It goes something like this:
“The Bible describes God and Jesus and the saints and everyone else in heaven as wearing clothes! So, obviously, God intends for us to wear clothes here and now!”
It’s an argument against naturism that I haven’t yet addressed on this blog. This was pointed out this some time ago by a reader who commented on my previous post. Thankfully, he was much more articulate and less dogmatic than my characterization above, but he did correctly identify that this was an issue I had not yet covered. Here’s what he wrote:
I have appreciated getting your perspectives as they have challenged assumptions in how I understand Scripture. I have a question that I don't think has been addressed on your blog so far.
Scripture uses a robe as a symbol for our righteous standing before God. Christ's perfect righteousness had been imputed to us to cover our sin, and this is symbolized as a robe of righteousness from God. Also, based on the Book of Revelation, it seems that there will still be clothes in eternity as it mentions people wearing white robes. Even though we will no longer have sin, our clothes may help remind us that we were once sinful and that Christ came to clothe us with his righteousness. Given the symbolic significance of clothing in our salvation, does this undermine the idealizing of nudity?
Thanks so much!
To this reader I say, Thanks for writing! And thanks for your kind words about how the blog has challenged you!
There are more than one thing that I need to say in response to your questions, so let me now address them.
Symbolism Has Its Limits…
The first point is that while the Bible does use physical items symbolically, it is a mistake to treat that item as if it cannot have any other meaning, or that we must be reminded of that spiritual meaning every time we are physically exposed to that item.
For example, Christ used the bread and wine as symbols to remind of His suffering for us on the cross. They are powerful symbols reminding us of His death and shed blood. Yet bread and wine are not without any other meaning and we are under no obligation to remember Christ every time we have a bite of bread or take a drink of grape juice or wine. Bread is used symbolically in other ways in the Bible, and so is wine. And sometime, bread and wine are just food and drink.
In like manner, the fact that we see clothing used symbolically to represent honor and glory—or a “righteous standing before God”—does not mean that that’s the only meaning or purpose of clothing, nor do we have an obligation to intentionally remember or portray that symbolism every time we put on some clothing. The fact is that clothing has many purposes (I did an entire series on that point). Sometimes it shows the greatness of a person, but sometime it tells all that the person is in mourning.
Symbolism is Culturally interpreted!
In perhaps a surprising observation, we see in the Bible that much—if not all—of the symbolism invoked in the Bible actually has to be interpreted within a cultural context in order to understand what God is intending to communicate. In other words, God saw fit to portray human cultural patterns and conventions to communicate to mankind through symbols. Let me give some examples:
- “… I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” (Isa. 6:1)
- Exactly why does God need to wear a robe? And why a robe with a train? God has no body… right? He needs no robe to keep warm, nor to cover for “modesty’s sake.” And the “train” of any robe has absolutely NO functional use at all… except to draw admiring attention to its wearer. The train comes from a time and culture far removed from ours, and would be completely lost on western culture if not for the fact that brides often wear dresses with a long train at their weddings (for the same purpose).
- Note, if human culture hadn’t developed kingdoms with royalty wearing extravagantly ornate and decorated clothing to portray their greatness (including robes with long trains), there would be nothing of meaning in God’s “robe” and it’s “train.”
- “Behold, I stand at the door and knock;” (Rev. 3:20)
- What is a door but a human invention? What is knocking to seek entry but a human convention?
- While God has always been eager to fellowship with men and women, the statement found in Rev. 3:20 could not have been spoken with any real meaning by Jesus before doors and knocking became a part of human cultural experience. Doors—we can probably assume—are not a reality in the spirit realm, given the very fact that they are a physical,material device.
So… clothing is used to convey as spiritual meaning… but I don’t believe it will be helpful to explore the various valid meanings for clothing here. The point that is important to make here is that symbolism picturing spiritual truth does not translate into moral requirements about the physical elements utilized for the symbolism.
Symbolism Utilizes Human Constructs.
Undoubtedly, there is some symbolic language in the bible which refers to completely natural events (the sunrise) or entities (animals) to make a symbolic application, but in the main—and certainly with reference to clothing—symbolism representing spiritual truth is based upon some sort of human invention or pattern. In other words, God is using human things to communicate with humans.
This truth explains why we must consider culture when interpreting the meaning of a symbol. Since mankind created the physical picture, (doors, bread, wine, clothing, mansions), God can then use those objects to illustrate heavenly truths.
