WHAT THEY DID NOT TEACH YOU IN SUNDAY SCHOOL
Many Christians, and many non-Christians, think nakedness is evil, and public nakedness especially so; that to make all your skin generally visible is an instant ticket to Hell. This three-part article details the naked, biblical truth.
PART I: ADAM AND EVE AND OTHER ERRORS
Most Christians, like their non-godly counterparts, do not think much about nakedness, and those who do - enough to proclaim it wrong in God's sight - often quote the verse in Genesis that says God made clothes for Adam and Eve, as if that were the equivalent of a divine command to be always clothed, particularly in public.
Their argument is superficial, and untrue. When God wants us to do something he makes his will very plain: he issues a command, and says clearly that it is one; he emphasises, he says the same thing in many ways and many places; and he forbids the opposite course. In short, he leaves us in no doubt at all. But nowhere in the Bible does he command us always to wear clothes; he gives no such emphasis; nowhere does he forbid public nakedness - on the contrary, as we shall see in many passages, the opposite is true.
We have no right to read a divine command into one short sentence, just because it suits our own opinion.
In Genesis 1:30 we are told that `God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.' True, that was before the Fall, but even that catastrophic spiritual event did not make everything, or anything, unworthy of being seen, otherwise we would all have to have our eyes put out. And it certainly did it not put particular things such as genitals, pudendas, and breasts beyond the pale. Or antelopes, grey rocks, and red leaves, for that matter.
When Adam and Eve fell from God's grace by disobeying him, losing their immortality and bringing sin into a sinless world, they vainly tried to hide their shame, the shame of their self-will and newly discovered lust, by stitching fig-leaves together and making themselves loincloths. God replaced those with tunics of animal skins. He was not by that action commanding them to wear tunics, or animal skins, or clothes, but taking pity on them and showing them better and more lasting protection against the rigours of the life they faced outside the Garden of Eden.
The great seventeenth-century Puritan poet, John Milton, whose epic poem Paradise Lost is perhaps the most the brilliant exposition of the creation story ever written, shows graphically in Book IX what happened after the Forbidden Fruit had been consumed:
Carnal desire inflaming; he on Eve
Began to cast lascivious eyes; she him
As wantonly repaid; in lust they burn,
Till Adam thus `gan Eve to dalliance move:
`...come; so well refreshed, now let us play,
For never did thy beauty...so inflame my sense
With ardour to enjoy thee...'
So said he, and forbore not glance or toy
Of amorous intent, well understood
Of Eve, whose eye darted contagious fire.
Her hand he seized, and to a shady bank...
He led her, nothing loath;
Later, the guilty pair awoke to find themselves `destitute and bare of all their virtue', and were plunged into a despair of shame, which Adam puts into words:
`... our eyes
Opened we find indeed, and find we know
Both good and evil, good lost and evil got:
Bad fruit of knowledge, if this be to know,
Which leaves us naked thus, of honour void,
Of innocence, of faith, of purity,
Our wonted ornaments now soiled and stained,
And in our faces evident the signs
Of foul concupiscence...`
`How,' he asks in despair, `shall I behold the face henceforth of God or Angel, erst with joy and rapture so oft beheld?' He talks wildly of hiding away in some dark place, he calls to the trees to cover him so that he never has to face the heavenly gaze again. The best remedy he can think of, which is not much, is to cover the `ornaments now soiled and stained', (his genitals and Eve's pudenda) on which their expression of lust was centred:
`But let us now, as in bad plight, devise
What best may, for the present, serve to hide
The parts of each that seem most
To shame obnoxious, and unseemliest seen--
Some tree, whose broad smooth leaves, together sewed,
And girded on our loins, may cover round
Those middle parts, that this newcomer, Shame,
There sit not, and reproach us as unclean.'
Milton later points to what was obviously a sudden degradation in the climate to explain the sudden need for warm clothes, which the skin tunics provided by God obviously are:
`While the Creator, calling forth by name
His mighty Angels, ... to bring in change
Of seasons with each clime: else had the spring
Perpetual smiled on Earth with vernant flowers,
Equal in days and nights'
That interpretation is perfectly consistent with the penalties that God laid upon Eve, Adam (and the Earth itself) in Genesis 3:16-19 because of the defiling effect of their sin:
To Eve he said:
`I will increase your labour and your groaning, and in labour you shall bear children. You shall be eager for your husband, and he shall be your master.`
And to Adam:
`Because you have listened to your wife and have eaten from the tree which I forbade you, accursed shall be the ground on your account. With labour you shall win your food from it all the days of your life. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, none but wild plants for you to eat. You shall gain your bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground; for from it you were taken. Dust you are, to dust you shall return.'
