In this week’s podcast episode I looked at the rise and dominance of the “love of self” in Western society in the course of the last hundred years. I traced the history of this dominating spirit of our age. Today I look at the question “who told you that you were naked” from Genesis 3 and solve the world’s problems with a true and Biblical self-image perspective.
This post is the conclusion to the podcast episode “Lovers of Self” released this week. You can download and listen to the original podcast here.
It was Sigmund Freud who unveiled a new focus and attention upon the individual self, presenting what amounted to a new religious paradigm in which the self and its health were placed at the center of our perspectives on life.
Freud’s own relatives observed how masses of people could be appealed to and manipulated by simply skipping reason and rationalism and enticing the instincts and drives of the newly discovered, and all important, individual self. This was referred to as “engineering consent” and became the channel through which our materialistic and consumer-oriented society evolved after World War II.
Beginning in the 1950s, a new generation of philosophers, psychologists and pseudo psychologists explained how the self did not need healing at all but was, in fact, beautiful and perfect. The self needed to be freed, honored and exalted. This dogma has since filled our public school system. It also saturates our entertainment and consumerist culture.
Phrases like “the most important thing is your happiness” are standard staples in the entertainment and marketing messages we receive throughout the day. Central to attaining individual happiness is the freedom and expression of the self. Note the centrality of the self in our gadgets and most frequently used interfaces from the iPhone and iPad to Facebook. The focus comes back to me even in the names of these products.
Social media is not reality but our treatment of the self in this virtual environment is telling of the centrality and love of self that consumes our age. More than 1,000 “selfies” are posted to Instagram every second. The average millennial is expected to take more than 25,000 selfies in their lifetime and they will spend, on average, an hour a week prepping, doctoring and altering these images of the self for premium effect when posted online.
The love of self is evident and dominant everywhere we turn in our culture. It is a hallmark of our age. Despite this fact, the promise of fulfillment and self-actualization that was to follow once the self was fully loved, remains out of reach. Human beings seem less content and more dysfunctional than ever. This is particularly perplexing when contrasted against the prosperity and comfort we live in relative to prior generations.
From childhood to old age we are more medicated than ever before. The bulk of these medications are for mental and emotional issues. Depression and anxiety afflict our society like a plague. For the second time in three years, life expectancy in America has declined due to rising suicide rates and drug use. Most indicators suggest a growing misery and fear among the self-loving human race, not freedom, contentment and self-actualization.
We were never meant to live this way. We were never meant to live in love with the self. The decline in emotional and mental health and the rise in our various states of misery are direct results of lives and perspectives built atop the unstable and shifting grounds of self-centeredness. The beliefs and philosophies fostered by the love of self were not only incorrect – they were also unauthorized perspectives upon life.
Who Told You That You Were Naked?
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? Genesis 3:8-11
Let’s start by painting the setting for this significant set of verses in the opening chapters of Genesis. We have watched the dawn of creation, each element and creature birthed by the speaking of the Word of God. At the pinnacle of His creation, God created man. Realizing that man was incomplete He then added woman because it was “not good that man should be alone.” (Gen 2:18) Finally, with the creation of man and woman together, God said “It was good,” and He rested.
The life of the man and woman was full of purpose, direction and discovery. They were to fill the earth, subdue it and be fruitful (Gen 1:28). And all of this was to take place within clearly defined boundaries and regulations for life. Chief among these boundaries, man was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Violation of this spoken boundary would result in death (Gen 2:16-17).
We do not know how much time passed between the communication of God’s boundary and design for life and the moment when Adam and Eve violated them. We do know the results however and we have been living with them ever since.
The fall of man takes place in Genesis 3:1-6. Immediately upon transgressing the God-ordained boundaries for their life and existence, something changed inside the heart and mind of the man and woman.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 3:7
No one told them they were naked. They had been this way the whole time, ever since God breathed the breath of life into them. But now they saw the world differently. They felt their own existence differently. The initial sight and reaction to their own existence was now fueled with guilt, shame and fear which culminated with an effort to correct it all themselves (sewing fig leaves together to cover themselves).
