Shame is a very complex experience. With shame, a person experiences fear for one’s self in the presence of another self (for example, a woman before a man). Shame reveals an instinctive need to be accepted and affirmed by the other. We also experience this need within ourselves—the longing for self-acceptance. Shame is a barrier between persons, but at the same time it seeks to draw them together.
Shame—in particular, sexual modesty—plays an important role in the formation of society by affecting the relationship between the sexes. It expresses the rules for the communion of persons, while also reminding us of our original solitude as individuals before God. But what does the absence of shame mean in the state of original innocence?
We often hear childhood described as a “time of innocence.” But it would be misleading to compare Adam and Eve’s situation with that of children. The words of Genesis 2:25, “they felt no shame,” don’t express a lack of development, but a fullness. They indicate that Adam and Eve had a full understanding of the meaning of the body, bound up with their nakedness. When this fullness is lost, shame appears. What, then, is this full understanding of the body and original nakedness?
To answer this question, we have to remember man’s original solitude—his aloneness among the other living creatures. This solitude, together with the creation of man as male and female, prepared the way for Adam and Eve’s joyful discovery of their shared humanity. At the same time, this discovery was made possible by the body. The naked body was the visible source of this realization, which established their unity.
The words of Genesis 2:25, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame,” bring us inside the experience of Adam and Eve. This interior perspective is necessary to discover the fullness of interpersonal communication that allowed Adam and Eve to be naked but unashamed.
In our everyday language, the word “communication” usually refers to the news and entertainment media. But in its original and deepest meaning, communication takes place between persons, face to face. We communicate on the basis of our shared humanity.
In light of communication, the body takes on an entirely new meaning, beyond the exterior. It concretely expresses our interior selves. The body enables man and woman, right from the beginning, to communicate with each other as God created them to, in the fullness of a communion of persons.
Original nakedness can only be understood in the context of this communion. The words “they felt no shame” indicate an original depth of understanding between persons. Adam and Eve perfectly accepted each other, affirming each other’s masculinity and femininity.
This fullness of understanding, expressed by physical nakedness, parallels our nakedness before God. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13).
Before the Fall, Adam and Eve were truly naked—revealed in all their simplicity and beauty before God and each other.
Originally posted 2019-05-21 12:28:35.