“Then the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7)
Let us look inside this human experience . . . this first experience with guilt and shame.
Although Adam was fresh in human experiences, he knew he had never felt like this. While he had no name for it, he knew he didn’t like it. His stomach was fluttering, his face felt tight. His cheeks were hot, throat and constricted.
It was difficult to look at Eve. The former feeling of delight was gone. Instead he felt some repulsion, a slight edge of nausea. She looked at him as though she could see through him and didn’t like what she saw.
Their relationship had all seemed so natural and comfortable. Now they couldn’t talk to each other. He had felt free and safe and now he felt bound and vulnerable, exposed. He felt the need to cover himself, to hide. From what? From whom? So, quietly, without any discussion of what they were doing, he and Eve made a covering for their bodies and hid.
God would be taking His early evening stroll. Adam who had delighted in seeing His creator now found himself gripped with human feelings he would learn to call fear and guilt. The expected happened. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden.” What a fearful sound that must have been. Quiet steps on soft grass can be as shattering to the guilty as a slight sound to a migraine sufferer. The steps were jarring to those sensitive and wounded spirits. Although it may have been a call of friend to friend, ” Where are you?” It must have caused Adam to leap from his hiding place like a startled rabbit.
It the meeting of downcast eye with searching eye Adam was now in the presence of the One he had betrayed. The full intensity of the feeling came. The face tightened even more, feeling as though it would split.. The constriction in the throat made speech almost impossible. The words sounded dry and raspy. Adam had an instinctive desire to throw up his hands to ward off a blow he knew he deserved. “I heard the sound of you in the garden and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
“Who told you, you were naked?”
The loss of innocence, when does it come? When do you know you are naked? I remember as child, if you innocently appeared without your clothes on in the presence of those other than your parents the adults would say,” Shame, shame!” For the first time you knew you were naked . . . You felt shame for what you were because of others discomfort. You were robbed of your innocence by the shame of others. This is not the guilt and shame of which I speak.
“Who told you, you were naked?” The real loss of innocence comes when we are legitimately responsible for circumstances in which we find ourselves and genuinely ashamed of our behavior. It is when the sense of nakedness comes from self-awareness, from within. Our moral weakness has been exposed, our true motivation has been revealed, a character deficiency has been made transparent. Suddenly, we are known for what we are, what we really think, how we really feel.
When did this happen to you? When you told a lie and got caught? When you gossiped about a friend and hurt her? When you got drunk again after several promises to the one you love? When you were unfaithful to your spouse? When you betrayed a friend?
It happens when we have done something we know is against what we say we believe. It happens when we fail someone who has trusted us. Once it happens, we cower in the garden, fearful that the voice will be heard, “Where are you?” The voice may come through the voice of a parent , of a friend, one’s child, one’s spouse, or even one’s community.
“You have been too quiet lately. Where are you?”
“Have you been avoiding me? Where have you been?”
“Why do you get angry so easily? Where are you?”
“I was naked and I hid myself.”
“Who told you, you were naked?”
We stumble and stutter like our public figures, and all others caught doing what they know is not right, making excuses or lying about what they know to be true and what others know to be true.
So Adam having placed himself in this position stutters, ” The woman You gave to me urged me and I ate.” It’s Adam’s way of saying. “It’s Your fault for giving me this creature called woman. Besides, I did not want to do it. I was pushed into it.”
Does anyone ever say, “I did it because I wanted to. I chose to do it. I wish I had never been caught.” Does anyone say, without being forced, “Now I see how I hurt others. I am ashamed.” How refreshing this would sound.
There is something deeper here. Why the inability and unwillingness to confess and repent? When do we feel the guilt and shame most deeply? It’s the moment we confront the person offended or when the person confronts us. Behind the initial guilt, is the shadow of someone we have betrayed. Sin is always a personal matter, even if the person betrayed, is ourselves. That’s why people hide their faces from the TV cameras. They are hiding from the one betrayed, the face they do not want to see; a mother, a father, a friend, a teacher, a public, God.
It’s the pain we want to run from. It is the judgment we feel we deserve but which we can not bear. So when the confrontation finally happens, the first response is denial.
“Did you eat of the fruit of the garden?”
“The woman you gave me urged me and I ate.”
“The serpent beguiled me and I ate.”
The people we have betrayed walk in the garden of our lives and their footsteps make us shudder, fearful they will ask the fateful words, ” Have you eaten of the fruit of the garden?”