In the next verse God comes down to meet with man. He knows what has happened. He is omniscient after all. His call to the man and woman “where are you” was an invitation for them to confess their transgression so He could correct the violation they imposed upon His creation. Instead, they were consumed by fear, guilt and self-preservation, hiding from the Person who had never done them harm.
Upon the revelation of this dysfunction and degeneration in the state of the man and woman, God asks the million dollar question: “Who told you that you were naked?”
Why would God ask that question? Again, they were already naked before the transgression. Nothing in their physical experience had changed yet. Their nakedness was not the problem. In asking the question God is drawing our attention to something significant that now existed within them.
The act of disobedience resulted in a new perspective on life. It was a perspective that God did not authorize and did not fit with the design of His creation. Their prior understanding and perspectives of life were informed by the speaking of God and the life they shared with one another. The new perspective was, at its root, informed by a focus centered upon the self. The very first instinct after eating from the forbidden tree was to look at their self. It was a level of self-awareness and attention that was not included within the original design of God.
Disobedience and sin draws our focus to self-centeredness and selfishness. These perspectives and paradigms push us from God and also from correct actions and responses. It was the self-awareness and attention that pushed the man and woman into hiding and also to design their own mechanisms for coping with their perceived flaws (the fig leaves). It is interesting that in the very next set of verses Adam attempts to blame Eve for his own faults and errors. The focus upon self pushes us even from one another.
The Sin of Adam and Global Realities
I am fascinated with the study of shifts and changes in our society. This is what draws me to history and to international relations. I enjoy discovering how we, mankind, function and operate.
This paradigm of self-centeredness and selfishness is at the root of the fallen heart of man. It is also central to how we operate and function as a human race and civilization.
International relations scholars explain that “self-interest” is the key driving factor for nations throughout history. Our modern system and global order is built upon this assumption.
A rational state and leader will always act in their self-interest and therefore some measure of predictability can be assumed in the economics and geopolitics of the nations in the world order. To that end, when we observe every war, every treaty, every trade deal, every tariff, and every political system, we find self-interest operating at their root. Rational beings operate to preserve and promote the self.
But self-interests and self-focus in the end always lead to isolation, fear, and detachment from the design of God. This is true at the individual level. The systemic reality present in nations and international systems is merely a reflection and a scaling of this individual reality.
Correcting the Self
In Romans 12:3 Paul instructed believers “do not think higher of yourselves than you ought.” There is a perspective in which we ought to think of ourselves. It is neither higher nor lower than this specific appointed design. That appointed design is found in the same place where Adam and Eve were to find it before the fall of man. They were not unaware of themselves, but their self-awareness was bounded by the design of God.
A self-awareness and self-image built atop the fraudulent and deceptive philosophy of the love of self are doomed to failure. Evidence supporting this assertion is not only surrounding us in the modern age, it is also clearly spelled out in scripture for thousands of years.
Our self-image must be built within the boundaries of a relationship and knowledge of God’s heart and His speaking to us. For the person who has been abused or suffered in their life, that self-image may require healing which comes from God’s speaking. The manner in which they “ought” to think about themselves is likely to require some reformulation and correction. For another person the manner in which they “ought” to think about themselves might need to be adjusted to a more humble status. Once again, this does not come from focusing upon our self but by walking and talking to God.
When we observe the issues of the world and life that surround and perplex us, we should come to a new conclusion. These issues are not the result of poor self-esteem (this week’s podcast episode tracks that erroneous assertion). These issues are the result, as all things are, of a human race still cut off and hiding from God.
We might justify the elevation of self to replace God in a world where man is at the center of everything. Our self-justification does not alter the requirements of the original design. Peace, strength, and stability are only found in the restoration of God’s original and perfect design for our lives and our world.