God and Nakedness: The Intimate Marriage with R.C. Sproul

God and Nakedness: The Intimate Marriage with R.C. Sproul

I’d like to welcome you again to our series
of studies on Christian marriage, and in this session today we’re going to be considering
the theme “God and Nakedness” — God and nakedness. And I’d like to direct your attention first
of all to a somewhat strange story that we find in the Old Testament that concerns the
patriarch Noah. Everybody’s heard of Noah — Noah and the
flood, Noah with the boat, the two by two, and all of that — but what happened to Noah
after the flood. What happened after the waters receded, and they came safely to dry land?
Well we read in the ninth chapter of the book of Genesis this very brief, but I think strange,
story. It says in verse twenty, “And Noah began to be a husbandmen, and he planted a
vineyard; and he drank of the wine and was drunken, and he was uncovered within his tent.
Now Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.
And Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulder and went backward
and covered the nakedness of their father, and their faces were backwards so that they
did not see their father’s nakedness.” Isn’t that a strange account? Here’s Noah,
he begins to cultivate a vineyard, and then he harvests the grapes and makes wine and
drinks too much. He goes into his tent, and he’s in a drunken stupor; and in his drunkenness,
he’s rolling around, and he gets in a situation where he is exposed. He’s nude. And then we
read how his one son comes into the tent and it says, “He looked upon his father’s nakedness.”
Notice it doesn’t say that Ham came in and looked at his father’s drunkenness; and then
he runs outside, and he tells his brothers. Now we have to reconstruct this, but obviously
Ham is amused at finding his father in this compromising and embarrassing situation and
so he makes hay out if it. He goes out, and he says to his brothers, “You ought to go
in there and see the old man. He’s drunk as a skunk, and he’s stark naked in there.” Well
the other two brothers, instead of exploiting their father, they take a cover, and they
stretch it between themselves, laying it over each other’s shoulders, and the walked backwards
into the tent. And as they were moving, they draped this cover across their father. They
covered his nakedness. Now if you read what follows in the text, when Noah grows old,
and it’s time for him to pass along the patriarchal blessing, he pronounces his blessing upon
Shem and Japheth, but he pronounces a curse upon Ham because he looked upon his father’s
nakedness. Now what’s going on here? Is it that the ancient
Israelite people were so upset and uptight about nakedness that they couldn’t stand to
be seen without clothes, even in the context of the family? An interesting study is to
go through the whole Scripture and see what the Bible says about nakedness, about nudity.
We see, for example, that in warfare in the Old Testament, if you were to defeat your
enemy in war and in battle, the consummate insult to the dignity of your enemy was not
simply to strip him of his arms and of his booty, but to strip him naked and parade the
enemy in chains without any clothes. That was to reduce the enemy to total humiliation.
It’s not by accident that part of the penalty that the executed criminal had to undergo
in antiquity was to be executed virtually naked, even as Christ was exposed to that
kind of humiliation on the cross. Where do those ideas and images come from?
I think to get a handle on it we have to go even earlier in the Old Testament, back again
to the Garden of Eden, back to the creation account, which we considered briefly in our
first session. You remember we went over the story of how God had made man and then made
woman as a special act of creation and how excited Adam was when he first beheld his
wife and said, “This is flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone,” and so on. Well the second
chapter of Genesis ends in a very strange manner. We read, “And Adam said, ‘This is
now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was
taken out of man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave
unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.'” Now when somebody is writing something like
that, you come to the climax of the statement, you put a period there, and then you have
a transition into your next thought. But here we have, like a dangling participle, like
a concluding unscientific postscript just sort of attached to the end of chapter two
of Genesis these strange words: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and
they were not ashamed.” What does that mean? They were both naked, and they were not ashamed.
Why does the author include that in the text? I’m not sure except that the author of Genesis
picks up on that in the next chapter where we read how God gives a prohibition to Adam
and Eve and puts rules and regulations around how the Garden of Eden is to be used, and
we now see the entrance of the serpent. And it says, “Now the serpent was more subtle
than any of the beasts of the field,” and we read of that primordial temptation where
the serpent comes up and entices Eve and Adam, saying, “You shall be as gods, knowing good
and evil,” and how our first parents then succumbed to the temptation and ate of the
fruit of the tree. And now suddenly there’s a radical change in the whole atmosphere of
Eden. Formerly, when God would walk in the cool of the day into the garden, as He would
come into the garden, we could see Adam and Eve rushing to be in the presence of God.
They were basking in the glory of God. They experienced intimacy and communion with their
Creator there in the garden. But then they disobey Him, and now when God comes into the
garden, what do they do? They hide. And it says, “As soon as they sinned, behold,
their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” I wonder what the psychological
significance of that is, that the first experience of human guilt was not expressed in terms