In Genesis 5:29, there is further evidence of a climactic change, in the amount of work that is now needed to gather sustenance: `[Lamech] named him Noah, saying, ``This boy will bring us relief from our work, and from the hard labour that has come upon us because of the LORD's curse upon the ground.'' '
Yet more confirmation of why Adam and Eve were given clothes is found in Matthew 6:25-34, where Jesus tells us that `the body is more than clothes', then goes on to command us sternly, `No, do not ask anxiously, ``What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What shall we wear?'' All these things are for the heathen to run after, not for you, because your heavenly Father knows that you need them.'
He knows that we `need them.' Clothes are as necessary as food and water; it is not possible to go through life without them. But that does not mean we must eat all the time, drink all the time, or be clothed all the time.
There is yet more confirmation of this in Exodus 22:26-27, where the Children of Israel are commanded to make sure that if they `take a neighbour's cloak in pawn, you shall return it to him by sunset, because it is his only covering. It is the cloak that wraps his body; in what else can he sleep?'
What is wrong before God there, is not the sight of a man's nakedness during the day, but depriving him of the covering he needs in the chill of night; or, as Isaiah 58:7 and Matthew 25:31-46 add, of not providing him with that protection when it lies within our power.
In Ecclesiastes 3:1 we are told: `For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time', then comes the famous list: `a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal...' and so on. There is a time for everything good--for `every activity under heaven'. To that, as we shall see, we may justly add: `there is a time to be clothed and time to be naked.'
Another biblical passage often cited by people determined to prove that nakedness is evil in God's sight is in Leviticus. That is the book in which are set down the laws by which people had to live, the laws that were the temporary path to salvation and eternal life that God provided before sending his Son in a later time. After Jesus came, some of those practices, such as sacrificing animals, were no longer required, because Jesus gave himself as the final sacrifice for all who put their faith in him. Others, such as the prohibition against incest, remain. It is still in our law.
Leviticus 18:6-30 sets down a long list of prohibitions, all of which are still valid. But what the condemners stumble over is that throughout that passage the King James Version of the Bible, also known as the Authorised Version, uses the phrase `uncover the nakedness of'.
It begins, for example, with (verse 6): `None of you shall approach any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD. The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother: thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.'
It then continues in similar fashion to list many other people whose `nakedness thou shalt not uncover': your father's wife, your sister, your father's daughter, your mother's daughter, your son's daughter, your daughter's daughter,' etc., etc.
Modern translations simply say `intercourse' or `sexual intercourse', which is clearly what is meant. Verse 6 alone proves that. What we are being warned to shun is incest. `Uncover the nakedness of' is as much a poetic way of saying sexual intercourse as `lie with' or `know.' But there is a deep and perceptive truth in that poetry, for sexual intercourse is the most intimate exposure of a woman to a man. And not just of the woman involved--as the passage points out, it is also a very intimate exposure, a very intimate knowledge, of her husband. He too is deeply exposed by incestuous adultery (or any adultery, for that matter).
`Uncover the nakedness of' also refers to the lust that is being exposed by being expressed, which, again, is why Adam and Eve felt such shame.
Another passage from Genesis much used by the condemners of nakedness is chapter 9:20-27, where, after the Flood, Noah planted a vineyard, got drunk one day and lay naked inside his tent. One of his sons, Ham, saw him, and told his brothers outside, Shem and Japheth. They went in, walking backwards so as not to see their father, and covered him with a cloak.
When Noah recovered he cursed Ham, and all his descendants, because of what he had done, and blessed Shem, Japheth, and their descendants. `See,' say the condemners of nakedness triumphantly, `it was evil for Ham to see Noah's nakedness. Therefore it is evil for anyone to see anyone's.'
The famous seventeenth-century Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, saw the real truths in this passage: `...the consequence of Noah's sin was shame. He was made naked to his shame, as Adam when he had eaten forbidden fruit. Observe here the great evil of the sin of drunkenness. It discovers men. It disgraces men. [Then we see] Ham's impudence and impiety. He pleased himself with the sight. He told his brothers in a scornful deriding manner. It is very wrong to make a jest of sin (Proverbs 14:9) and to publish the faults of another, especially of parents, whom it is our duty to honour.'
