I’d like to pick up a note from July’s InYou Window where I wrote: I wonder if the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a fig tree. Why? Because the first thing Adam and Eve did was to cover themselves with fig leaves. How often do we keep on sinning in the same way since we now know we’re “damaged?” We wear our guilt as a garment and without forgiveness and grace we will never take it off!
Have you ever said to yourself, “Well, I’ve gone this far, I may as well go all the way.” Or “It’s too late now. I’ve messed up too bad and can’t turn back.” The internal dialogue following an external downfall reveals what we believe guilt and how we are to handle it. Many spend a lifetime trying to mend their own mistakes or they just settle into them like a cold, empty bed. When I asked the homeless “refugees” at Refuge what shame was, one replied, “Being born.”
Shame in Greek is kataischuno: shame, disgrace, put to utter confusion; confound, put to blush, dishonor (as is persecution). We are shocked by what we’ve done, what we were capable of doing, or what has been done to us, and we stagger, stunned by shame. There are feelings of shame (“I feel”) and there is wearing shame as an identity (“I am”). And whether we are troubled by shameful thoughts or shameful behaviors, there is also an enemy who projects his own nature in the first-person singular into our weakened conscience. It sounds like, “I am so worthless,” “I don’t deserve to be helped,” “I am a disgrace,” “I feel like I should not even be alive!”
Shame happens. But what we do with shame happens to be far worse than the act that caused it. We cloak ourselves in secrecy, solitude, and self- judgment (said Brene Brown in her TED talk). Lacking the courage to face what we’ve done (or what’s been done to us), we hide and hurl (blame others). We numb vulnerability; thus becoming the most in-debt, obese, addicted, medicated adults in the world.
This is why Grace and Truth must come to us as a married couple, exposing what was once hidden in the dark and embracing what is now in the light. God’s first recorded words to Adam and Eve were: “Where are you?” Naked and afraid, they had hid themselves. Cloaked in self-condemnation, they diverted attention away from their own shame and pushed it toward another. Fig leaves now masked the beauty which God had made as mankind covered himself in his own shame.
As Brene observed, you can’t numb hard feelings without numbing joy. Show me a miserable, hopeless person and I’ll show you someone covered in fig leaves. They’ve shut down, believing there is no chance for a re-do. Broken-hearted, they’ve given up on being loved as they are and not as they should be. Listen! It’s NOT God who is condemning them, it’s the sin (harmartia: no share) and shame. Making for ourselves coverings only masks the problem, but never mends it. Only Jesus can do that!
“Mysterically,” we never really gain a deep sense of worthiness until we risk rejection and are willing to tell the story of what we’ve done (or what’s been done to us). It takes whole-hearted courage to admit imperfection and cease perfecting oneself. It takes compassion to treat yourself kindly, as Jesus does the sinner. And it takes connection with Truth and a body of believers to let go of who you think you should be in order to be who you are in Christ.
Now take off the fig leaves and fully embrace vulnerability. Let yourself be seen…warts and all. What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful to God and to those who have touched their own broken places. It’s painful but necessary. It inspires true courage, drawing other hurting people into the light, into reconciliation with God, themselves, and others, making them fit for intimacy and authentic relationship. It brings true, fruitful healing.
So as Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time before His crucifixion, He notices a fruitless fig tree. It has leaves, but no fruit. On a fig tree, fruit precedes leaves, but this one masked its fruitlessness with its leaves—just like Adam and Eve (created to be fruitful and multiply); just like Israel (chosen to bless all the nations, but becoming hypocrites); just like us who still hide and hurl and wear an unfit image of our own faded glory. Enough!
That day Jesus was about to make things right again. He would put an end to this cursed “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (which produced only death) by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). He would make a way to the Tree of Life by becoming our shame, completely vulnerable, naked, exposed, rejected, abused, betrayed, mocked, slandered, embarrassed, enduring any and every kind of hurt any human has ever experienced. Jesus was willing to say, “I love you” first, before we ever loved Him back. (1 Jn. 4:10, 19.) With what great love the Father has loved us!
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Listen! God already knew what Brene Brown (likely an unbeliever) discovered through 12 years of research: “…we do not lose heart, but we renounced the things hidden because of shame” (2 Cor 4:1b-2a). “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need“ (Heb. 4:16). We can have confidence before God (1 John 3:21) because we are clothed in righteousness (Gal. 3:27). “I advise you to buy …white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed” (Rev. 3:18).
So what will it be for you? A fig leaf covering your unhealed shame or fruitfulness bore on a weak branch, who is being supplied by the perfect Vine? The Vine holds you, supplies you, and gives you life. Why are you still hiding and hurling?
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).