What does it look like to be clothed before God?
Lewis put it well when describing the solid people (the saints) in the Great Divorce: “A tiny haze and a sweet smell went up where they had crushed the grass and scattered the dew. Some were naked, some robed. But the naked ones did not seem less adorned, and the robes did not disguise in those who wore them the massive grandeur of muscle and the radiant smoothness of the flesh.”
This idea of being naked and at once clothed goes all the way back to the garden. The first parents were naked and unashamed. They were clean unto themselves, but then grotesque. They were unveiled, but then faceless, in need of a veil. So they fashioned clothes as veils, as heavy curtains, separating them from the security they once possessed in their knowledge of God. Clothing gave them alternative security, a second skin, because they had taken on a second self that was now in rebellion. But what if they had never sinned? They would have never realized their nakedness because there wouldn’t have been anything to realize! In God’s presence, they would have had a self-knowledge that we could not begin to hope for in this life, one that understood the given-ness of the body and of the self. Eve was meant to be adorned, to be sure, but never bound up to the neck in fabric. There was beauty in her created state. Their life was never their own, but they arrogated identity and all its intended meaning to themselves, just as we do now and have always done since.
Like Adam and Eve, we are fond of forging identities for ourselves. Over the accumulation of a thousand tiny insecurities, a thousand moments of shame, we tend to reorder our actions against those blows, to prove we are stronger, but never knowing the strength and security that comes from the armor, the priestly garments of Christ.
I have struggled with this my whole life. Throughout public school, that sprawling sea of faces and names and possible selves, I ended up finding myself in the academic/band geek milieu. I defined myself by my relative intelligence, by my weird affinity for the bassoon, by playing music. And people thought I was nice (ask me about my “Most-Good Natured Award.” Ha!) This allowed me some semblance of “cool.” It gave me a sense of self, a sense of essence. You have to capitalize on your most obvious qualities, gird up your loins and consign yourself to some class of people. Happiness found amongst the pimply and bookish.
These were my people, right? This was my niche, my caste. Sorted by fate. It was such a small thing, but over the years it turned into a longing I could not name or understand. I wanted more. But that “more” looked like a sprawling, black whatsit. In thinking that my identity was here with these people, I found myself with empty hands. It made no sense. And I think this is the case for all of us. We get unhappy with our clothes, our markers of identity and we try out new things that ultimately fail us. They fail to cover us; they separate us even further from God. At the bottom we are only a puzzle unto ourselves, a wall insurmountable, a weeping giant.
This isn’t anyone’s fault, but the idea of being Christ’s own possession, a member of His body, and a priest in His church was never realized for me. I grew up in a Christian home, and my parents have always been sure to include me in their faith. But some things just never stuck.
As I’ve grown older and as my faith in God has deepened, I’ve come to think of identity in Christ as nakedness. Like Job, God uses us in our vulnerability, when we have no more veils dividing us from him. True personhood, fullest being, is in being vulnerable to God, allowing Him to clothe you in garments of peace. You are the most yourself you can be. Once again, I think of Lewis’ saints, clothed in beautiful, flowing robes but in all the glory of their created self.
For us—being on the other side of history—our created self, our essence is not going to be like it would have been in the garden if you or I had been Adam and Eve. The effects of the Fall are a part of our makeup. The priestly garments of vulnerability we wear as Christ’s church are not the representation of a completed state of being but an ongoing one. Vulnerability is a symbol of death, but also one of resurrection! And this is something we as members of Christ’s body repeat throughout our entire lives. This I think speaks of Christ’s scars. The spots where the nails were driven were redeemed in His resurrected body, amen! But they still remain. They prove that there is glory in death, that Christ is Lord even then. (No dualism, folks.) I think this is still true for our psychological identity as well. Our thinking, emotional, ambitious selves will be redeemed, but it’s not as if the vestiges of those things will be erased from our psyche. Rather, our ambitions and our wanderings will be set right.