Matthew Henry saw what we are really being warned against: drunkenness, taking pleasure in another's failings, breaking the fifth commandment (`Honour your father and your mother')--not nakedness. Michelangelo underlined the point on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by portraying both Noah and all his sons naked (see illustration.).
One of those lessons is also underlined in Lamentations 4:21 where God tells us: `when you are drunk you will expose yourself to shame.'
But if the irrepressible condemners of nakedness were right, then a little-known passage in the Old Testament, supported by passages from the New, would be a lie, and God would be evil, for He would have commanded a sinful act.
That, as Part II will show, is not true.
PART II: ISAIAH AND `MORE THAN ORDINARY SEEMLINESS'
Isaiah is one of the great figures in the Bible, a powerful prophet and a mighty man of God, to whom unique insights were given. The fact that God did not, and does not, regard nakedness in public as a sin is proved beyond all doubt by what we read in Isaiah chapter 20:
`Sargon King of Assyria sent his commander-in-chief to Ashdod, and he took it by storm. At that time the LORD said to Isaiah son of Amoz, Come, strip the sackcloth from your waist and take your sandals off. He did so, and went about naked and barefoot. The LORD said, ``My servant Isaiah has gone naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a warning to Egypt and Cush; just so shall the king of Assyria lead the captives of Egypt and the exiles of Cush naked and barefoot, their buttocks shamefully exposed, young and old alike. All men shall be dismayed, their hopes in Cush and their pride in Egypt humbled. On that day those who dwell along this coast will say, So much for all our hopes on which we relied for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria; what escape have we now?'' '
The first thing brought to our notice is that this event is a real part of history. It happened at a specific time, fixed by other historical events, namely the wars of Sargon I, who was king of Assyria from 722-705BC. This chapter is not a parable, not a vision, not something that can be explained away from the real world by `interpretation.' It actually happened. Isaiah son of Amoz, a real person, lived naked for at least three years of real time. He was naked at home, naked in the street, naked at the market, naked at synagogue, naked everywhere--at God's specific command.
Second, we are told quite unequivocally that he was naked; we cannot interpret the word away as some kind of metaphor. Sackcloth was worn next to the skin, and Isaiah was told to strip it off; then he was commanded to remove his sandals; and, finally, we are told in plain English that he went naked and barefoot. But, just in case we still do not understand what we are witnessing in Scripture, we are told again, this time by God Himself: `My servant Isaiah has gone naked and barefoot...'
Three times in the six verses of this chapter that phrase--`naked and barefoot'--is repeated. Isaiah was very definitely naked.
When we are told why he was naked, we see an equally definite contrast between what God thinks of public nakedness and what men think of it. God points with evident pride to Isaiah and his nakedness--`My servant has gone naked and barefoot.' In contrast, men, we see in this passage, regard nakedness as an instrument of humiliation, in which others can be stripped of their man-made, self-appointed glory and paraded as captives in a victory procession.
Slaves and servants and children, as Egyptian tomb-paintings show, were often naked; to be stripped was to be forcibly reduced to that level.
Using nakedness in that way as an instrument of humiliation was not uncommon throughout the ancient world. Across the Atlantic, for example, the ancient Peruvian people of Moche humiliated their captives likewise; they even rubbed salt in the wounds of shame by hanging their clothes from their war-clubs.
Even today, under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are stripped, undoubtedly not just for security reasons.
But Isaiah felt no shame. He had no reason to. He was naked at God's command. He could share God's pride in his action; he could rejoice. It was only the ungodly, the captives whose nakedness was brought about by their own pride who had cause to be ashamed.
Finally, this chapter tells us the lesson of these events, the central message: trust in God, and him alone. Do not put your trust in men. If you do, all you will get is humiliation and slavery. The same message is given many times throughout the Bible. In Psalm 108:12-13, for example, we read:
Grant us help against the enemy,
for deliverance by man is a vain hope.
With God's help we shall do valiantly,
and God himself will tread our
Again, in Psalm 121:1-2, the Psalmist tells us:
If I lift up my eyes to the hills,
where shall I find help?
Help comes only from the LORD,
maker of heaven and earth.`
And in Psalm 118:6 & 8-9:
The LORD is on my side, I have no fear;
what can man do to me?
