In this light, it makes sense that Adam and Eve would never have recognized their nakedness. Why would Adam have ever needed to look to himself if nature provided for him, Eve loved and provided for him, and God loved and provided for him? If Adam's role was to tend and keep the garden, to walk with God, and to love his wife - and if all those elements were likewise seeking to take care of Adam - then Adam never needed to look to himself. He never needed to worry about food. He never needed to worry about his appearance or Eve's tone of voice. He never needed to wonder at God's seeming distance from him. Everything was for Adam. Everything was for Eve.
On the day Adam and Eve chose to eat from the forbidden tree - on the day they decided to define good and evil for themselves, they attempted to set themselves up as gods. Rather than looking outward, they began to look inward. And when they did, they realized their nakedness. When God addressed Adam and Eve's sin, his curses upon them give us even more insight into the original creation. Thorns and thistles would haunt Adam and his work, making work less fruitful and more toilsome. Nature would no longer be for Adam. God also declared that there would now be enmity between Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve would no longer be for each other. Finally, God expelled Adam and Eve from his presence in the Garden. God was no longer in close proximity to humanity, though thankfully he was still for them. All relationships were now antagonistic, broken, and cursed, with humanity looking to themselves as gods, defining good and evil for themselves.
If the realization of nakedness - the looking to self - means what many think it means, then Adam and Eve's response to sin is a pretty important detail. If the Garden was all about community and all about taking care of the other, then restoration of creation should be a restoration of community and an appropriate focus outward. Isn't that largely what we see in the work of the church? Christ has not redeemed us only as individuals, but as a corporate entity. We are a body in need of every other part. We are told not to forsake assembling together. We are called to sacrifice for the other, to serve each other, and to love each other. It is our love for other which will distinguish us from the world and will allow the world to see that we are disciples of Christ. The gospel and restoration are all about the other, as a focus on other is in large part the antithesis of sin and the restoration of God's original world. Isn't that what Christ himself seems to affirm when he sums up righteousness? Love God and love others. Look outward.
This theology of otherness shouldn't at all be surprising, as it is rooted in God himself. Our God knew love, community, selflessness, and all other relational goods because he has been in community forever. God has always resided in trinity - in relation. When God chose to create, he didn't just create inanimate or soulless beings. He created humanity, a race with whom he could be in relation and with whom to share the responsibility of governance and authority over creation. From creation, and long before, God has been a God of the other.
In the trinity and in God's new community, the church, otherness is central. However, humans don't like otherness. We see this with Adam and Eve when they gave into the serpent's temptation to "be like God." They were allured by the prospect of removing God's distinctiveness from them. Rather than have God be God and they be humans, they wanted to be like God. We see this in the Corinthian church when Paul had to emphasize the goodness found in the differentiation of the gifts God distributes to the body. Everyone may want to prophecy or speak in tongues, and Paul even says he'd love for that to be the case. But Paul recognized that God, in his wisdom, gives gifts to humanity in different measures - yet without diminishing the role or need of any. We see distinctions made between children and parents. We see Jew and Gentile distinguished. Yet all these categories and distinctions do nothing to diminish one's standing or value in Christ and in his body. Distinction alone does not mean inferiority or inequality.
Humans have a problem with distinction. We seem to believe that if there is a difference between us and someone else, then a power or value difference exists. When I see someone who is better gifted at music than I am, I may become jealous. When I see that I work just as hard as someone else, yet they make more money, I may be envious of the position they have. We can't stand others being distinctively better than us. At the same time, we see other distinctions as weaknesses. When we see someone with a disability, we often look upon them with pity because we believe we are better than, more capable than, or more powerful than they are. We view the distinction between "normal" and "disabled" as not just a mere distinction, but as a value statement, though we would never say such a thing. To be normal is better than to be disabled, for who would ever choose to take on the distinction of being disabled?
We spend our whole lives attempting to identify the power or weaknesses others have and we try to subdue those more powerful than us while asserting our own dominance over those who are weaker. It's why the materialist accrues more wealth than her neighbor or why one man tries to be more fit than the next man. The current, sinful, human condition is all about relationship - it's all about other - but it's a comparative relationship rather than a sacrificial relationship which seeks edification. It's a relationship of power and weakness, not a relationship of otherness. The question of fallen humanity is now "how can I be like or above another," not "how can another be edified by me?" We crave power and position.
