewey… said that the desire to be important is the deepest urge in human nature; and William James said: ‘The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.'” In our search to cover the nakedness we feel so much shame over, we strive to feel important, to prosper. We are even willing to sacrifice our true selves and others to get it. It drives our economy, our careers, our families, our politics, and our churches. Many of us – perhaps all of us – become insane in our pursuit of importance.

“If some people are so hungry for a feeling of importance that they actually go insane to get it, imagine what miracle you and I can achieve by giving people honest appreciation this side of insanity.”
Dale Carnegie

1 Ham did not literally see his dad naked but something else happened. To “see” the nakedness of another was a euphemism for some type of sexual act. For example, look at how Leviticus 18 and 20 uses it. So, when Ham “saw the nakedness of his father” (Genesis 9:22) something else was going on.

2That was sarcasm.

3There are also some who have created a false persona they hide behind to obtain their worth and so they revel when that persona is praised.