Guest Post: Nakedness Is Next to Godliness

Guest post by Mikaela. Mikaela is a lover of many things, including family, friends, animals, and most especially lively conversation. A professional loud mouth with no filter, she spent too many decades thinking she had no rhythm before finally realizing she needed to dance to the beat of her own heart.  When she isn’t spending time with her kids and husband, she is most often found doing “trail” therapy with one or two or 15 of her many friends. Whether on a bike, skis, a paddle board, snowshoes, or her own two feet, you will hear her coming.

Months ago, I was in the shower when a scripture mastery verse that had always bothered me came to mind. The verse is somewhat long, but I could never get past the first 8 words: “The natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). I started pondering why, and what I might be misunderstanding. By the time I finished washing and was dressed for the day, I had a new, hopeful take on this passage that had always troubled me. I felt energized and uplifted as I continued through my day. A few hours later I received a text from the bishop asking if I would speak on a particular scripture. As I pulled it up, I was overcome with uncertainty as the very scripture I had just hours before been wrestling with was the exact one assigned to me. 

I have a pretty clear grasp of what an enemy is. As someone with “naturally” curly hair I also understand natural as the state of something when not acted upon by other forces. Simply, the way something is. Obviously, I struggled with the concept that the way humans, created by God, in God’s image, are in opposition to God. This implies we believe in original sin. However, the second article of faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”  How can we not be punished for Adam’s transgression and still be an enemy to God simply by being human? I concluded we can’t and I needed to redefine natural. So, I pondered the symbolism in my favorite scripture story to understand how our natural human tendencies can be both from God and also make us act in opposition to the plan of happiness. 

God creates Adam and Eve and places them “naked and not ashamed” in Eden where they cannot experience physical harm or death and commands two things. One: multiply and replenish the earth–no qualifiers, no warnings. The second: don’t eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil–or you will die. An action with a promised consequence. They were warned if they ate the fruit of knowledge of good and evil they would die, and therefore be separated from God. This separation was not punishment, but the natural outcome of a choice they were prepared to make by being adequately warned in advance. Fear of change or the unknown can cause us to behave in opposition to God’s intended plan. God commanded Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth, something they could not do in their current state. Obedience to that law required a willingness to change. Our God given ability to fear death, suffering and separation is essential in a dangerous and difficult mortal world, but clinging too tightly to the known can prohibit acting in faith, exercising agency, and Godly transformation. Adam and Eve could have been paralyzed by fear and never taken that first bite, but complacency was never God’s plan. 

In Eden, Adam and Eve avoided hunger, sickness, dangerous animals, loneliness, tyranny, war, abuse and a seemingly endless list of difficult earthly experiences. However, they couldn’t be protected from themselves, and that part of the plan was so vital it was worth having a war in heaven over. It was crucial that Adam and Eve had agency to “choose for themselves” and then be held accountable. If God’s only purpose is to have us remain exactly as we were in the pre-existence, then earth life would be unnecessary, coerced obedience would be acceptable and we would not require a Savior. However, we are born in order to become more like God. God could not force life experience on them. Satan also could not force them; he had no physical power over them or seemingly anything else in the garden. The ability to choose was Adam and Eve’s one vulnerability. It was also their greatest power.

 Vulnerability means being capable of being wounded, open to attack or damage. In her research, Brené Brown describes it this way: “Vulnerability isn’t good or bad: it’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable.” She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” In her book Daring Greatly, Brown discusses how people describe what it looks like to be vulnerable. Some responses include “standing up for myself, asking for help, calling a friend whose child just died, saying I love you first and not knowing if I’m going to be loved back, asking for forgiveness, and having faith.” In response to what vulnerability FEELS like people said, “it’s taking off the mask and hoping the real me isn’t too disappointing, going out on a limb—a very, very, high limb, being all in, it feels like free-falling, letting go of control.” But time and time again, the response that comes up most is that being vulnerable feels like being “naked.” 

Reading this, I immediately thought of how Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. They also had the ability to make choices for themselves from the beginning. Their vulnerability was with them from the time of their creation, and didn’t create any concern. After partaking of the fruit, Adam and Eve appear to go from a state of blissful ignorance to an awareness of their nakedness, and rather than recognize that they were always naked, that God in fact made them naked and clearly wasn’t too concerned about it, they succumbed to fear. They listened to outside voices that made them question God’s love, plan, and infinite mercy. They were deceived into believing that their vulnerability was shameful. They then used fig leaves to make aprons to cover their nakedness–or their ability to be wounded–despite the fact that their nakedness wasn’t what had changed; it was their awareness that had. 

Fig leaves are an interesting choice for clothing. They have small, scratchy, thorn like fibers that would make pressing them against bare skin painful. They also provide zero protection from thick bushes, insects, animals, cold,, rain, wind, or even sunburn. Tthe only purpose fig leaves would serve would be to block their God-given bodies from the Heavenly Parents that made them naked and left them that way, or to keep them uncomfortable and out of view from a true adversary who would never receive a body of his own. Here we see them irrationally side with the very influence creating their discomfort. Then, after putting on their scratchyclothes, they hide from God. 

