On Fig Leaves, Coats of Skins, and Things As They Really Are
I’ve always loved the passage in Jacob 4:13, which explains the primary role of the Spirit: “…The Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are…” (emphasis mine).
The idea of Things As They Really Are is one of the most profound spiritual concepts I’ve ever encountered. It’s about much more than adhering to the “correct” interpretation of abstract theological principles; it’s about embracing all the truth we can, even difficult truth, on our way to a fully actualized life in Christ. As important as good theology is, I believe that on the path of real discipleship, often the most difficult truths we encounter are personal — things we’d rather not face about our communities and families, and especially ourselves. And yet the Spirit exists to show us these truths, to help us strip away layers of deceit and shame, so that we can stand face to face with God, knowing Him even as we are known (see 1 Cor 13:12).
I often think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After they partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they discovered their nakedness. Suddenly ashamed, they rushed to make coverings of fig leaves — as if, somehow, the fig leaves would restore their former innocence, or at least hide that they had sinned. But God wasn’t fooled. He called out to them, made them stand before Him, demanded an accounting of what they’d done (as if He didn’t know). Then He cast them away with a curse…and a covering of skins He crafted for them.
There was a time this story made me shudder. I imagined myself standing before God, naked, exposed; and God sending me away, angry with my performance. How is this love? I wondered. I had missed two critical points in the story:
First, that God made us naked;
Second, that He covers us.
Of course, I’m not speaking of literal nudity, but of the vulnerability that nakedness symbolizes. God sends us into the world naked, as babes in arms, helpless and at the mercy of others. Then as we grow and get hurt, we learn to protect ourselves. Often, the protection we choose is unhealthy: shame, secrecy, self-destructive choices, relational instability. We make our own coverings of fig leaves, some so skillfully crafted through years of careful deceit that they almost blend into our flesh; others hasty and shoddy, falling apart at the seams.
But God’s command isn’t to make better, more sophisticated fig leaves, so that no one notices our blemishes. Instead, He wants to shred them, just as He did with Adam and Eve. He peels our fig leaves back layer by layer, shining His light onto all that we’ve hidden — just as He required Adam and Eve to stand before Him and name what they’d done. He wants us back the way He made us, naked and raw, except different this time: “born again” (John 3:3), “as little children” (Matt. 18:3). On face value this seems like retrogression, back to vulnerability and weakness, but the truth is that this second childhood is the hallmark of spiritual maturity and strength.
Of course, the only way there is through Things As They Really Are. Until we face what is real, we will be unable to live as the Master desires, for we will be forever protecting ourselves and our secrets. We will be adding more and more fig leaves or rearranging and repairing what we’ve already stitched together, as opposed to living the life He’s prepared for us. Stripping down is the only answer, as painful as it may be. It’s a hard thing to realize, but it’s true.
Fortunately, He doesn’t leave us exposed to the elements. The second part of this story, the next Thing As It Really Is, is that He loves us and covers us with His grace. Our nakedness is not a punishment, but a necessary precursor to stepping into the warm coats of skins He’s made for us — else how will they fit over the bulges of bulky leaves? Only when we’re covered the way He would cover us can we face the Lone and Dreary World protected and whole.
The truth is that I’ve created more than my share of fig leaf outfits. Some of them are easy to strip away — others require much more time and tenderness. But every time a layer falls, I breathe easier and feel freer. To embrace Things As They Really Are, to listen to the Spirit and allow Him to work within me, is difficult. But the alternative?
Posted on October 4, 2011, in Thoughts on God and tagged adam and eve, Christ, coats of skins, fear, fig leaves, freedom, grace, hiding, shame, spirit, things as they really are, truth. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.