“I was naked and you clothed Me.”
Why We Wear Clothes
Oh, fashion is a glitzy, lavish industry! For some of us clothing is a matter of practicality–some blue jeans, steel-toed boots and a hard hat will get the job done. You don’t find doctors’ scrubs coming out in new styles every year. And thank goodness for the firefighter’s turnout gear. It just saves lives. For other people clothing is all about image. There is nothing practical about the six-inch heels that trip up the runway models. Often we wear clothes that make a social statement. “I am important.” “I am wealthy.” “I am a rebel.” “I want attention.” “I don’t care what you think.” “I want to fit in.” The guy with the $3000 custom suit wants you to be impressed. At the other end of the price spectrum we emblazon our tee-shirts and sometimes other clothing with pictures, logos and writing intended to make an impression. Print what you think and care about in big bold letters and wear it everywhere.
Clothing has always been a matter of both practicality and self-expression. A soldier may have both fatigues for getting work done, and a dress uniform to say, This is who I am, where I belong and what I fight for. Police, judges, fast food workers, musicians and many others wear uniforms that say, “I have this job; I belong to this group.”
Nakedness and Shame
The story of clothing begins with the parable of Adam and Eve, who at first were naked and not ashamed, but after disobeying the Lord became self-conscious and ashamed, trying to hide themselves and cover their shame with clothing (Genesis 2, 3). The first human beings were naked, as some primitive tribes are. Angels in the highest heaven also often appear naked. Like little children they are innocent, though angels have the innocence of wisdom, not the innocence of ignorance.
A later time when people lost their first innocence is symbolized by Adam and Eve seeing that they were naked and sewing loin cloths from fig leaves. Once they lost their innocence they experienced nakedness as shame, and God made them clothes of animal skins. The meaning of this explained in the book Secrets of Heaven is that people began to make excuses in order to cover up their bad choices with external forms of goodness (§216, 9960:20). This is a common experience for all of us. When we realize that we have done something bad or shameful, we want to cover it up, hide and keep up an appearance of being good. We don’t want people to see what we have done, and we feel exposed and naked when our faults become known.
Many passages in the Lord’s Word connect nakedness with shame.
I counsel you to buy from Me …white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed. (Revelation 3:18)
Your nakedness shall be uncovered, Yes, your shame will be seen. (Isaiah 47:3)
Sometimes shame is portrayed not by complete nakedness but by dirty rags or being partly clothed. For example, when Hannan King of Ammon wanted to shame King David’s ambassadors, “he shaved off half of their beards, cut off their garments in the middle, at their buttocks, and sent them away…. the men were greatly ashamed” (2 Samuel 10:4-5). Nahum (3:5) writes, “‘Behold, I am against you,’ says the Lord of hosts; ‘I will lift your skirts over your face, I will show the nations your nakedness, And the kingdoms your shame.’” Isaiah (64:6) writes, “We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” And David speaks of being clothed with shame: “Let my accusers be clothed with shame, And let them cover themselves with their own disgrace as with a mantle” (Psalm 109:29). “Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor Who exalt themselves against me” (Psalm 35:26). “My dishonor is continually before me, And the shame of my face has covered me” (Psalm 44:15).
Loss and Grief
Rags, sackcloth and torn clothes are also a symbol of loss and grief, especially a loss of faith and loss of things we believe in. When Saul was killed in battle, on the third day a man came from the camp, whose clothes had been rent. And when David heard about the death of Saul, David took hold of his garments and tore them apart; and so did all his servants who were with him. 2 Sam. 1:2, 10-12. (Secrets of Heaven 4763.4)
King Hezekiah and his servants tore their clothes and wore sackcloth in mourning when they heard the insults the Rabshakeh from Assyria hurled at God, the king, and Jerusalem. Isa. 36:22; 37:1; 2 Kings 18:37; 19:1 Secrets of Heaven 4763.1.
When the book of the Law was found in the Temple after being lost for many years, King Josiah tore his clothes and wore sackcloth. “Plainly the king did so because the Word, that is, Divine truth, had been lost for so long and in their hearts and life had been blotted out” (Secrets of Heaven 4763.6).
When Joseph’s brothers has sold him as a slave, his brothers dipped his tunic in goat’s blood and brought it to their father Jacob, who assumed he had been killed by a wild animal. Jacob then tore his own clothes and wore sackcloth to express his grief over losing his son.
Mourning is also evident in these words: “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (Psalm 30:11). Also, Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would come “To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:2-3).
