When they realize they have acted rebelliously, the Scriptures depict Adam and Eve as suddenly noticing their nakedness. They feel ashamed. But if the text were referring to their mere nudity, the scene would be unintelligible. Their literal nakedness was God’s idea, remember. I’m persuaded a different sort of exposure is in view.
When they sewed together fig leaves, they weren’t inventing clothes. They were doing what you and I always do when we have something about us that we believe could estrange us; they were devising a way to control the other’s impression. Putting a little something, a fig leaf, some income, witty banter, an in-ground pool, Bible recitation, varsity, the 5.0-liter exhaust package, cleavage, or biceps, between us so you have less of an opportunity of feeling badly about the real me, whoever that is.
This is to say the first effects of the first sin in the Bible aren’t moral, they’re psychological…These perfectly peaceful human beings became concerned, perhaps obsessed, with veiling selections of their person in order to control the other’s thoughts. They obscure, they sham—a word whose root can be found by simply adding back its e—and then the text goes on to show them hiding behind trees when they hear God coming…
The word Hell in the English language puts us in mind pretty quickly of a place of punishment. A location apart. The word stems from a Proto-Germanic term, halja, which means “one who covers up or hides something.” It has the further original sense of something buried or hidden underground. From Greek the early followers of Christ borrowed the word Hades, both a netherworld realm and the name of this realm’s god. Hades comes from a and eido, words that negate and mean “see,” respectively. Hades is, roughly, “out of view.” Pluto, another name for Hades, is similarly known as the god of the hidden underworld, specifically the god of earth’s buried minerals, and is what we named the coldest, most distant, hardest-to-view rock in our solar system.
Hell is, at its etymological roots, a thing or state at odds with being seen as it really is. A thing unreached by light, and the misery its resistance to light creates.
The story of the primordial humans in the Garden isn’t just about doing that which was forbidden. It’s about all of us, from the beginning, sewing together our own Hell, our own system of hiding and suppressing and pretending, to see if we can pass as lovable since we’re sure we’re not. From the very beginning, really great people become so afraid that they become obsessed with themselves. Once it gets in your head that you may not be lovable, your entire internal budget is spent on compensating for that. And there’s not much left over for loving others when you decide your own value is a variable…
With a straight face, many of us who live this way call ourselves the people of truth. We even argue that we have it and others don’t. But what is truth? We deride Pontius Pilate for asking Jesus such a question before the crucifixion. Yet I wonder if perhaps the man was looking directly into the camera when he said it, because it’s you and I who need to answer, not Christ.
In the New Testament Greek, the word translated truth is the word alētheia. With an a at the beginning to negate, the second part is lanthano, which means “to cover or hide.” Truth is simply that which has been unhidden. It’s not a proposition or a winning argument. It’s just the way things really are underneath. To be a people of the truth is to be a people about what’s real. Who ask, seek, and knock to get at what is. Who dig past years of sediment until the shovel pings on bedrock. Who reward others who, even when it’s uncomfortable or threatening, do the same…
A people of truth have a tough shift to make, because once you and I understand that being afraid always makes us hide, we can’t go on inadvertently incentivizing that hiding in the name of our truth. We all have to accept that every action, every inaction, every thought, every true intention, every suppressed doubt and rage and desire to satiate our many hungers and lusts, is already known and is in plain view. It’s known about me. It’s known about you. Accepting this fact, that we are wholly seen and wholly Loved, is how we begin to understand what Love can really do. A Love that is judgment and truth and apocalypse and de-leafing and so many other things that, if even painfully, draw us from our shams and into life.
Fearful creatures hide, and hiding creatures are liars, and fearful, hiding creatures strain to Love anyone but themselves because remaining hidden takes up a lot of energy. Isn’t this why so many of us are done with church? They handed us pants at the door and said, “This is no place for honesty. Here’s our What We Believe statement.” Many of us simply can’t find enough evidence that the truth about Christ and the truth about ourselves is what we’re after.
…So, now consider that faith isn’t something you pile on like yet another layer. We’re already crushed under the weight of years of layering, each stratum another failed act. Consider, if even experimentally, that faith is nudity. A stripping of the layers— the fig leaves—and the release of their falsely securing duplicity. Consider faith not as the pretense of holiness, but the holiness of pretenselessness. Holiness as unhiding from the one who sees, and from those others who follow.
If you listen closely, “Don’t be afraid” is the first thing God says to you every morning. Listen, it’s there. You may not recognize it because it’s not shouted or growled or popping up as a breaking bad news alert on your phone or as loud as the idea that your fear is what keeps your whole identity glued together. But it’s there. And it’s terrifying. And it’s good. And perhaps your simple response could be to stand, your net and your bucket and your fig leaves at your feet, and to say, “Okay,” a fair variant of amen.
For more, snag a copy of Experiments in Honesty online or at a real-life bookstore near you.
"Steve Daugherty's inaugural book is a literary treat, a visual pleasure, and—most vitally—a spiritual feast. Meditations on well-worn biblical moments retold through Steve's storytellers' heart give me pause. If you find yourself starving on fast-food religion, do yourself a favor and pick up Experiments in Honesty. You'll find yourself at a table set with slow-cooked revelation."
~Mike Morrell, collaborating author, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and your Transformation with Richard Rohr