My favorite part happens next. God seeks them out, finds them fearfully hiding in the garden, asks what they have done, banishes Satan and gives them coats of skins. As someone with sensory issues and intimate knowledge of how comfortable natural fibers like wool feel and the amazing protection leather provides, I am stunned at the superiority of these alternatives. I have heard some suggest these same skins may have been from animals used to teach Adam and Eve the law of sacrifice as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ. Another translation of the word atone is “to cover.” In their moment of greatest weakness, our first parents came to understand that their own choices were the only thing capable of separating them from God and that they would be sent out into a world that would harm, distress, and certainly kill them. And it is then, in that thorny, painful awareness, that our Heavenly Parents provided their fearful and ashamed children–who were compensating with scratchy plants–a covering that was soft, comfortable, temperature controlling, moldable and personal. These skins would remind them of God’s acknowledgement, acceptance, and abiding love for them, even the part of them they felt was too shameful to be left visible. 

 Adam and Eve’s nakedness did not separate them from God; what they chose to do after becoming aware of it did. I know our vulnerability and agency is part of God’s plan. However, how we respond when we find ourselves uncomfortable or wounded as a result of our actions determines whether we continue to suffer in shame or whether we are literally encircled about and covered in God’s infinite love and mercy. God didn’t cover their nakedness to address His discomfort with their bodies, but to remove their discomfort with their own awareness and to prepare them for the painful world they were entering. 

I began by acknowledging I ponder scriptures in the shower. That might make some people uncomfortable. Some may feel embarrassed acknowledging we shower. But refusing to shower won’t keep us from stinking, and pretending we don’t smell is like trying to hide our vulnerability from an all-knowing God. In the words of Brené Brown, “when we don’t acknowledge how and where we’re tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt.” Ignoring our vulnerabilities does not erase them. I know it is no coincidence that I receive inspiration in the shower. Aside from being a place where I am quiet, alone, not distracted by my phone, it’s a place I tend to go with my concerns, my questions, the things that unsettle me. Unlike other prayers where I leave the messy stuff out, I show my whole self when I wrestle through the uncomfortable stuff, and I have learned that when I am willing to show up, admit I’m unclean and I’m not sure where to go, God is there with me. When I can acknowledge I am naked, rather than huddle scared hoping God won’t notice, God can astonish me by reminding me I am created in the image of deity, and if I trust in Jesus Christ’s atonement and continue to put my faith in their plan, my Heavenly Parents will take my fig leaves and provide me with custom leather pants. 

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3 Responses

  1. Heidi says:

    Really cool post that takes our most central faith story and adds fresh new ideas about vulnerability, shame, growth, and agency. These ideas can help some reframe meaning and interpretation that unintentionally promotes shame and toxic internalized beliefs for existing and being alive in a body. That obviously is not helpful to ourselves, our children, or our faith communities. Lots of things to think deeply about from this article. Thanks for sharing Mikaela.

  2. ElleK says:

    The Christian origin story has always been fraught for me because it has so often been used throughout history and today to subjugate women, and because its depiction in the temple is really problematic to me. Thank you for helping me look at this story with fresh eyes. I, too, have struggled with Mosiah 3:19 for the reasons you mention, as well as for the gendered language (see my last blog post, lol), but I really appreciated your take on vulnerability, nakedness, and God’s love. Thanks for sharing with us.

  3. Tim says:

    As a convert and especially now, I love how this piece places this in its proper perspective and keeps the focus on God’s love for, and his willing, ever-immediate desire to protect us, His children, just as a loving Father would.

    It also takes away so beautifully and annihilates the notion of ‘original sin’; a false doctrine taught by other faiths, as we all come into the world clean and innocent, as in without sin, as we teach in the second Article of Faith.

    That ‘clean and innocent’ ideal — the rejection of the corruption of original sin — was a key attraction to this teenaged nerd, when the gospel was not so much introduced, but rather, reintroduced, to me at age 12, which was embraced as both re-instruction, as well as revealed truth.

    One of the cultural hang ups within the Church culture is the all-too-often negative portrayal of nakedness, which is different from nudity, as motives are all too often different with the latter.

    The former works towards a greater spiritual and emotional unity; the latter is sadly, yet generally slanted towards the under-30 male crowd, and especially the under-18s.

    This is — simply put — an outstanding piece, because of its refreshing honesty, as well as the fact many others, including some men who can very easily identify with it too, on account of having been lovingly taught this by wise and loving sweethearts, who thankfully were raised in homes with healthy attitudes, especially where expression of intimacy was not seen in a negative light, thus making for better dynamics for their families and beyond.

    Again, thank you for a beautiful read. ***

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