of saying, “And their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were sinners.” “Their
eyes were opened, and they knew that they were guilty.” “Their eyes were opened, and
they knew that they were wicked.” That’s not what it says. It says that their eyes were
opened, and they became aware of their nakedness, and so their first impulse is to run and to
hide, to cover themselves. No longer could it be said that they were man and woman, naked
and unashamed. Now they are naked and ashamed. But before we explore that too much further
in terms of its significance for marriage, let’s see how God responds to that. When God
comes into the garden, He calls for His creatures. “Adam, where are you?” They’re hiding, and
God said, “Did you eat — why are you hiding?” He said, “Why are you hiding?” And what did
they say? “We’re hiding because we’re naked” — not, “We’re hiding because we’ve sinned.”
“We’re hiding because” — God said, “You’ve been naked all along! You were naked the day
I made you! You were naked every time I fellowshipped with you in the garden. Why should being naked
cause you to hide? Did you eat of the tree?” See their confession of their awareness of
nakedness God understood as a confession of an awareness of sin. So we see this strange
connection here between nakedness and guilt. Now have you noticed how our culture responds
to human nakedness? I mean we’ve gone through the sexual revolution. We’ve seen the advent
of Playboy magazine and Penthouse and all the rest of them, and we’ve seen the censorship
standards be changed on television and in the movies so that now nudity is commonplace
in the film industry and magazines and so on. It seems like as a people we’re almost
preoccupied with nudity — not only female nudity but male nudity, where famous people
will pose in the buff, and women will scramble to go buy so they can look at pictures of
men who are naked. I mean men have always done that, but now women are doing it. We
saw the phenomenon a few years ago of streaking, where people take their clothes off and run
down the street. But notice that — a little something interesting to me about streaking
— that it wasn’t called strolling. I mean we sort of have ambivalent feelings about
nakedness. Everybody, I think knows what it feels like to be able to go home, take off
your tie, and say, “Oooh, I just want to relax and step into the shower, and I don’t have
to worry about whether my tie is crooked or if my shirt’s pressed or so on.” There still
is a sense, friends, where we are looking for a place where we can be naked and unashamed;
but with all of our sophistication, all of our boldness, and all of our so-called adult
maturity, nakedness still makes us nervous. As skimpy as the bathing suits may be, you
can still rely on the fact that staple items in the stores include shower curtains and
window blinds and drapes. People do not walk around naked in ordinary life. Remember Desmond Morris’ study of man from
an anthropological perspective, and he titled his study Man, the Naked Ape. He showed that
we were just one of seventy or eighty different primates in this world. We’re all different
kinds of monkeys and apes and gorillas, and the thing that distinguishes our apeness from
the rhesus monkey or the orangutan or the gorilla is that we’re the only one who’s not
totally covered on our body with body hair, and so we have to go and buy clothes. Nature
adorns the rest of the animals. Do you ever see any of the animals running around the
department stores buying suits and ties? We see dogs with scarves and shirts and all of
that but only because humans put them there. But we learned about clothes. But why is it that of all of the species of
life on this planet, we are the only ones who use artificial forms of clothing? Where
did clothes come from in the first place? I’m impressed by the fact that when God came
into that garden, and He found Adam and Eve hiding — they were scared, they were nervous,
they were embarrassed — “What are you doing there?” “We’re hiding because we’re naked.”
God could have said, “All right. You disobeyed me. Tough luck. You spend the rest of your
days running around shivering and embarrassed being totally naked and let all of creation
laugh at you.” But even when God speaks a judgment for their sin, He tempers that judgment
with grace and with mercy, and the very first act of redemption in human history was when
God made clothes for his naked creatures, and God said, “Here,” and He covered their
nakedness. Trace that throughout biblical history: how
the prophet Isaiah, for example, speaks of us in our human, sinful condition saying that
our righteousness is as filthy rags. The whole concept of the atonement in the Old Testament
and in the New Testament centers on this idea: covering — that Christ is a covering for
our sins. There’s a sense in which the earliest symbol or image of the ultimate redemption
was that tender act when God came down and clothed his naked children. Well what can we learn from that? Well I think
one thing we can learn is that God allows us to wear clothes. God allows us to wear
clothes. We, in our society, hear from everybody saying, “You’ve got to be open. You’ve got
to let it all hang out.” We’ll go to therapy sessions, group discussions where people are
encouraged to take their clothes off because the psychiatrist understands the symbolic
link between physical nakedness and spiritual and emotional nakedness; and so in order to
encourage us to let down our barriers so that we can be open and honest, they will encourage
us to take our clothes off. And God says, “Wait a minute. You don’t have to take your
clothes off.” I don’t have to reveal my innermost being to everybody who comes along and wants
to have a piece of my mind or of my soul. God gives us the right to privacy. We have
learned a long time ago that we can’t indiscriminately bare our souls to everybody because everybody