It is better to find refuge in the LORD
than to trust in men.
It is better to find refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
In Proverbs 3:5, King Solomon passes on the same divine truth: `Put all your trust in the LORD, and do not rely on your own understanding.' Psalm 62:11 summarises the lesson in four simple words: `Power belongs to God.'
The other message that Isaiah 20 carries to us--that nakedness in public is good, and useful for good--is a vital one for our age. Our own understanding says `No, it is wicked and dangerous.' In consequence we have sowed repression and fashion, only to reap lies and follies, perverted thinking and pain and crime, even madness.
If any doubts still remain in anyone's mind about the essential righteousness of nakedness they must surely vanish when Isaiah 20 is read in conjunction with other passages.
In James 1:13-15, for example, we are told, `No one under trial or temptation should say, ``I am being tempted by God''; for God is untouched by evil and does not himself tempt anyone. Temptation arises when a man is enticed and lured way by his own lust; then lust conceives, and gives birth to sin; and sin full-grown breeds death.' Again, in Deuteronomy 32:4, we are told that God is `a faithful God, who does no wrong'; and in Psalm 94:15 that `righteousness still informs his judgement.'
God, then, never tells anyone to do anything evil. He cannot. If he asks someone to do something, and even more so if he commands it, it is not a sin. It is good in his sight. And since, as we are told in Malachi 3:6, `I am the LORD, unchanging', it does not matter when in human history that command was given, the thing commanded is equally good in his sight at any other time (unless it was specifically given as a temporary measure, later superseded, which is not the case here).
God Almighty, changeless and holy, commanded Isaiah to go naked in public.
In Micah 1:8 we see that the prophet Micah also went naked, as a sign of God's despair at sin of Israel and Judah: `Therefore I must howl and wail, go naked and distraught.'
In Mark 7:6-8, Jesus refers to Isaiah when he condemns a practice still common in our age: `Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites in these words: ``This people pays me lip-service, but their heart is far from me: their worship of me is in vain, for they teach as doctrines the commandments of men.'' You neglect the commandment of God, in order to maintain the tradition of men.'
Too often, still, the Christian church preaches nothing more than the traditions of men, the ways of the world. Cleaned up, yes; polished, yes; but not of God. So they preach that public nakedness is dirty, evil, wrong, and must be suppressed. That plays right into Satan's hands. He loves to have the truth suppressed, because then he can replace it with all kinds of lies.
With the body, we have the daily proof of his activities on the top shelves of every magazine rack, in every seedy video shop, in every red-light district, in every strip-tease joint, in the mind of every flasher, in the evil acts of every sex-criminal and rapist.
We are enjoined in 2 Corinthians 7:1 to `cleanse ourselves from all that can defile flesh and spirit, and in the fear of God complete our consecration.' False ideas about the flesh defile it, for they lead to actions against our bodies or others' bodies. They also defile the spirit, for believing lies darkens it. In Exodus 23:2, God commands us: `You shall not be led into wrongdoing by the majority'--which is precisely where the pressure comes from to believe these lies.
Another favourite weapon much used by the condemners of nakedness is in the New Testament: the passages in Romans 14:15-18 and I Corinthians 8 that prohibit doing anything that will cause the downfall of a fellow Christian. Those are often used to try and prevent Christians from doing anything out of the ordinary--such as going naked.
In Romans 14:15 we are told, `If your brother is outraged by what you eat, then your conduct is no longer guided by love. Do not by your eating bring disaster to a man for whom Christ died!' (The verses quoted here only talk about eating certain foods, but earlier ones show that the discussion is on general matters of disagreement--`doubtful points'.)
First it must be pointed out that a `brother's outrage' is not an indubitable guide to right action. In Mark 8:27-33, Jesus told His disciples plainly that He was going to go through great sufferings, to be rejected by the rulers, to be crucified, then rise from the dead. Peter was so outraged that he took Him by the arm and rebuked Him. But Jesus turned and rebuked him in no uncertain terms, saying, `Away with you, Satan. You think as men think, not as God thinks.'
Those who reacted with anger and fury at the sacrifice of the woman in Mark 14:3-9 who anointed Jesus with pure oil of nard, were also sternly rebuked in words that ring down through the ages.
And we are given the example in Acts 4:19 where a now emboldened Peter, with John, asks the furious, but wicked, rulers, `Is it right in God's eyes for us to obey you rather than God?'
