The fallout following the first sin recorded in Genesis 3 illustrates a tendency that many in our increasingly divided context endorse. This tendency might be defined as narrowing one’s perception of herself to a particular trait rather than appreciating the sophisticated whole of what it means to be human and created in God’s image. In fact, the question that God asks Adam and Eve after exposing their hiding place—’Who told you that you were naked?’—might be re-framed for the white supremacist ‘who told you that you were white?’ or for the sexually confused, ‘who told you that you were a sexual creature?’ To be sure, race, sexuality, and other considerations are beautiful characteristics of humanity in and of themselves. However, these do not exhaust what it means to be human any more than Adam and Eve’s nakedness defined who they were en toto.
In Genesis 1:26ff, humans were defined as those creatures who were made in the image of God. Here, at the climax of the creation narrative, God places his prized creatures in the world and goes to great lengths to describe their uniqueness. Humans are said to resemble “God’s image” according to his “likeness” in the following ways: in the charge they are given to exercise dominion over the world, their ability to express both unity and diversity as male and female (in the context of interpersonal relationships), and their call to cultivate the earth. All of the creative, relational, intellectual, and moral capacities required to satisfy these expressions help the reader understand something of what it means for humans to be imbued with imago Dei.
So how does the Bible explain the diluted appreciation of the human person that characterized Adam and Eve and remains present to this day? The answer is simple—sin. In Genesis 3, it is only after sin enters paradise that “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (3:7a). To be sure, living in a perfect world would have already made Adam and Eve aware of their physical reality. However, because of their moral failure, their nudity is all they are said to recognize about their personhood. Similarly, because of the pervasive nature of sin in the world, individuals, groups, and entire cultures fail to fully appreciate all that they are and instead become unnaturally fascinated with one or more attributes of their unique character (color of skin, need for sexual intimacy, etc.). This delimited perception of the self leads many to artificially define their identity by means of these specific characteristics. Adam and Eve defined themselves as naked, the KKK and other alt-right groups define themselves by means of their white-ness, and many in our overly sexualized culture define themselves by means of specific labels—LGBTQ….—that correspond to a myriad of orientations and/or preferences.
As was the case for the first couple, people who endorse a less than robust view of their humanity today also seek to cover themselves by means of things like activist/hate groups, protests, marches, surgeries, etc. in an effort to feel more secure. However, instead of yielding safety and peace, these “coverings” only succeed in fomenting further division. By endorsing these rudimentary means of hiding pieces of themselves, people reveal that they do not fully appreciate what God originally created humans to be. Also, in settling for less than a robust view of humanity, people fail to adopt God’s assessment of his greatest creation, thereby creating a rift in the divine-human relationship. Finally, by not subscribing to a sophisticated view of themselves and their fellow man, people are prone to devalue, manipulate, oppress, and disregard others.
Thankfully, the Bible articulates a means by which people might be saved from all of this internal tension and the external division it creates. Salvation from this struggle involves understanding the one who lived out his humanity perfectly and demonstrated what it means to live as one made in God’s image. Jesus Christ did not settle for an incomplete view of himself or what God created and as a result was able to relate to God and others in the way God originally designed. Just as God descended to the garden to provide Adam and Eve with adequate coverings for their nakedness in Genesis 3, Jesus Christ (God made flesh) descended to provide what the Bible refers to as “robes of righteousness” (Rev. 19:8). Those who accept these garments in faith no longer suffer the anxiety of insecurity. Instead, these are given the opportunity to live at peace with God and their fellow man.
Ultimately, the Genesis narrative provides an example of how not to define ourselves. Anything less than a full-orbed view of our humanity is destructive and, unfortunately, much of today’s world carries on this tradition.
Jeffrey R. Dickson recently completed his PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Jeffrey serves as senior pastor of Crystal Spring Baptist Church Roanoke, VA and also leads groups at Carilion Clinic in-patient psychiatry as a mental health therapist. Jeff and his wife Brianna have two kids.