In his brief book, This Momentary Marriage, John Piper unpacks this interesting but overlooked text. It has some bearing on matters of modesty, which I’ve discussed elsewhere. But it has something to do with marriage too.
Their lack of shame was not because they had perfect bodies, Piper says. There are lots of things to make us self-conscious, despite our perfect nose. Even my perfect in-step, clearly the subject of another conversation, fails to offset my many flaws.
But being ashamed requires having someone to shame us, even if it’s ourselves. Not being ashamed is a consequence of the leaving, cleaving and holding which the previous verse says causes us to be “one flesh.” This is much more than merely a physical union. (Paul refers to a union that is merely physical as prostitution in 1 Corinthians 6.)
No, Piper argues, it is our covenant commitment that creates the context for a shame-free marriage, not our physical beauty or acts. Thankfully.
This commitment pictures, of course, the relationship between Christ and the church, where the church as Christ’s bride has no fear that he will shame her or condemn her. This is the heart of the gospel itself. And the purpose of marriage.
Adam and Eve, however, could no longer trust each other after the fall. What will he say? What will she think? That ability to be naked and not ashamed was lost forever. Or maybe not. Because marriage, I think, can still be that one place where we are vulnerable but still safe.
It might take years, but we can come to a place where our spouses can trust us not to shame them, even when their flaws are obvious and their sins are great. As are our own.
I’m not saying we can do this without supernatural help. A lot of grace is required. And a lot of prayer. But it seems to be a worthy goal—becoming that place where our spouse has confidence that our love will cover a multitude of sins, the place where we can be naked and not ashamed, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Where to start? I think we start by not using public and family pressures to manipulate our spouse, almost always a form of shaming. I complimented a neighbor for doing her laundry the other day, suggesting that Katie was falling behind in ours.
This is not the way to become a refuge. Shame and guilt are the easiest weapons in the arsenal of manipulation, but they have no place in a marriage. The battle of the sexes is a poor metaphor for covenant keeping love.
When Adam and Eve realized they were naked it was loaded with emotional freight, as sex always is. They hustled around making clothes for themselves, even though no one else was around.
Lots of marriages are like that, filled with homemade coverings and deceits hastily assembled. It shouldn’t be like that. It wasn’t God plan before the fall, and it still isn’t. That’s why any effort we make to build and restore trust with our spouse is a step back toward the garden.
We won’t get all the way back, but we will get closer. That’s because being naked and not ashamed is more than a description. It’s a blessing as well.
Art from a third century fresco. Catacomb of St Piretro and St. Marcellino, Rome.