Let’s have a show of hands—who has had a “naked-in-public” dream? Come on, admit it. I bet just about everyone has, including me.
You know the one: You show up for a big presentation at work or school, or you’re riding a bicycle through rush hour or working the first day of a new job, and you suddenly realize everyone is looking at you strangely. Some of them laugh and point; others turn away in shocked indignation. Puzzled, you look at yourself and discover—Horror!— you forgot to put on clothes that morning. All day long you’ve been cruising around stark naked. In your birthday suit. Au naturel. In the buff. Exposed!
For me, this kind of dream usually shows up when I am under unusual stress:
Over my head with some task or project…
Or, feeling guilty over something I don’t want other people—or God—to see.
It’s my subconscious mind’s way of tapping me on the shoulder to say, “Hey, Buddy, you’re not nearly as together as you pretend to be.” The dream details will differ, but if you are like me it always ends the same way: You run. You hide. You grab anything you can to cover your nakedness. You wake up in a panic, desperate to get away from all those accusing eyes. What a relief to find out it was only a dream!
Or was it?
The truth is, most of us go our whole lives feeling “exposed,” even when we are awake. It is an inescapable dimension of human nature. Deep down we know we don’t measure up, and we live with the constant, nagging fear that we’ll be found out at any moment. We feel naked on the insideand there is nothing to be done about it, no matter how fast we run or how cleverly we hide. It doesn’t matter who you are: rich or poor, pretty or plain. Sure, there’s the occasionally day when things go our way and we feel like the king or queen of the world…until the next time we look in the mirror or slow down long enough to be alone with our thoughts. Then we hear that familiar voice accusing, “Who are you kidding? Everyone is laughing at you—want to know why? Because you’re naked – totally exposed with nowhere to hide!”
Doesn’t this sound a bit familiar?
Of course, this common human condition isn’t a recent development. It is not simply the result of the pent-up stress of modern living. No, the story of humanity began, literally days after creation, with the mother of all “naked-in-public” nightmares. Just ask Adam and Eve. Here’s their story. . . .
Trouble in Paradise
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and it wasn’t just good—it was awesome!Mountains and verdant valleys; rivers, lakes, and oceans; a playful and wondrous variety of plants, animals, and fishes; the sun, the moon, and stars in the sky. It was a perfect paradise, a lush and fertile garden called Eden. And on the sixth day of His work, God created something really special—people, made in His own image, and after His own heart . . . a man and a woman who would inherit all this newly created splendor and live there in perfect, unhindered communion with the earth, with each other, and—most importantly—with God.
And it worked! For who knows how long Adam and Eve frolicked freely in paradise with God Himself. Like a dad and kids rolling in the grass together, spotting shapes in the clouds, telling stories and laughing— they were utterly absorbed in each others’ company. In those days Adam and Eve were every bit as holy as the Creator Himself—what could be better than that? Oh, and there is one minor detail I left out: Adam and Eve were naked. As a pair of jaybirds.
But here’s the cool part: They were so free, so accepted, so innocent, they didn’t know they were naked. They didn’t even know what naked was. Why should they? What was there to hide, and from whom? God created them as they were, perfect and complete in His eyes, so that’s how they saw themselves as well. It is like when my wife allows our toddler to run loose in the backyard to play on a summer day—no diaper, no clothes, and absolutely no awareness he is naked. What difference does it make, when there are butterflies to chase, sprinklers to run through, and popsicles to eat? What a life!
Of course, it would be nice if the story had ended there: “And humanity lived happily ever after.” But we all know the next chapter in the saga. Inevitably, Adam and Eve blew it. Like most toddlers, they had a small issue with boundaries. Well, boundary, really, because God placed only one restriction on them. They could eat anything they wanted in the whole garden—anything at all—except for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He warned them that, if they did this, they’d surely die.
Eventually, along came the serpent—Satan—who had his own lurid history of rebellion against God. He said, “Really? You buy all of that? Here’s what I think—God doesn’t want you to eat that fruit because he knows that, when you do, you’ll be just like him. Surely you won’t die. Just take a bit.” Who knows how many times the serpent had already come around to pitch this con to Adam and Eve? A hundred? A thousand? Maybe this was the very first. In any case, on that day something in his argument appealed to Eve. She was convinced, and she took the fruit and ate it. Adam was right there and didn’t mind helping himself as well.
Bam! Pow! Sure enough, their bodies didn’t die; but something on the inside did. Oh, their bodies carried on the appearance of life for some time, but deep within, something was terribly wrong. In retrospect, we know God hadn’t been talking about immediate literal death, but the end of innocence, the end of the holy life they had known. Suddenly—and here’s the part you’ll be able to identify with—they realized they were naked, and had been all along. Now, just as the tree’s name implied, they knew the difference between right and wrong—and saw that they had been wrong. They were exposed and vulnerable for the first time ever. Only moments ago they’d enjoyed perfect safety and freedom in God’s garden.
If our present-day dreams are any guide, what do you think they did next? You got it. They ran. They hid. They grabbed the first leaf handy and covered themselves to escape their shame. And we’ve been hiding ever since.
You see, eventually, we all blow it too. Why? Well, it actually has nothing to do with our actions or the poor intentions of our heart. Because of Adam and Eve’s decision to defy God, sin is now a part our very nature. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
All men. No exceptions.
