Yet another interesting difference between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity has caught my attention recently. The July 2009 issue of the Ensign magazine includes an article about modesty written by Silvia Allred, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency. As Ms. Allred discusses the principle of, and blessings associated with modesty, she also explains the doctrine behind the principle. She writes,
“From the beginning, the Lord has asked His children to cover their bodies. After Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened and they became aware that they were naked. Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with simple aprons made of fig leaves. But the aprons were not enough, so the Lord made them more modest coats of skins. (See Genesis 3:7, 21)
“God had a higher standard then, just as He does now” (Modesty, A Timeless Principle for All, Ensign, 7/09, page 29).
I don’t disagree that God has a higher standard than His creatures, and I don’t dispute the virtue of modesty. But I can’t help feeling a bit stunned over Ms. Allred’s portrayal of God’s provision (coats of skin) for Adam and Eve as a more modest replacement for their immodest clothing.
I suppose this is a logical outcome from the position Mormonism takes regarding Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden. Because the LDS doctrine is that Adam and Eve did not sin when they ate the forbidden fruit but instead made the right choice between two conflicting commandments (see Joseph F. Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:114-115), why else then, other than for modesty’s sake, would they feel compelled to cover their nakedness?
In Christianity, however, Adam and Eve did sin when they ate the forbidden fruit. Their sin resulted in fear and great shame. Matthew Henry wrote:
“…the eyes of their consciences were opened, their hearts smote them for what they had done. Now, when it was too late, they saw the folly of eating the forbidden fruit. They saw the happiness they had fallen from, and the misery they had fallen into. They saw a loving God provoked, his grace and favor forfeited…they were shamed, for ever shamed, before God and angels. They saw themselves disrobed of all their ornaments and ensigns of honor, degraded from their dignity and disgraced in the highest degree… Fear seized them immediately… They hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Matthew Henry, A Commentary of the Whole Bible, Genesis 3:6-8).
Where before eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve delighted in the presence of God, now they hid in fear and shame. They tried to cover their nakedness — their sin — by making themselves clothing. John Piper explains,
“The essence of the Fall and the essence of our depraved heart and of all its sins is the desire not to be dependent on God. And the other side of the same coin is simply the desire to substitute ourselves for God and to get the flickering glory and the puny sense of power that comes from self-reliance, self-confidence, and self-determination…
“‘The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together’ (Genesis 3:7). Rebellion against God in the human heart is so contrary to the way man is designed to be, that he must constantly put on airs, clothes, make-up, poses to try to convince himself that he is not really a naked, helpless child…” (John Piper, The Emergence of Sin and Misery).
Adam’s and Eve’s fig leaf clothing was indeed inadequate, but not because it was too skimpy. They had become covenant breakers. Their effort to cover their sin was ineffective because they were trying to hide it rather than confess it and seek God’s solution to their shame. But God is merciful.
“…he clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. This was not only a witness to the glory we lost and a confession that we are not what we should be, but it is also a testimony that God himself would one day make us what we should be. God rejected their own self-clothing. Then he did it himself. He showed mercy with superior clothing.
“Together with the other hopeful signs in the context (like the defeat of the serpent in Genesis 3:15), God’s mercy points to the day when he will solve the problem of our shame decisively and permanently. He will do it with the blood of his own Son (as there apparently was blood shed in the killing of the animals of the skins). And he will do it with the clothing of righteousness and the radiance of his glory (Galatians 3:27; Philippians 3:21)” (John Piper, The Rebellion of Nudity and the Meaning of Clothing).
God demonstrated His own love toward Adam and Eve, and to all of humanity. While they (we) were yet sinners, a sacrifice was made for them (us) to reconcile us to God (Romans 5:8-10).
What a rich passage of scripture God has provided in Genesis 3! It’s not about God’s desire for us to dress modestly; it’s about His awesome mercy and grace. In the Garden of Eden God extended loving grace to the undeserving. He continues evermore to show grace that is love for the guilty.