The key points of Romans 14 are, first, that it is only talking about fellow Christians being outraged, not people in general; second, that it is only talking about outrage, which is a very strong emotion--rage beyond rage; and, third, what it is talking about must be something that can lead to the spiritual downfall of a fellow Christian --an `obstacle or stumbling-block.'
That does not mean a stumbling-block of the kind found in I Corinthians 1:23, in which Christ nailed to the cross is described as a `stumbling-block to Jews'--i.e., a stumbling-block of truth, past which men of lies cannot go. This is a stumbling-block of falseness; one that does not bring spiritual life but spiritual downfall.
The naked truth, in any meaning of the term, can never cause such a downfall. The truth may upset people, because they have to do something about it and may not want to, but if it outrages them they are not Christians, not lovers of truth.
As was said earlier, these passages in Romans and I Corinthians are too often used as a kind of blackmail by shallow Christians who just want to get their own way. They say, `I am upset by what you are doing, which means you are not acting in love, so you are not allowed to do it.' But that is not what the passage means. To use it in that way is to use it in pride, to use it falsely, which means to use it as Satan uses Scripture--as a means of trying to get his own way in despite of God.
Freedom, as always, is balance within the truth. In this case, the counterweight to prevent these passages being misused is in I Timothy 4:4-5: `For everything that God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected when it is taken with thanksgiving, since it is hallowed by God's own word and by prayer.'
There is yet more New Testament confirmation of the difference between how we see nakedness and how God sees it in Matthew 6:25, where Jesus tells us that `...the body is more than clothes', and in the Gospel of John 13:3-4 during the Last Supper, where we are told, `Jesus ... rose from table, laid aside His garments, and taking a towel tied it round Him.'
The condemners of nakedness say `garments' here means outerwear; but the same word is used when the soldiers divided all Christ's clothing between them, and nakedness would be more consistent with the function of a servant or slave, which is what Jesus at that moment was specifically showing his disciples to be.
Peter was certainly naked in John 21:7 when he was out fishing with the other disciples, but he was not rebuked by Jesus, just helped to make a large catch. Indeed, in those times it was not uncommon, even in the highly civilised Roman Empire, for outdoor workmen such as farmers and fishermen to be naked at their toil (which explains Matthew 24:18-- `Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes').
Most tellingly, most gloriously, and most unequivocally, we are told by John in chapter 20:6-8 of his account that Jesus' burial garments were left behind in the tomb when he rose from the dead. So at that triumphant, stupendous moment in human history, when the Son of God conquered Death, and rose as the first-fruit of God's recreation, he, the second Adam, was as naked as the first. The Age of Grace dawned in the same way as the Age of Innocence.
John and Peter's eyewitness account, is the proof of that, for it clearly says that all the burial linen was still in the tomb when they arrived at the tomb early on Easter morning. All the wrappings, everything except the napkin that had been round Jesus' head (which was folded aside), were lying undisturbed where his body had been. In the power of his resurrection he had simply passed straight through them.
Perhaps it was as much his nakedness as her tear-dimmed vision that caused Mary Magdala to mistake him for the gardener in John 20:15.
The early Christian church freely included nakedness in its baptismal services. For centuries it was the custom to baptise men, women, and children together naked. St. Hippolytus of Rome, circa 200AD, says they were required to be totally naked. Women were required to take off their jewellery and remove the combs from their hair.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, circa 350AD, would address those who were about to be baptised: `You are now stripped and naked, in this also imitating Christ despoiled of his garments on his cross, he who by his nakedness despoiled the principalities and powers, and fearlessly triumphed over them.'
Still later, in 400AD, Theodore of Mopsuetia, writing of baptism, says that clothing `must be taken off' as proof of the Adam-like innocence that the converts have.
In I Corinthians 12:22-25, in the passage where Paul is likening the church to the body, he gives as powerful an insight into God's view of the body as he does into the ideal structure and workings of the church of Christ: `Those organs of the body which seem to be more frail than others are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we regard as less honourable are treated with with special honour. To our unseemly parts is given a more than ordinary seemliness, whereas our seemly parts need no adorning. But God has combined the various parts of the body, giving special honour to the humbler parts, so that there might be no sense of division in the body...'
`Those parts which we regard as less honourable are treated with special honour' and `to our unseemly parts is given a more than ordinary seemliness.'