That fact makes us feel as naked as Adam. We may not even know why we feel so exposed, but it doesn’t matter why. We just know we don’t measure up for some reason, so we run and hide—from ourselves, from each other, and—above all—from God. Adam and Eve retreated to the closest hiding place they could find. They sat under the cover of dense undergrowth and dirt of the garden, desperate to remain unseen. They made themselves small and quiet and hoped the all-seeing, all-knowing God who lovingly crafted them out of the dust wouldn’t see them cowering there in the dirt.
They hid from Love Himself. “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid,” Adam said to God. He grossly underestimated the presence of God by thinking he could hide. Even worse, he said he was afraid because he was naked–“That is why I hid myself.” I am sure this fear was not only of God’s impending judgment but also the terror of thinking he’d lost the intimate relationship he loved the most. Now he stood bare with nothing to his name except the shame on his face. He hid like a kid crouched behind the couch after eating the forbidden candy bar, with the evidence of chocolate smeared all over his face. I’ve been there; I’ve felt Adam’s fear. After the deed is done, I can’t help but quiver in my soul to think I just disappointed my Creator who I love to please.
You and I don’t live in a garden, but we still have our covers. Oh, our fig leaves may be Chuck Taylors or skinny jeans and our branch cover may resemble the nearest Starbucks corner armchair. We use the camouflage of modern-day life to avoid being exposed for who we really are. You and I are not so different from Adam and Eve. Let me suggest that the ways you cover your own sense of nakedness and the manner in which you hide are some of the most important things to recognize about yourself on this road to transformation:
- We don’t answer the phone. Typically, the first thing to go when you feel guilty and ashamed over something you’ve done is communication. Sure, we have our excuses for hitting the ignore button–it will be a long conversation, I’ll call them back when I can focus, or if I just ignore it they’ll forget. But the truth is, as much as you might long for a chance to say you’re sorry, the risk of being blasted by the other’s anger and hurt is too great. You’d rather lay low for a while. Your relationship with God is no different. In fact, with Him, we have even more incentive to take cover when we think we’ve messed up. Feeling naked in public among other people is bad enough—but in front of the Almighty, before whom even angels fall on their faces? No thanks. Run. Hide. Above all: Avoid being caught alone with God in prayer, Bible reading, church or all of the above.
- Steer clear of people who might see right through us. Picture this: It has been a hard day and you just want to get home to a relaxing evening. First, you must stop off at the grocery store. Just as you turn your cart down the frozen food aisle, who turns in at the other end? The Little League baseball coach you promised to help with the team this year and then changed your mind—without telling him that. You broke your word and bailed, and now you feel terrible about it. He hasn’t seen you yet, trying to look small behind other shoppers. What do you do? Approach him and confess that you blew it and offer to make it up somehow? Maybe. If you are like most people, though, your first impulse is to pull a quick U-turn and spend the next fifteen minutes in the cat food section until the coast is clear again. And you don’t even have a cat.
Here’s the “run and hide” rule when God is the one we’d rather not bump into: Avoid worship and maybe even Christians altogether.
- Give them the old “razzle-dazzle.” Sometimes, when running and locking yourself in the closet won’t work, the best strategy is to hide in plain sight. This involves not only pretending your offenses never happened, but making a show being the “cool-calm-and-collected-Christian” that people would never believe youof all people could do or think anything wrong. Piety is an excellent smokescreen. Tireless service and “good works” make wonderful camouflage netting. Bottom line: Perform whatever you must toavoid admitting you’re a mess on the inside.
An Alternate Ending
Here’s where we left off in the story: Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness; they ran and hid. Then God got angry, kicked them out of paradise, cursed them (and us) with a life of pain and scraping in the dirt to survive—and we’ve all been suffering miserably ever since, with dying and going to heaven being our only hope of relief. End of story, right? Isn’t this more or less what most of us believe? It must be. Why else would we still be running and hiding from God like our lives depend on it?
No, that is not the way the story ends. God knew very well what happened. Yet before He got around to discussing the inevitable consequences of what Adam and Eve had done, He did something we typically overlook when remembering the story: He went looking for them. He could have given them the silent treatment, or let them sit in the bushes and rethink their lives for a while, or simply got up and left the garden for good. But He didn’t. Even after their brand-new sin, He sought them out.
“Where are you?” He said.
And all Adam could mutter back from his fort of foliage was, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
Crazy, right? Adam hid from God. Even crazier—God knew where he was and didn’t leave him in hiding but pursued him all the more.
The mind-blowing truth is: He’s still looking. God sent Jesus, at great cost, to find each and every one of us—to find you. Not so that He could haul you back into court and throw the book at you. He sent His Son to invite you to quit running and come home again. The garden of God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance of you still exists. His plan, by the power of grace made possible by Jesus Christ, is to do away with “nakedness” entirely —and restore us to holiness in His presence. The proof of this was in the prophetic events immediately following the fall of man.
After they had defied God, He went to find them and clothe them. “The LordGod made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). How gracious was God at that moment to not leave them exposed, but to kill his own creation, a few wild beasts, and use their skins to cover Adam and Eve’s exposed backside with a sacrifice? He did the same thing for all of us, not by killing an animal, but by allowing his innocent son to be killed. He sought us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to cover us. All this displays the gracious invitation for us to be honest with Him.
The purpose of being honest with God: to be taken from our embarrassing nakedness and clothed in Christ’s perfection. That’s why it is worth the risk of discomfort and discovery: to have the promise of returning to blamelessness and a life of perfect grace. God’s looking.
“Where are you?”
For more writing like this one, check out my book, Honest To God: becoming brutally Honest with a Gracious God. A version of this post is found in that book.