Fig Leaves Don't Cover Much
Dearly loved people of God,
What struck me in this passage is how God refused to increase Adam & Eve’s bad feelings. Our first parents felt ashamed of their actions. When God spoke to them in the cool of the day, the Lord didn’t shame them. God acts differently towards guilty people than many people do.
In some areas, Reformed Christians deliberately shame people for certain sinful actions. You can understand the temptation. Shame is a powerful motivator.
There’s a distinction between being ashamed and being shamed. Being ashamed is part of the way God wired our consciences so we experience guilt. Shaming someone uses guilt as a weapon to cause harm.
Perhaps a reason for the association between Reformed Christians and shame is the doctrine of Total Depravity. Some people use the acronym TULIP to remember what are called the 5 points of Calvinism.
What is Total Depravity? It’s the teaching that the fall into sin has tarnished everything in the world. begins: (3)
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.
there is no one who does good.
AND . . . (4)
Their feet rush into sin;
they are swift to shed innocent blood.
They pursue evil schemes;
acts of violence mark their ways.
The way of peace they do not know;
there is no justice in their paths.
They have turned them into crooked roads;
no one who walks along them will know peace.
While it’s true that the fall into sin corrupted everyone and everything, it is not my job nor your job to make people feel guilty. I’ll say that again because it is important so we can demonstrate the culture of the Kingdom of God in our congregation, “It is not our job to make people feel guilty” – even if they are guilty. You know how I know?
One reason is God’s treatment of Adam & Eve in the garden.
Another is our call to be disciples of Jesus. We’re called to model our attitude and words on Jesus’ behaviour. Jesus didn’t specialize in causing guilt. I’ve always marvelled at how Jesus was a person that prostitutes, tax collectors, and “sinners” wanted to be with. Unlike the religious leaders of his day, Jesus didn’t shame them. Can I give an example?
When Jesus talked to the woman at the well – (6) – he was aware that she had had 5 husbands and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. Yet Jesus didn’t shame her. He talked with her. She felt his respect for her. When she went into town, she called all the townspeople to (7)
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”
Jesus is our model. I think our attitude towards sinners needs to be like his.
It’s not like we are surprised that sin exists in the world. shows how the world became infected with sin, mistrust, and disobedience. Once Adam & Eve ate the fruit, humankind became like God, “knowing good and evil.” The Lord affirms that the serpent didn’t lie about that. By eating the fruit, Adam & Eve gained first-hand knowledge of evil.
Doubting God’s goodness and questioning his instructions led them to disobey. Disobedience led to guilt. Squirming in the discomfort of their guilt, Adam & Eve tried to justify their actions by blaming the serpent, each other and God.
It broke relations with God and each other as they pointed fingers. A generation later broken relationships between people escalated to murder. Cain killed his brother.
These actions aren’t as far off as we would like. We try to cover our actions by shifting the blame too. “If you hadn’t stood at the edge of the pool, I wouldn’t have pushed you in.”
The point in spending time reading and reflecting on is that we can identify with the fall into sin. I’ll let you speak for yourselves, but I know that I face temptations. Battling temptations is the new normal now that humankind has fallen into sin. Giving in to temptation is the trouble. Paul describes the struggle in his letter to the believers in Rome (9)
I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Do you know what that’s like?
But Paul doesn’t leave his readers dangling in discomfort. He points to the solution a few lines later (10)
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Deliverance comes through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The Genesis passage gives hints about this deliverance. As soon as we hear about the fall into sin, we hear the first messages about God’s grace.
What was Adam & Eve’s first remedy to cover their guilt?
They grabbed some fig leaves. They made themselves coverings to cover up. They built flimsy barriers between each themselves and God. How did that work for them?
Not really great. Adam & Eve still felt the urge to hide when they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden.
Our efforts to cover up our sins don’t work much better, do they? There is no good deed we can do that will cover up the hurtful, sinful things we do. The fullness of the fall means that even our best efforts are tainted by sin, selfishness, and impurity. Even on our best days, even when we are at our holiest, we keep digging the hole deeper. Who will rescue us?
God takes action. In , he removes the flimsy fig-leaf aprons from Adam & Eve. He kneels beside them and gently slips on the skin coverings he prepared.
But even reading about those garments of skin is troubling. What happened to the animals whose skins were used to cover our parents’ guilt? Did animals die to cover human sin?
If so, the animals sacrificed to cover up Adam & Eve’s guilt, point ahead to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The cost to atone for human guilt is higher than an animal can pay.
When pronouncing the serpent’s doom, the Lord God speaks of the woman’s offspring crushing the serpent’s head (12). Sounds gruesome, but encouraging. If Adam had killed the serpent, he would have saved untold grief and suffering. Eve’s offspring is going to do it. But there’s a price to be paid.
In the same promise, the Lord God mentions how the serpent will strike the heel of the woman’s offspring. For many years, students of the Bible have pointed to as the first promise of Jesus as Redeemer and Saviour, for Jesus defeated the Evil One, crushing his head, by accepting the punishment for human sin. Jesus died, so his blood would cover human sin and shame.
That is why there’s such hullaballoo around Christmastime. We’re preparing to celebrate Jesus’ coming. The long-promised offspring from Eve arrived in Bethlehem to fix the mess of sin. He came to cover our guilt. In his death he conquered sin and death. In his resurrection, Jesus began the renewal of the whole creation.
By faith in Jesus Christ we receive the miracle of forgiveness. That’s the symbolism of baptism: the water symbolizes washing, cleansing, and purification. The water points to Jesus’ blood which was shed to cover our guilt. Do you believe this? Is this the hope that you’re looking for in this season of expectation?
This is the hope and message that we have to offer. Reformed Christians shouldn’t focus on total depravity. We shouldn’t use shame as a weapon. That’s one of the problems with boiling Calvinism down to the acronym TULIP. It’s not even an orderly summary of the Canons of Dort (13a).
Perseverance of the Saints
Here’s the actual order of the Canons of Dort (13b)
Christ’s Death and Human Redemption
Conversion to God and the Way It Occurs
Perseverance of the Saints
Starts with election – the assurance that God has chosen people to enjoy the miracle of forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice – seems like a better place to begin.
It’s a matter of our intentional and unintentional presentation of the gospel. Our words and postures reveal what we’re thinking about people. When we shame someone, we misrepresent the gospel to them.
We can speak honestly about sin and guilt, not to increase their shame, but as a necessary introduction to God’s grace.