“Did you cheat on the exam?”
“Are you seeing another man?”
“Are you drinking again?”
“Did you tell the confidence I shared?”
The confrontation happens. The pain of the guilt and shame is too great to sustain and the fear of judgment is too great. The response is denial. Adam cannot face the judgment he has conferred upon himself. He expects to be killed on the spot. But his punishment is not death, but banishment. He and Eve are cast out of the garden, the place they had experienced the intimate presence of God.
Denial brings banishment. Banishment and rejection, by the spouse that cared about me, the father I loved, the teacher I idolized, the public that praised and adored me, my God who trusted me. Banishment is rooted in denial of responsibility. The choice is guilt, shame, and judgement versus banishment. Or is it? Is there no way back? Can those wrapped in their buried shame find healing and peace and return to the presence of God? Is Eden lost forever?
It is dark. A solitary figure is kneeling. In the shadow a stones throw away one can see three men fast asleep. Footsteps are heard in this Garden called Gethsemane. Muffled by the distance, at first, they became quite noisy as they draw near. In contrast to Eden. It is the betrayer in search of the betrayed. The guilty one is looking for the innocent one. The cry of the trampling crowd of soldiers, temple priests, assorted others and Judas is “Jesus, where are you?”
Jesus does not cower or hide. He stands tall. He is guiltless and innocent. He, too, has been afraid, however. He is not afraid of what he has done, not afraid of receiving deserved punishment. He is fearful of his ability to accept the undeserved punishment He is about to receive. “Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass.” Then it happened.. Betrayed with a sign of affection, He is led away to be tried, convicted, and executed.
Do you see what we have here? It is God become flesh. God becoming the vulnerable one. In Jesus we are reliving the broken relationship between us and God. We are reminded that Adam and his descendants are responsible for the loss of Eden. Jesus is God’s way of returning us to Eden. The way back is the way of confession and repentance.
But what is the response to such news? The response is hostility. Like Adam, Adam’s children accuse the accuser. The innocent one is the trouble maker. He has offended them in revealing their sin. He has offended them by opening up the old wound. So, He is declared guilty. His punishment is suffering and death. They kill the one whose pure presence is an affront.
They do not realize their judgement is upon themselves. “This is what we really deserve for what we have done.” They hope to remove the sense of guilt and shame by punishing the one who exposed their guilt.
Jesus , the innocent one, takes on himself consciously and freely the punishment of the guilty party. He suffers the consequence of the guilty ones deeds. God, in Jesus, is taking on the punishment Adam felt he deserved in order to restore the relationship. The innocent one must accept the fact that it is the betrayed who forgives the betrayer. It is the one who is hurt, who must reveal a willingness to bear the punishment the guilty one deserves.
The footsteps Adam heard in the Garden of Eden were his own guilty steps. It was he, who accused himself. God came not to accuse but to offer forgiveness and grace. The footsteps we hear in the Garden of Gethsemane are our own guilty steps. Accusing the “pure one” for making us feel impure is self-accusation projected on to the holy one.
We need not cower in fear for he comes to offer grace, to offer a renewed relationship. We think we deserve judgement. We would rather punishment than grace. How else do we explain so much self-destructive behavior; alcohol abuse, drugs, cigarettes, the mishandling of relationships?
It is only when we see our vengeance delivered against the innocent one do we see the truth about who is angry at whom. Shame and guilt are self accusations and the enemy we have to face is ourselves.
It was their unwillingness to face themselves that banishment came to Adam and Eve. Our unwillingness to confront ourselves keeps us from the presence of God, drives us away from each other. Jesus came to restore to us the intimacies of Eden, not to banish us further. He came to declare God as friend not foe. He came to tell us that guilt and shame are self accusations. It is ourselves we have to face in the presence of God. Accepting responsibility for what we are and what we do will end our exile from Eden. The peace will be restored.
Footsteps in the garden . . . Do they make you tremble? Are you ready to confess your failures before God and those you have offended and betrayed? Jesus promised to those who are willing to accept responsibility for their sin and confess them before God forgiveness not judgement, peace not punishment, grace and not guilt.
Guilt in the Garden of Eden. Grace offered in the Garden of Gethsemane. The footsteps you hear should make you tremble with joy for they are the footsteps of One who loves you.
Richard E. Nystrom is a retired Presbyterian (USA) pastor who has served in churches in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Tennessee, Florida,West Virginia and North Carolina, and has served in three interims since retirement.