Ambiguous Nakedness

A few months ago, I alluded to the following poem:


“And they realized they were naked . . . .”

(Gen. 3:7)


What mystery was shrouded

By the fig leaves of our forebears?

Primordial tailors,

Their hands’ first fallen craft

Was born of shame,

The name of sin but freshly formed.

Why that immediate, desperate need

To cover their suddenly secret parts?

Their hearts alone have known

Both nakedness with innocence

And clothing worn in guilt.

For us, their heirs,

Only cloaked desire

Mingled with pain.

                                                     Elton D. Higgs

                                                     Oct. 1, 2009


In speculating about what life in the Garden of Eden was like before the Fall, we can only project the other side of the coin from the present state of evil that we know all too well.  Of course, we have the picture of the eternal state in Rev. 21 and 22, in which there will be no death, no disease, no sorrow or weeping, no environmental disorders to disrupt and destroy life.  But what is the flip side of the evils attendant on our sexual desires?  We must assume that Adam and Eve’s becoming “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) meant that their relationship before the Fall involved sexual intercourse.  The perfection of their sexual intimacy seems to have been symbolized by their uninhibited, shameless nakedness (Gen. 2:25).  It is also significant that the first consciousness of their changed state after they had eaten of the forbidden fruit was that “they knew they were naked” and felt compelled to cover up their genitals.  The first victim of lost innocence was the unalloyed enjoyment of sex.

It’s also interesting that Adam and Eve’s recognition of their nakedness had immediate spiritual consequences, causing Adam to hide from God (Gen. 3:10).  Surely it was not merely his physical nakedness that Adam didn’t want God to see, but at a deeper level, he was not able to endure God’s looking at the nakedness of his now-corrupted soul.  God Himself makes the connection between the two levels of being unclothed: “Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Gen. 3:11).  Adam would not have known he was physically naked had he not first exposed himself spiritually by his disobedience to God.  The easy pleasure of walking with God in the Garden gave way to the agony of feeling Yahweh’s searching eyes.  The protection of innocence had been permanently torn away.

Among the judgments God pronounced on Adam and Eve and their progeny were two things relating to the couple’s  new-found knowledge of their nakedness (which was, by extension, a painful awareness of sexual vulnerability).  First, He made pain a part of child-bearing and declared that wives would be dependent upon their husbands and be ruled over by them.  Secondly, God provided clothing of animal skins for Adam and Eve to replace the crude fig-leaves they had sewn together for themselves.  Herein we see God on the one hand administering severe discipline to the fallen couple, and on the other showing His mercy and provision, giving symbolic assurance that though they had foolishly and perversely thrown aside the beautiful and unproblematic existence God had given them in Eden, He was still with them, if in humility they accepted God’s judgment and submitted to His commands.  Even in the face of the painful consequences of their sin, they could recover some of the beauty of the innocent nakedness they had experienced with God before they fell.

What might be some instruction we can take from these observations?  First, the sexual communion that came naturally to Adam and Eve in the Garden now has to be worked at by men and women in the fallen world.  The nakedness that they took for granted has to be re-embraced by married couples as a wholesome part of their experience and cherished as a mark of the intimacy that God intends for those who are committed to each other in covenant relationship with Him.

Second, the emotional bond that must have been natural between Adam and Eve is challenged in our fallen state.  God’s decree that a wife is to expect and accept dependence on her husband and be subject to him is very problematic, especially in our egalitarian society.  This dynamic is reinforced in the New Testament (Eph. 5:22-33), of course, so how is a spiritually committed but enlightened couple to work this out?  In the Ephesians passage, the wife’s submission is balanced by the husband’s sacrificial care, and Paul refers back to what Genesis says about the initial relationship between Adam and Eve, that they were to “become one flesh” (v. 31).  For this to occur in the fallen state, the woman has to resist using sex to gain power, and the man has to resist using his power selfishly.  Each must work at respecting and enhancing the other.

As reflected in the last lines of the poem above, sexual desire in fallen humankind is experienced ambiguously as “cloaked desire / Mingled with pain.”

Married couples need to realize that although physical and spiritual nakedness with each other is risky, it can be joyful, too, if undertaken with the assurance that the God who disciplines is also the God who redeems.  God is able and willing to use our ambiguous nakedness as an avenue to tasting even in this vale of tears a bit of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.


Image: By Thomas Cole - Unknown, Public Domain,




Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)