A devotional presented at my local community Lenten Services.
Hebrews 4:13 (New Living Translation)
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.
I have been reading this week Timothy Keller’s recent book on marriage. One of the things that he points out, which anyone who has ever been married already knows, is that one of the deepest challenges of marriage is having to live in such close proximity to someone for perpetuity.
The challenge of that arrangement is that the individual’s spouse sees them for all that they really are. When we are friends or even dating someone, we can put on our best. We can be for that person what they want us to be to them. But once the freedom to walk away for the night or for the weekend and go to our own space is taken away, when we are in such close proximity to another person for such a long duration, our best façades fall apart.
And there we are, like Adam and Eve the minute after eating the forbidden fruit: both naked and ashamed. Marriages succeed and fail on what we do with this view of each other – physically, socially, mentally, and emotionally exposed.
The truth be told, none of us likes to be exposed. If we do, it is only because we are confident we can take on the dangers that are certain to assail us in our vulnerability. Normally, we seek a position of strength and protection. We want at least some concealment from the environment around us. Marriage takes away that protection and makes us depend on how our spouse reacts to who we are, warts and all. Of course, it works in their direction, too.
This is what makes Hebrews 4:13 so frightening to us. It is so frightening, that we prefer to live most of our lives without even considering the possibility that it really is true. After all, if we lived with the real knowledge that God was standing over our shoulders, seeing everything that we do, sin would be much less of a temptation. You don’t disobey teacher or parent when they are looking right at you. Every child knows that. And here is Hebrews 4:13 declaring that there is nothing we can do to hide from God. He is always looking right at us.
So then we find ourselves babbling excuses like Adam and Eve in answering God’s question about whether they had, in fact, eaten from the tree he had specifically forbidden from them. We come to a season like Lent, when we are seeking to dwell on our sinfulness and its cost leading up to the events of Holy Week. We spend our time in token penance, depriving ourselves of small pleasures, whether they are certain web sites, a certain beverage or food we usually enjoy, or another practice that amounts to an inconvenience of our time.
All the while, we are ignoring the truth: we are naked and rightfully ashamed. All that we are, do, think, and say is naked and exposed before the holy God who silenced Job and struck fear into Isaiah. The shame of our position really leads on to the real challenge of marriage: fear of the other’s response. In the case of our sin, it is fear of God’s response. We know the wages of sin. Paul tells us that they are death. And so in our nakedness and shame, we should stand as Adam and Eve, trembling and hiding from God.
Except for this. Later on in his sermon, the writer of this so-called letter to the Hebrews will issue a call based on this exception. Let me read it to you from Hebrews 10, starting in verse 19.
“And so, brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.”
There it is: the exception, what we cling to in our nakedness. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, tightly compares our relationship as the church to our Savior, Jesus with the marriage of a husband and wife. And just like in a marriage, we stand before God naked and exposed. But unlike Adam and Eve, we need not be ashamed in our nakedness. We need not fear what might assail us in our vulnerability.
No, we come and stand, just as we are, in the full presence of God, fully exposed to His holiness, with the full confidence that is ours in Christ. We are free to love God and be loved by Him, in the best example of what marriage might offer, because there is no shame in our nakedness.
Remember your sin this Lenten season. But do not forget the blood with which God in Christ has desired to wash you and cleanse you, if He has not done so already. Yes, you are naked. But do not fear shame. God invites you to come, just as you are.