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Redeeming Nakedness

Recently I was doing research into the nature of the image of God in man and, as so often happens when I'm in the midst of a study, my attention was diverted to a another subject. I was reading what one particular commentator had to say about 1 Corinthians 11.7, where Paul talks about man's physical body reflecting "the image and glory of God." My interest was piqued, however, by something I read in the commentator's introduction to this chapter of Scripture which, among other things, deals with Paul's instruction that women should cover their heads during public worship. The introduction reads in part:
[Paul] had evidently heard that some 'emancipated' Corinthian women had dispensed with the veil in public worship, and he argues that women should be veiled. For a woman to appear in public bareheaded was to act in what we would call a 'bare-faced' manner. It was the mark of a woman of loose morals. It outraged the proprieties. Paul accordingly rejects it with decision. It is no part of the life of the Christian needlessly to flout the conventions (The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary by Leon Morris).
The last line of this paragraph is what attracted my attention. Conventions are the customs of the people, the ways of the culture. Paul was apparently unwilling to break with many of the customs of his day, so as not to cause trouble for the Church. This idea is further reinforced by what he wrote just a few verses earlier in 1 Corinthians 10.32. Everyday customs are constantly changing with the passage of time, of course, and I began to think about today's "conventions" as they applied to human nakedness.

Nudity is now found just about everywhere in our culture, due chiefly, I believe, to the powerful and pervasive influence of Madison Avenue and Hollywood. They have made nudity an integral part of much of what they produce for viewing by society at large. Partial nudity (usually very provocative) is often present in advertising. Complete nudity is no longer a surprise at the movie theater. The nudity of soft- and hard-core pornography is finding more and more public acceptance. Nudity is even becoming a part of highly rated television dramas. Whether it's welcomed or not, nudity has become a fast-growing component of our culture. It's becoming so commonplace that I think it can now rightly be called a "convention" of our society.

But what kind of social convention is nudity turning out to be? A good one or a bad one? Many religious and community leaders as well as some lawmakers clearly view it as bad. If they've based their decision solely upon the media's portrayal of nudity (which is quite likely), perhaps it's not surprising that they feel as they do.

As most of you know by now, I take a higher view of human nakedness. I find ample evidence in the Bible that the naked human body was and is created in the image of God, and as such is deserving of dignity and honor. "Man is the apex of the creative works of God. As male and female, man was made in majesty to reflect the glory of God on earth. Man is the bearer of the very image of God; this is his differentia that which marks him out from all other created things," writes Ronald B. Allen in The Majesty of Man: The Dignity of Being Human. The image of God in man is multidimensional, to be sure, and is much more than just physical. Nevertheless, the physical aspect is important and needs to be reckoned with. I find it unthinkable that "image-bearers" of God should find themselves so ashamed of human nakedness that they would insist that it should always be covered.

Believing this as I do, you can imagine how I reacted to a quote attributed to a radio evangelist that appeared on the front page of the AANR Bulletin a couple of issues ago. He (if I may assume that this person is male) is reported as saying, "Nudists are nothing but walking pornography." How dare he, I thought to myself. How dare he!

Upon reflection, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that this evangelist believes what he does. By lumping nudism together with pornography he betrays his ignorance of the profound differences between the two. He probably possesses very little knowledge of what nudism is really all about. The motivation for such harsh criticism may result from fear that long-standing "religious" traditions are being threatened. Perhaps public condemnations of this sort are found to be useful in furthering political agendas. Maybe they result from overexposure to the Madison Avenue and Hollywood style of nudity, thereby inflaming him to the point of rebelling against all nakedness everywhere. Whatever the reason, I find myself wondering if people like that understand the old expression about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

As I said, the commercialization of nudity is causing it to become a social convention right before our very eyes. I doubt that all of the "demands for action" that can possibly be mustered by radio evangelists or anyone else (well intentioned or not) are going to change that fact in any significant way. I believe such people would do well to recognize the changing times and concentrate on redeeming nakedness from the distorted and unworthy image that has been conferred upon it. Hollywood and Madison Avenue are not the only influences contributing to what I view as the desecration of the image of God as it is reflected in human nakedness.

Nakedness has always been a part of human life to some degree, all the way from Adam and Eve to the present. The kind of nudity being commercialized by advertisers and 'entertainment' producers is of a different type altogether, however. It ranges from seductive images brimming with suggestive innuendo to images that are starkly sexual. Sex sells! Sex influences! And these people know it.

