When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they experienced shame for the first time in their lives. They made a futile attempt to deal with the shame by making coverings for themselves out of leaves. Their coverings were inadequate because they hid from the presence of God. Because of their disobedience, sin entered their world, and it forever changed. The loss they experienced had to be overwhelming—their intimacy with God and each other and even their environment drastically changed.
Shame is always tied to loss: The humiliation of a lost reputation, the pain of a disintegrated family, the regret of a lost opportunity. Adam and Eve knew the shame of the lost Garden. The garden’s custodian, Adam, was sent away never to return. This sense of loss is pictured in Ezekiel’s words to Israel in his prophetic message: “Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was” (Ezekiel 21:26). If left to our shame, we could not bear it, but God extends grace and mercy to us.
If attention is the motor of the mind, then emotions are the fuel of the mind. You and I can identify with this. When you cannot concentrate on a task, you find it difficult to finish. When you experience shame, your attention and emotions are significantly affected. Tasks remain unfinished for lack of passion and motivation. What you want to do you cannot do. Imagine how the ability to concentrate and the accompanying feelings were now turned upside down for Adam and Eve.
The shame and pain they experienced as a result of their sin and the curse is endemic of all of us. The curse was pervasive, but someday we look forward to the end of that curse. Isaac Watts expressed that in “Joy to the World”: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.”
How far does the curse extend? It finds its way to each human heart! The hiding of Adam and Eve in the garden from God for their shame is found in every person. The shame of not being good enough, smart enough, strong enough, pretty enough, is seen in all of us. The futile attempt to hide our failings only causes the shame to grow even more powerful. But one day God will restore Eden and remove the curse. This world’s attempts to make a genuinely shameless society are entirely futile. We will only honestly know a shameless world in heaven.
God made garments for Adam and Eve from animal skins (Gen 3:21). Animals had to die to mitigate the shame of the first couple. Mitigate is a good word. It means to alleviate or lighten the load by reducing the burden of depression or weight. Our sin is mitigated through God’s mercy and grace. The burden does not go entirely away because sin has consequences, but God through his mercy and forgiveness mitigates our burden. When parents learn to alleviate the shame of their children, they are doing what God does for us through his grace.
Our attempts to deal with shame in our lives, especially the shame that comes from sin—our own and the sin of others, are inadequate. We repress the shame, we ignore it, we blame others, we project our shame on others, but none of this will alleviate the shame. Our attempts to cover our shame are woefully inadequate—as the coverings of leaves that Adam and Eve made for themselves. We need the covering that God gives us. This is what God did for Adam and Eve. Through the death of Jesus on the cross, God has provided a covering to every one of us for our shame that our sin has caused us. Just as animals shed their blood for Adam and Eve to have a covering, Jesus shed his blood to make redemption for us.