Quote those to the next unthinking Christian who tries to tell you that your genitals or pudenda are indecent and should never be visible.
PART III: SPIRITUAL RAPTURE & LIVING THE NAKED TRUTH
If any reasonable person could still have doubts that nakedness is good in God's sight after reading the passage in Isaiah discussed in Part II last month, those doubts would be utterly vanquished by the events described in I Samuel 19:18-24.
King Saul had developed a jealous hatred of David and sent successive parties of men to seize and kill him. But God himself thwarted his intent, for as each party approached Naioth, where David was staying with Samuel and the prophets, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they fell into prophetic rapture. Finally, Saul went to do the murder himself, but the Spirit of God came upon him as he went and he also became enraptured. Then, as the Bible says, when he came to Naioth, `he too stripped off his clothes and like the rest fell into a rapture before Samuel and lay down naked all that day and all that night.'
These men were seized by the Spirit of God; they were elevated to the highest state of being possible on this earth, touched by God himself; all their actions were inspired by his Spirit; they were fully under his command--and they were all naked in ecstatic worship before Him.
In Acts 10:15 God tells Simon Peter, not once, but three times: `It is not for you to call profane what God counts clean.'
Since, then, as we saw in Part II, `God has given special honour to the humbler parts', we have no right to think or teach otherwise. If we do, the result is not only immortal peril, but a `sense of division in the body', which as we see daily in society causes nothing but the Satanic damage already referred to, and so perfectly described in Romans 1:18-19 & 28-32:
`For we see divine retribution revealed from heaven and falling upon all the godless wickedness of men. In their wickedness they are stifling the truth. For all that may known of God by men lies plain before their eyes; indeed God himself has disclosed it to them.
`Thus, because they have not seen fit to acknowledge God, he has given them up to their own depraved reason. This leads them to break all rules of conduct. They are filled with every kind of injustice, mischief, rapacity, and malice; they are one mass of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and malevolence; whisperers and scandal-mongers, hateful to God, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent new kinds of mischief, they show no loyalty to parents, no conscience, no fidelity to their plighted word; they are without natural affection and without pity. They know well enough the just decree of God, that those who behave like this deserve to die, and yet they do it; not only so, they actually applaud such practices.'
These things are as true of the truths of nakedness as they are of the great central truths of the Gospel. We should pay all them due heed.
Truly, as we are told in Isaiah 55:8-9, `... My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways. This is the very word of the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.'
In Luke 11:34 we read, `The lamp of your body is the eye. When your eyes are sound, you have light for your whole body.' Your whole body --genitals, pudenda and all else--are suffused with light if your vision is sound. The passage continues in verse 35, `See to it then that the light you have is not darkness.' The truth we are anchored to must be real, not imaginary or concocted; not the traditions of men but the truth of God.
Your body is the garment of your spirit, the spirit with which you worship God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord. The body was also a garment Jesus was pleased to wear so that he could give us the way of salvation. It is thus a garment that the Holy Spirit was and is pleased to wear.
If you are in Christ you glorify him as much in your God-created nakedness as in any clothes. He certainly glorified God no less when he was naked on the Cross, naked at his resurrection, or naked at his baptism.
Some clothing is downright dangerous from a spiritual point of view, as Jude 23 tells us: `Hate the very clothing that is contaminated with sensuality.'
The central point is that morality is a matter of the human heart, not the human exterior. A saint does not become immoral by going naked, nor a sinner moral by going clothed. As Jesus said in Mark 7:21-23 `evil things come from inside, and they defile a man.' The two wonderfully perceptive verses in James 1:14-15 concisely sum up the progress to evil: `Temptation arises when a man is enticed and lured away by his own lust; then lust conceives, and gives birth to sin; and sin full-grown breeds death.'
In Paradise Lost Milton amplified those two verses in horrifying images. First hideous Sin springs full-formed in female shape from Satan's head, generated by his lust for God's throne, then she is raped by him, falls out of Heaven with him and the rebellious angels, becomes the Portress of Hell-gate, and the fiendish child within her is born: Death.
Apart from militating against the progress of lust, there are other good, practical reasons why it is spiritually right for us to include nakedness in our lives.
For example, we are told in Ecclesiastes 5:15, `As [a man] came from the womb of mother earth, so must he return, naked as he came; all his toil produces nothing that he can take away with him.'