Here’s the point… the spiritual “pictures” do not define the physical meaning of things—nor do they prescribe their usage—but the physical gives its meaning of the spiritual picture. This is why we can’t use the “clothing of heaven” to conclude any sort of moral obligation for clothing in the here-and-now.
But Obviously, There IS Clothing in Heaven!
Ok… so descriptions of Heaven include descriptions of clothing… shouldn’t we ask what the clothing in heaven for?
Clothing on earth has a variety of purposes (see this series regarding The Biblical Purposes of Clothing), but could the purpose for heavenly clothing be the same as on earth?
- Is it for warmth? For protection of the body?
- I highly doubt it.
- What about for moral purposes… might God be offended by “unclothed” spirits? Will He be offended by an unclothed glorified human body?
- Just pondering that for a moment reveals how silly that suggestion is.
- Will it be to constrain sexual lust??
- That’s not even a biblically valid purpose for clothing in the physical realm, but the suggestion that it would still apply in heaven—after we have been glorified and delivered from the presence of sin in our lives—is also inconceivable.
- Notwithstanding the ludicrousness of this notion, people still will put forth the apparent presence of clothing on the inhabitants of heaven as evidence that we must also wear clothing to live a righteous life here on earth.
- Does the clothing of heaven communicate something about the wearers?
- Ah, now here we have a clear match in the probable purpose of clothing in heaven. The human inhabitants of heaven have been washed by the blood of Christ, and as the bride of Christ, they will wear “white linen” garments… pictures of how their lives have been “clothed” with the righteousness of Christ (the robes are said in that verse to actually be “the righteous acts of the saints,” clearly non-physical in nature.).
Beyond just its “purpose,” exactly what do we imagine that the clothing of heaven is even made of? As I just mentioned, in Rev. 19:8 we’re told that they were white “linen” (reiterated in Rev. 19:14) Linen is made from plants… physical plants. But does that mean that there’s an earthly textile industry with a contract for millions of white linen garments for the hosts of heaven? Isn’t that a question worth asking? Are we really supposed to conclude that this imagery speaks of literal organic linen garments? I don’t think so! That’s not at all the point of the picture. Again, the descriptions of clothing of heaven are given to communicate something about heaven, not to prescribe them for earth.
Actually Naked In Heaven?
Will we morally object to nudity in heaven as we seem to here on earth? There’s no basis to claim so… and I certainly hope that we no longer have hang-ups about the God’s beautiful design of the human form in heaven.
C.S. Lewis effectively communicated the uncertainty of the meaning and purpose—and the substance—of heavenly clothing in his book, The Great Divorce, where he writes of a “bright spirit” seen by his protagonist, who describers her this way:
I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer's features as a lip or an eye. (The Great Divorce, chapter 12)
While Lewis’ imaginations about what heaven will be like are no more “inspired” than anyone else’s, it’s clear the he realized that clothing in heaven must have a completely different meaning and essence than clothing as we know it today.
Again, this acknowledgement underscores the futility of attempting to derive moral absolutes about clothing in the here and now based upon the descriptions of clothing from biblical scenes of heaven.
Are We Supposed to “Remember our Sin”??
You suggested in your comments that clothing in heaven “may help remind us” of our sin… but do you really think that’s something God wants for us to do for all eternity? Don’t you think he would rather we persist for eternity in the righteousness of Christ, restored to sinless fellowship as God intended right from the beginning in Eden? Sin should be nothing more than a distant memory… if a memory at all! Doesn’t even God say that he will “remember” our sins no more?
Finally, you implied that I “idealize” nudity. I’m not sure I would concur with that characterization of my position. I think the problem is that people “idealize” (or is it “idolize”?) clothing… giving it an importance and a moral significance that it simply does not deserve.
The refusal to reject nudity (by idealizing clothing) is not by itself the idealization of nudity.
What I would idealize is the ability—even in a fallen world—to be “naked and not ashamed.” (honestly, that sounds like the Bible “idealizes” nudity at least in some measure!). To be free from shame is God’s ideal for us. To be free from man-made rules of righteousness (such as a moral requirement for clothing) is also a biblical ideal.
So, do I idealize nudity? No. I idealize the casting off of false constraints and beliefs about our unclothed bodies. It only follows then that if we cast off the false, we must choose to live contrary to the false, or else we’re still submitting to the lie (and that is the foundation of my assertion that I am a Naturist By Biblical Conviction).
Thanks again for writing! I welcome your feedback!