The story of Noah and his sons tells what it means to be compassionate and caring towards people when we become aware of their faults. After surviving the flood Noah planted a vineyard, made wine and became drunk. As he lay in his tent uncovered, one of his sons, Ham, saw him there and went out and told his brothers about it. The other brothers, Shem and Japheth, took a blanket across their shoulders and went backwards into the tent to cover their father (Genesis 9)
New Church teachings explain this story as an illustration of different ways we respond to seeing faults in others. Sometimes we react like Ham: we notice others’ faults, and we let everyone else know about them. Other times we react like Shem and Japheth, who turned their backs and covered the nakedness.
Here Ham’s noticing his father’s nakedness, that is, his errors and corruption, describes people who have faith separate from goodwill. People like this see nothing but faults and corruption in others. Now people who have faith coming from goodwill are different. They notice good qualities, and if they do see bad qualities and wrong ideas they excuse them, and if possible try to correct the person’s faults, as is said here of Shem and Japheth.
Where goodwill is missing there is self-love, and consequently hatred towards all who do not favor oneself. As a result they see in the neighbor nothing but what is bad. Or if they do see anything good they either look at it as nothing or interpret it in a bad way. It is quite different with people who have goodwill—by goodwill we can distinguish these two kinds of people from each other. Especially when they enter the next life, with those who have no goodwill, a feeling of hatred glares from every pore. They wish to examine everyone and even judge them. There is nothing they desire more than to discover evil, always with a mind to condemn, punish, and torture. On the other hand, people who have goodwill hardly notice what is bad in another person, but instead notice all the person’s good intentions and true thoughts, and the bad and wrong ones they interpret in a good way. All angels are like this; they have it from the Lord, who bends everything bad into good. (Secrets of Heaven §1079)
This explanation tells us not only that people who are “naked” spiritually are people whose faults are exposed, but also that we can help them by focusing on their good qualities, and by overlooking or possibly amending their faults. The passage we just read says that people who have goodwill look for the good in others, and so do angels. In fact angels are constantly bringing out our best qualities.
Evil spirits never do anything else than stir up a person’s evils and falsities and condemn him. Angels however stir up nothing but goods and truths; and things that are evil and false they excuse. (Secrets of Heaven §1088)
We have seen the nakedness is symbolic of feelings of shame, fear of exposure, loss and grief. It may also involve feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. New Church teachings say that those who are described as “naked” mean people who acknowledge that there is nothing good or true in themselves (Secrets of Heaven §4958). On a literal level, we can recognize that people who don’t even have clothes are in extreme poverty and are lacking just about every good thing. On a deeper level, we may have clothes and other material blessings and still feel worthless, hopeless and good for nothing.
Sometimes feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness are a result of spiritual trials or challenges that we must go through in order to grow spiritually and become more compassionate. These spiritual struggles are a result of conflict between angels and evil spirits who are with us.
There are evil spirits who at that time activate our false ideas and bad intentions…. In fact, they draw out of our memory whatever we have thought and done since early childhood. Evil spirits can do this so cleverly and wickedly as to defy description. But the angels who are with us draw out our good intentions and true ideas, and in this way defend us. (Secrets of Heaven §751)
We should also know about this fight that angels continually protect us and turn aside the bad things that evil spirits try to do to us. The Angels even protect what is wrong and bad in us, for they know very well where our wrong ideas and bad intentions come from, namely from evil spirits and demons. We do not produce anything bad and wrong in ourselves, but it is the evil spirits with us who produce it. At the same time they make us believe that we do it on our own. They are so malignant! And what is more, at the moment when they are infusing and compelling this belief, they accuse us and condemn us, as I can confirm from many experiences. If we do not have faith in the Lord, we cannot be enlightened, but instead we believe that evil is from ourselves. Therefore we also blame ourselves for our evil, and we become like those bad spirits who are with us. This is the human condition. Angels know this, so they also defend our false ideas and bad intentions during the challenges of regeneration. (Secrets of Heaven §761)
All temptations appear evil, for the reason that they are interior anxieties and griefs, and as it were damnations; for we are then let into the state of our evils, consequently among evil spirits, who accuse us, and thus torment our conscience; nevertheless the angels defend us, that is, the Lord through angels, for the Lord keeps us in hope and trust, which are the forces of combat from within whereby we resist. AC 6097
Hope, Comfort and Joy
When we are undergoing spiritual struggles, it is common to have feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, fear and grief. In fact, it is in part by going through those feelings that we are able to gain a whole new perspective on life. Our experience indicates that all our thoughts and feelings originate inside our own heads. In the beginning of our spiritual life we believe this to be the case, so we think well of ourselves when we notice that we have good qualities, and we think badly of ourselves when we notice that we have bad qualities.