here has experienced this problem in your life. Maybe when you were a little girl or
when you were a little boy you did something bad, and you were embarrassed about it, and
the guilt was wearing on you, and so you went up to your best friend and you said, “I’ve
got to tell you something, but promise me that you won’t tell,” and then you tell your
friend what you did. And then the next day it’s all over the school. Has that — is there
anyone to whom that never happened? We’ve all experienced that, and so we learn, don’t
we, to be careful. I told somebody a secret; they jumped on my soul, so I’m going to be
careful the next time. I’m going to hide. I’m going to stay concealed. I’m not going
to let everybody know what I’m thinking. I’m not going to let everybody know how I’m feeling.
Well we become masters of hiding ourselves, and we need that. We don’t have to expose
ourselves to everybody. God gave us clothes. But in spite of that, we still yearn for paradise
restored. We still long for someplace where we can again be naked and unashamed, and guess
what? There are two places that God has provided for us where we can be naked and unashamed.
The first is in His presence. There is no place on this planet where I am more comfortable
than I am in the presence of God, partly because I know I can’t fake Him out, partly because
I know all of my subtle games of concealment and being the artful dodger and directing
His attention away cannot fool Him. So I mean there is this total hopelessness about it.
He knows me. He knows when I sit down; He knows when I stand up; before a word’s even
formed on my lips, He knows that. So there’s a sense where I can’t escape His vision. I
can’t escape His gaze. I am laid bare to God whether I want to be or not be. Now a lot of people are made nervous by that.
Most people do not want God to look at them. Most people want God to overlook them, and
that’s the tragedy of the unbeliever: is that the unbeliever has never experienced the benevolent
gaze of God where God looks at that person and sees him in all of his sinfulness and
says, “I love you.” I mean that’s what the gospel is all about: is that the God who knows
me in all of my nakedness loves me. How else could David say, “Search me, O God. Know me.
Know my thoughts; know my heart. See if there’s any wicked way within me. Cleanse me,” because
there’s something about God that when we come to Him, even in our guilt, though He rebukes
us and admonishes us and corrects us and chastises us, He never, ever humiliates us. There is
a tenderness about His judgment as He seeks to correct us so that we can be comfortable
in His presence. That’s one place. That’s the supreme place. But the second place, humanly speaking, where
God has provided for people to be naked and unashamed is in the holy bond of marriage.
There’s no place in this world among people where I am more comfortable than with my own
family. When I’m with my family, I can relax. I don’t have to perform. I don’t have to meet
people’s expectations. I can relax and be myself — put my shoes up on the table. My
family know me, and as I’ve said a million times, there’s no human being in this whole
world who knows me better than my wife. We’ve been married for twenty-five years, we went
together for eight years before, we grew up together in the same town, we were in kindergarten
virtually together — not kindergarten, second grade. In fact, we both met our teacher last
— our third grade teacher last night — and there she was saying, “You two are still hanging
around together?” Yeah, after all these years. So we share that common background and common
friends and so on. We know each other. She knows what I’m going to say before I say it,
how I’m going to respond before I do it; but she doesn’t know everything. She can’t get
inside my mind like God can. She can only know what I unveil to her, what I am willing
to expose of myself to her. But here’s the thing: even given those barriers that remain,
she knows me better than any human being on this planet knows me, and guess what? She
loves me. Do you know what that means to me, that the person who knows me the best loves
me? The person who has seen me naked, body and soul, loves me? Is it any wonder that
God uses the human institution of marriage as the supreme image to communicate to His
people the relationship that He wants with them, that Israel in the Old Testament is
the bride of Yahweh? The church in the New Testament is the bride of Christ because that
image of marriage is to demonstrate intimacy and a depth dimension of communion where we’re
comfortable. Is it any wonder why one of the most emotionally devastating human experiences
a person can go through is a divorce? When your partner walks out, what’s happening?
What are you experiencing? You’re experiencing just the opposite when you realize that the
person who knows you the best in this world has just rejected you. That is brutal to a
human being and makes a person very fearful of ever becoming naked again. But God has given us an institution with safeguards,
as well as with responsibilities and saying here you can be naked. Can you be naked in
your marriage? Do you know your partner? Do you feel like you’re known? The worst complaint
we hear all the time: “My wife doesn’t understand me.” When that happens, there’s a breakdown
in intimacy. The clothes are coming on because something is being hidden and concealed. Some
of the marriages that I observed are really games of hide-and-seek. People are trying
to prevent each other from knowing each other, and so if we’re going to have that experience
of being naked and unashamed, we’ve got to learn how to know each other.

3 Replies to “God and Nakedness: The Intimate Marriage with R.C. Sproul”

  1. Actually the scripture says that Noah cursed Caanan, Ham's son; not Ham- ( plus there are also other scriptures referring to ' uncovering a father's nakedness in which it means having sex with his father's wife- see Leviticus 20:11)

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