Furthermore, the nudity (partial or otherwise) that we see in film and advertising these days seems always to be the nudity of perfectly proportioned young men and women, thereby setting an almost impossible example for impressionable viewers and consumers to attain. Everything from general unhappiness over body-image to outright dysfunctions like bulimia and anorexia nervosa are widespread and increasing. How should we react to the type of nudity that has become "conventional" in our society?

Ridding ourselves of all nakedness to dispense with the bad is certainly not the answer. Presenting a healthy alternative view of nakedness such as that belonging to nudism might be. I believe Christian nudists can play a worthwhile role in this effort. We can present a higher view of the human body and nakedness, one marked by dignity and sacredness. We can educate others by explaining how the image of God is reflected in our nakedness. We can also help bring about a return to a realistic view of the body, fully recognizing both the hand of God in our creation and the effect that sin has had on our lives.

In One of a Kind: A Biblical View of Self-Acceptance, author M. Blaine Smith writes insightfully about how the Fall has affected our bodies:

"Wonderful are thy works!
Thou knowest me right well;
my frame was not hidden from thee,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance."
(Psalm 139.14-16)

The Psalm says quite specifically that God has given each of us our unique physical constitution for a very good purpose. He has taken special care in forming our bodies, in giving us our distinctive physical features.

One of the basic affirmations of faith, then, is that God knew what he was doing when he put me together physically. He has given me endowments which are noteworthy, designer-fashioned, worthy of great appreciation.

To be sure, our bodies suffer the effects of a fallen world. Through the direct result of our own sin and neglect, the sins of others, and the more intangible consequences of sin in the world, we suffer pain and deformity which mar God's gift of physical life. I do not mean to minimize the problems here, and in some cases the problems can be severe.... Even for those of us who are not afflicted with extreme physical problems, there are still the continual nickel-and-dime factors that affect our appearance: how well we have slept, our diet, stress level, complexion problems, dandruff, hair loss, weight problems and so forth. Continually we face the challenge of maintaining health, cleanliness and grooming, and I doubt that any of us ever perfectly reflect God's ideal intent for our physical appearance.

Yet I am still convinced that Psalm 139 has a message of hope for each of us, regardless of the physical problems we might experience.... Surely the message is that there is a basic physical appearance God has given each of us which shines through all the imperfections brought on by life in a fallen world. It ought to be esteemed regardless of how it has been battered by the realities of life. We are too quick, I believe, to conclude that physical problems have marred our appearance to the point that it should no longer be viewed positively.

In The Majesty of Man, Ronald Allen puts the Fall of mankind in perspective: "It scarcely seems possible for the results of the Fall to be fully realized by us, much less to be overstated. But we are in danger of overstating the results of the Fall if we judge that man after the Fall is no longer a creature of dignity bearing the image of God."

Christian nudists should probably welcome the growing openness in our society to the sight of the human body, though "a creature of dignity bearing the image of God" is seldom what one sees in the nudity that is becoming more and more customary and "conventional." Obviously, trying to overcome the stereotypes that nakedness has been laden with in recent years is no simple or easy undertaking. It is, however, a noble undertaking. Nakedness is being seen by most people as synonymous with an impossibly perfect body-image or with highly-charged sexuality. We need to work toward redeeming it from such ready associations. Some might say that it's unrealistic to think that nudists or anyone else could ever hope to overcome such pervasive stereotypes. I really don't know about that. I do know that such an opinion isn't going to stop me from trying.

Ephesians 2.10 says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (NIV). God's workmanship indeed the very image of God. What an awesome privilege it is to be His image-bearers. As social conventions pertaining to nakedness continue to change, may we as Christian nudists always be found bearing the image of God as reflected in our nakedness with dignity and honor. May we always bring glory to God with moral conduct befitting Christ's redeemed. And as always, may each of us take to heart 1 Peter 3.15-16, which says: "Quietly trust yourself to Christ your Lord and if anybody asks why you believe as you do, be ready to tell him, and do it in a gentle and respectful way. Do what is right; then if men speak against you, calling you evil names, they will become ashamed of themselves for falsely accusing you when you have only done what is good" (The Living Bible). Image-bearing with dignity; glorifying God through high moral conduct; sharing the Gospel of Christ and the good news about Christian nudism these are, one and all, truly "good works...for us to do."

This article is from Issue 8 of Fig Leaf Forum and was written by the editor.

Next article: The Symbols Of Our Pilgrimage

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