Nakedness serves as a visual reminder of that, a reminder of what our beginning was and what our ending will be. It is thus both an aid to Christian humility, and a reminder of what Jesus commands us in Matthew 6:19-21: ` ``Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where it grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves break in to steal it. Store up treasure in heaven, where there is no moth and no rust to spoil it, no thieves to break in and steal it. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.'' '
And in Jude 8 we read: `So too with these men today. Their dreams lead them to defile the body, to flout authority, and to insult celestial beings.' There is a connection between the way we think and act towards our bodies, and the way we regard authority and act towards higher beings. The start of the downward slope is to defile the body, which includes falsely calling it indecent or obscene.
We are told in many passages that the bodies of those who belong to Christ are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Again, that means their whole bodies. And in I Corinthians 6:20 we are told to honour God in our bodies. We cannot do that if we follow the world and call the body dishonourable, a thing to be shamefully hidden, to be despised, denigrated and demeaned. In the non-spiritual world in particular, as shown in NLNZ's September cover-story, the false shunning of nakedness causes great evil.
In New Zealand we have the legal right to go naked, a right granted through a landmark victory in court. Victories, as Proverbs 21:31 tells us, come from the LORD; and, as Proverbs 22:12, says, `The LORD keeps watch over every claim at law, and overturns the scoundrel's case.' It was the case of the anti-body brigade that was overturned in 1991.
We also know that nakedness is good in God's sight. So in Christian love, in a desire for drawing closer to the truth, and as an antidote to bodily lies and disharmony with nature, we can--we should--live this way as part of our witness to the truth (so far as climate and circumstances allow).
As 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 says: `We demolish sophistries and all that rears its proud head against the knowledge of God; we compel every human thought to surrender in obedience to Christ.' (emphasis added).
The motto of the Danish Naturist Association looks at the same thought from another point of view:
He who seeks Nakedness,
seeks the Truth.
He who fears the Truth,
The same thought, on a higher plane, is expressed in Hebrews 4:12-13: `For the word of God is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the place where life and spirit, joints and marrow divide. It sifts the thoughts and purposes of the heart. There is nothing in creation that can hide from him: everything lies naked and exposed to the eyes of the One with which we have to reckon.'
(Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that a naturist organisation in Lutheran Denmark formed such a motto.)
The clothing we must seek, then, is spiritual--`righteous deeds'--which is what we are told in Revelation 19:8 is signified by the fine white linen that the Church and its saints are portrayed as wearing (it is certainly not moth-corruptible cloth). The King James Version puts that verse more clearly: `fine linen *is* the righteousness of saints' (emphasis added).
Daniel 12:10 underlines the point that the visible exterior being talked of here is the expression of the pure inner being--`Many shall purify themselves and be refined, making themselves shining white.' Themselves, not added garments.
Many other passages tell us that our first responsibility is to be spiritually clothed, using metaphors that again show us clearly what God's attitude to physical nakedness is.
In I Corinthians 15:53-57: `This perishable being must be clothed with the imperishable, and what is immortal must be clothed with immortality. And when our mortality has been clothed with immortality, then the saying of Scripture will come true: ``Death is swallowed up; victory is won!'' ``O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?'' The sting of death is sin, and sin gains its power from the law; but, God be praised, he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.'
In Colossians 3:12-15: `Then put on the garments that suit God's chosen people, his own, his beloved: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience. Be forbearing with one another, and forgiving, where any of you has cause for complaint: you must forgive as the Lord forgave you. To crown all, there must be love, to bind all together and complete the whole.'
In I Timothy 2:9-10: `Women again must dress in becoming manner, modestly and soberly, not with elaborate hairstyles, not decked out with gold or pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, as befits women who claim to be religious.'
In I Peter 3:3-4, also addressed to women: `Your beauty should reside, not in outward adornment--the braiding of hair, or jewellery, or dress--but in the inmost centre of your being, with its imperishable ornament, a gentle, quiet spirit, which is of high value in the sight of God.`
In Psalm 132:9: `Let thy priests be clothed in righteousness and thy loyal servants shout for joy', and in Psalm 30:11: `Thou hast turned my laments into dancing; thou hast stripped off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.' (Sackcloth garments are worn alone, next to the skin.)
In Galatians 3:26-27: `For through faith you are all sons of God in union with Christ Jesus. Baptised into union with him, you have all put on Christ as a garment.'
Born-again Christians can thus raise their voices with the hymnist, who paraphrased those verses in the lines: `Jesus, thy blood and righteousness --my beauty and glorious dress.'