The hidden reality is that our life, our thoughts and our feelings do not originate within ourselves, but originate in the Lord who is the Source of all life, all energy, all thought and feeling. That life flows into us through angels and spirits were with us. This is hard to believe, especially when we are in the beginning stages of our spiritual journey. One reason that we must undergo spiritual challenges is that through them we come face to face with our own limitations and our inability to do what is good and right all by ourselves. We realize how much we need to the Lord.
Temptations involve doubt about the Lord’s presence and compassion and therefore about whether we can be saved. Bad spirits who are then with us and bring about the test strongly inspire a negative attitude, but good spirits and angels from the Lord dispel that doubt in every way and hold us constantly in the hope and then strengthen our positive attitude. (Secrets of Heaven §2338)
People who are being reformed are reduced to a state of ignorance of truth, desolation, grief and despair, and then for the first time they have comfort and help from the Lord. We feel devastated, desolate and hopeless, and in this state we receive comfort and help from the Lord. The reason why we go through these feelings is to shatter the illusion that we can do things on our own, and also that we will experience greater happiness and appreciation for the good things in our life having experienced bad things and negative emotions. (See Secrets of Heaven §2694)
We have seen that nakedness is symbolic of feelings of shame, loss, fear, grief, worthlessness, desolation and despair. To those who are going through these feelings, especially in times of spiritual struggles, the Lord offers comfort, consolation, hope, peace, affirmative thoughts and inspiration. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The Lord gives “a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3); He “puts off our sackcloth and clothes us with gladness” (Psalm 30:11).
The Power of Prayer
Often in times when we feel hopeless and worthless we can find comfort and hope through prayer.
If our prayer springs from love and faith, and if it is only spiritual and heavenly things that we pray for and pray about, then something like a revelation is present within our prayer which shows itself as we pray in a feeling of hope, comfort or some inward joy. (Secrets of Heaven §2535).
Any falsity that the hells introduce is met with a response from the Divine… yet in such a way that we scarcely come to be conscious of it except as hope and consequent comfort, which however hold within them countless blessings that we have no knowledge of. (Secrets of Heaven §8159).
I believe that we often find comfort and hope in prayer because prayer brings two attitudes that counter the negative feelings we have. One of those attitudes is humility. Humility is an essential element in prayer, for when we turn to the Lord for help, we recognize our own inadequacy. We realize that we do not have power to overcome on our own, and that we are not the source of anything good.
The other attitude that comes with prayer is gratitude. In prayer we not only ask the Lord for help but also praise Him and thank Him for His compassionate love, His wise providence and His life-changing power. In recognizing Him as the source of all goodness and truth, we recognize that He can bring and has brought many good things into our lives. These two attitudes of humility and gratitude are embodied in prayer and praise, and when we allow them into our hearts they counter both the shame of worthlessness and the burden of trying to look perfect.
If we believed, as is the truth, that everything good and true comes from the Lord, and everything bad and wrong from hell, we would not claim goodness for ourselves and take credit for it, nor would we claim evil for ourselves and to blame ourselves for it. (Divine Providence §320)
In clothing the naked spiritually there is a close connection between what we do for one another, and what we do for the Lord. To support one another we can overlook their faults and mistakes and seek to bring out all their good qualities. We do the same for the Lord, in that we acknowledge all His good qualities in praise, and at the same time recognizing that nothing bad and wrong is from the Lord, but it is all from hell.
Clothing the naked spiritually involves comforting those who mourn, offering a garment of praise to those who feel the spirit of heaviness, and clothing with gladness and those who wear the rags of failure. Often the most powerful and simplest way to do this is through prayer and praise. When we join others in expressing humility and gratitude, we share in a living way that acknowledgment that everything bad is from hell and everything good is from the Lord. Humility and gratitude bring the hope and comfort we so desperately need in times of spiritual struggle. Humility allows us to let go of feelings of superiority and connect with those who feel worthless. Gratitude allows us to appreciate the good gifts the Lord has given to them, and through them to others. Offering our prayers humbly and gratefully to the Lord, we not only lift up the Lord also uplift one another, so that the Lord can say, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to Me.” Amen.