READ – Genesis 2:25-3:13; 3:22-23
For Lent, we are doing a series on the questions God has for us. In the Bible, God doesn't ask questions for his own sake – he isn’t seeking information he doesn’t already know. He asks questions to give us the opportunity to search our hearts. He asks questions to reveal who we are – and more importantly, who He is to us.
This week we’re looking at perhaps the most tragic chapter in the Bible. Genesis 3 is the story of the fall and rebellion of humanity. We’re focusing specifically on Genesis 3:9, God’s question to Adam & Eve – “Where are you?” It’s the first question of the Bible and the first words God speaks to the human race after they’ve chosen to run away and hide from God in their sin and shame. But interestingly, this question also marks the beginning of God’s work of redemption and rescue.
WHAT THIS QUESTION SHOWS US ABOUT OURSELVES
God’s question to Adam & Eve in Genesis 3:9 shows us one big thing about the human experience, and three facets of that one big thing. The Big Thing is this: we all experience shame – it’s literally at the core of everybody’s story, the story of humanity as a whole. What is shame? Shame is one of the two main feelings or experiences we have because of our broken relationship with God. We all in some way experience guilt and shame. Guilt is the experience that says, “I’ve done something wrong.” But shame says, “Something is wrong with me.” Guilt says “I’ve done bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.”
So how does shame operate in this primeval story of humanity – how does it operate in our stories?
1. We all hide in shame. God’s question for Adam concerns Adam’s whereabouts. The story highlights that Adam and Eve hid. Hiding. Covering up. Self-protection. They are all symptoms of shame. The voice of shame tells us, “If they really saw me, the real me, they’d reject me.” Shame says that when you’re fully seen and known you won’t be accepted.
2. We all blame to evade feeling shame. One of the hallmarks of shame is judgement and blame. Adam blames Eve and God. Eve blames the serpent. It’s an attempt to get the searching spotlight off ourselves and onto someone else in the fear that we will be found out. Sadly, blame leads to more relational alienation and disconnection.
3. We all cover ourselves to cope with shame. Notice God leads with a question of being before doing. It’s not that Adam and Eve’s “doing” wasn’t important (He questions them about this later). What’s significant is God’s saying that our being precedes our doing. What we do flows out of who we are, especially in relation to God and our neighbor. Adam and Eve tried to cover up who they were. Remember in Genesis 2, it’s recorded that Adam and Eve were both naked and unashamed. But after sin enters the world, they both attempt to conceal their inadequacy, fear, and disconnection with fig leaves. We may not use leaves, but we do use busyness, spirituality, achievement, perfectionism, affluency to create artificial personas to cover up.
WHAT THIS QUESTION SHOWS US ABOUT GOD
Observe how each of God’s actions in Genesis 3 parallels the operations of shame in Adam and Eve’s life.
1. God comes to find us in our hiding. God’s “walking” in the garden suggests a habitual action – a sign that this was something God often did for relational intimacy with humanity. What’s surprising is that sin and shame don’t drive God away; He doesn’t get awkward with the people who literally just ruined the world. Instead he asks a question - showing that he wants to retain the relationship. Can I be fully known, fully seen, be the real me and not be rejected, disowned, and alienated by God? Yes! God fully knows the real you and still draws near in conversation and connection.
2. God calls us out of hiding. Shame thrives and grows in isolation. To be called out of shame is to be called into vulnerability and honesty about who we really are. God was calling Adam and Eve into openness and authenticity with him. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Humankind is not permitted to remain alone in its sin; God speaks to Adam and halts him in his flight. Come out of your hiding place, out of your self-reproach, out of your cover-up, out of your secrecy, out of your self-torment, out of your vain remorse. Confess who you are, do not lose yourself in religious despair, be yourself. Adam, where are you? Stand before your Creator.” Full, raw, honest confession before God. Shame cannot be cured without it. The Psalms are full of this honesty. Are you being honest before God? Is there someone safe in your life who you can be real with and receive their assuring smile and a reminder of God’s love?
3. God covers our shame. In Gen 3:21 God makes clothing for Adam and Eve; clothing out of animal skins. From that moment, clothing becomes a metaphor in scripture for acceptance, worth, dignity. In the modern world, we are taught that we need to clothe ourselves with either self-esteem or self-effort. But both current research and our experience shows that’s not workable. So what’s the solution? A hint is given in the clothing that God provides the primeval couple. Presumably, the skins God used were skins from an animal – that means something had to die to cover Adam and Eve in their shame. The consequence of sin was death – and Adam and Eve did experience a kind of death in being removed from the Garden of Eden and their bodies given over to decay. But the immediate death sentence was absorbed by a substitute – an innocent animal. God was showing that this is how rescue and redemption would come – a substitute would bear our shame, sin, and death so we could be given beauty, righteousness, and life. The Gospel is that Jesus was covered in shame so we could be covered in His beauty. Adam and Eve ate from a tree which resulted in their shame; Jesus hung on a tree to carry our shame.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. Shame is difficult to talk about – our tendency is towards concealment and isolation. How did this story of Adam and Eve resonate with your experience? Can you give examples?
3. How do you distinguish between guilt and shame? There’s probably some overlap – but what’s unique about shame, and how do you think the gospel offers a unique cure for shame?
4. Why do you think God addresses Adam and Eve’s being, “Where are you?” before their doing? Is your tendency to focus on whether you’ve done right or wrong or on who you are in relation to God and other people? Why is focusing only on behavior and doing insufficient according to a biblical anthropology?
5. Have you experienced being exposed and yet loved? How did it feel? How does the gospel free us from cycles of shame? How might your week look different if you really believed that you are fully known and fully loved?
6. Can you see the value of putting shameful experiences into words and actually speaking them to God and someone who is safe? What are some of the benefits that might come with that kind of a confession?