Revelation 3:14-18 addresses the church at Laodicea, as well as all who do not stand strong, with these words: `These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the prime source of all God's creation: I know all your ways; you are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were either hot or cold! But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. You say, ``How rich I am! And how well I have done! I have everything I want.'' In fact, though you do not know it, you are the most pitiful wretch, poor, blind, and naked. So I advise you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, to make you truly rich, and white clothes to put on to hide the shame of your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so that you may see.'
That does not mean physical clothes, any more than it means physical gold or physical ointment, or physical nakedness or blindness or poverty. All are emblems of the spiritual. We must be covered with Christ's nature, rich with his wealth, healthy with his healing.
In short, it is the clothing of God himself that we need and must seek--his holiness, his attributes, as freely given through faith in Jesus, the garments described in Psalm 104:1-2.
Bless the LORD, my soul:
O LORD my God, thou art great indeed,
clothed in majesty and splendour,
and wrapped in a robe of light.
God has no need of any covering, no exterior but his own glorious attributes. The robe that Isaiah saw filling the temple was a visual expression of those attributes, not a piece of cloth. God is a spirit, so does not wear physical clothing; for as the Psalmist again tells us in Psalm 93:1:
The LORD is king; he is clothed in majesty; the LORD clothes himself in might and fastens on his belt of wrath.
Isaiah 11:5 and Revelation 1:13 also show us clearly that the clothes seen when God or his risen Son appear to us are symbolic, not actual cloth. In Revelation 1:13 John saw: `One like a son of man, robed down to his feet, with a golden girdle round his breast.' In Isaiah 11:5, which is also talking about Jesus, we see what that girdle actually is: `Round his waist he shall wear the belt of justice, and good faith shall be the girdle round his body.'
The pure, naked truth is glorious covering. Job saw that; for in Job 29:14 we read, `I put on righteousness as a garment and it clothed me; justice, like cloak or a turban, wrapped me round.' And in Isaiah 61:10, `Let me rejoice in the LORD with all my heart, let me exult in my God; for he has robed me in salvation as a garment and clothed me in integrity as a cloak.' In Psalm 96:9, we are commanded to `worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness' --literally, clothed in holiness.
In Job 40:10 (RSV), God challenged Job to do just that. After asking him is his mortal arm and voice could match his omnipotent ones, he commands:
Deck yourself with majesty and dignity,
Clothe yourself with glory and splendour.
Can you, God is asking Job--and us--can you, by yourself, in your own strength, put on the clothing essential to stand in my presence?
We can see from this article that there are three kinds of nakedness in the Bible: ordinary nakedness, such as Isaiah's; the nakedness of hardship, of not having clothes when they are needed (a need that Matthew 25:31-46 and Isaiah 58:7 shows it is our duty to fulfil); and the nakedness of the shame that accompanies sin, either the particular sin of lust, or the general sin of following your own lusts, your own desires, of saying in your heart, `I come first, not thee O LORD.'
It is also clear that neither ordinary nakedness nor the nakedness of hardship do separate us, or can separate us, from the love of Christ or God, as the last words of Romans 8:35:39 tell us: `there is nothing ... in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'Only the nakedness of lust can do that, for that is not the nakedness of creation, it is of our own making.
The choices, then, are all ours: clothes or nakedness, good nakedness or bad, good clothedness or bad.
The essential thing is that we should learn to echo Psalm 119:72, where a true appreciation of our bodies is linked with trusting obedience:
Thy hands moulded me and made me what I am; show me how I may learn thy commandments.
Finally, we can and should behold our naked bodies with humility and joy, and cry out to God in praise for them, joining our voices with that of Psalm 139:13-17:
Thou it was who didst fashion my inward parts;
Thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb.
I will praise thee, for thou dost fill me with awe;
wonderful thou art, and wonderful thy works.
Thou knowest me through and through:
my body is no mystery to thee
how I was secretly kneaded into shape
and patterned in the depths of the earth.
Thou didst see my limbs unformed in the womb,
and in thy book they are all recorded;
day by day they were fashioned,
not one of them was late in growing.
How deep I find thy thoughts, O God,
how inexhaustible their themes!
Author: Nobilangelo Ceramalus.
Reproduced, with permission, from "Naturist Life New Zealand" in 3 parts, September, October and November issues, 1994.