But in the bully and tyrant we are somehow able to see what we all know to be true in our every-day, minor power grabs. Dominance is really weakness. One who is driven to be better than others does not have power because they're not even in control of themselves. They are controlled by everyone else and the internal needs which stem from their own neuroticism. There is no real power in that. And in the martyr or the philanthropist, the opposite of bullies and tyrants, we recognize true courage and a power which goes much deeper than physical assertion. They are not controlled by their desire to be better than others because they have killed such desires in the laying down of their lives for others. Fear of death, torture, rejection, impoverishment, malnourishment, or disease cannot dissuade a true martyr or philanthropist from their course, for they are are driven by outward love rather than drawn in by the black hole of compulsion and neuroticism.
This doctrine of otherness - this power in service and powerlessness - is expressed very beautifully in a book called "Living Gently in a Violent World." The book explores the apparent weakness of those who have various disabilities, undermining our notions of weakness and exploring the valuable lessons we can learn from those who are mentally different than most of us - those who are other than how we are. While those who aren't mentally like us have many inherent strengths we may not often think of, one of the key ways in which they most help edify a community is simply reminding us that they are other. They wear their differences on their sleeves. While it's easy for the majority of individuals to reside within a community and look just like everyone else, those with disabilities often can't just blend in. They are constant reminders of the otherness that exists within our communities. Whereas we usually try to ignore otherness, the overt otherness of the disabled doesn't allow us to do this. Instead, communities in which the disabled reside are faced with the choice of either loving or domineering.
Unfortunately, we often choose to domineer the disabled. We turn their distinctions - their clear otherness - into weaknesses. We domineer with pity. We domineer with downard glances. We domineer with exclusion from our community because "they" wouldn't get what we had to say and their exclusion would be for their own good. Rather than treat the disabled as an other human in our community, we treat them as beings not who are so other that they cannot possibly enter our community. They are not on my level. They are weaker. They aren't worthy of me. Our domineering masquerades as humble servitude towards the disabled, but anything which comes up short of a welcoming incorporation into the community is not love. But should we choose love for those who are so obviously distinct, it opens up the doorway for us to be the humans God intended for us to truly be. It reminds us that the world is filled with many who are other, and true power comes in serving and loving outwardly, beyond ourselves. Isn't this what God himself did when he became a human incarnate? He became an other for us, even becoming his own antithesis, sin.
Beyond the clear distinctiveness of the disabled, God has gifted most communities with a very different member, a very distinct other. God has gifted us children. Children are often so difficult to love, as they don't let us avoid looking beyond ourselves. They require our care for their physical needs. They demand our attention. They are bold in their actions and their requests. You cannot avoid children if they are in your community, though many of us genuinely try to do so. In our society we've even made it easy to avoid our own children through nurseries, summer camps, programs, activities, day cares, after school care, and screens. Rarely do we come face to face with children - even our own children - because if we did, we'd have to look into the face of God whose Kingdom is composed of such as these. The original disciples viewed children as a nuisance, and so do Christ's 21st century disciples. But Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow has not changed his view on children.
Children are an invaluable reminder to us that others exist and that we should serve. It is quite possible that it is this very reason the church for nearly 2,000 years viewed marriage and a willingness (not the ability) to procreate as going hand in hand. Paul recommends that Christians remain single so they can focus outwardly and edify the body of Christ. Why can't you edify the body when you're married? Well, you can, but since marriage almost certainly entailed children, then raising a family would likely sap you of time and resources you'd otherwise spend in direct service to God. So if one was married, one would seek to have children. To get married and trying to prevent children wasn't an option for Christians. That wasn't how God created marriage to be and such an act was viewed as selfishness. So for the early church, to be a single Christian meant service to the church, and to be a married Christian meant service to children and then to the body. Christians could not escape the call to service of the other.
As Catalina and I have entered parenting, I am sad to report that quite often we fail at God's call to serving the otherness we find in God's gift of children. I remember a few years ago when we vented to each other about how frustrating it was going to church with our kids. We felt like we were never getting fed. We couldn't pay attention to the sermon. We often had to discipline or attend to children during worship. We were constantly training them to sit and listen so that we ourselves were never able to sit still and listen. All of this focusing on others made us feel like we couldn't focus on ourselves. While I think there is some truth to our healthfulness requiring moments of solitude (for even Jesus went alone to pray at times), I think that's more the exception than the rule. God constantly calls us to self-growth, but that growth almost always comes through a focus on other. Whether it's God's command in Hebrews 10:24 to assemble together, his command to be generous (not just for the sake of others, but for the sake of our own hearts), his prescription to withhold food from ourselves in fasting so we can focus on God and on intercession for others in prayer, or God's commands to love and seek justice and mercy for others - we should understand by now that growth in the Christian life comes not from some inward, gnostic knowledge and self-motivation, or from some intellectual morsel of truth, but from coming in contact with God. This contact with God often comes through our contact with those who bear God's image, through those who are other than us. I do not simply mean those who are not us, but those others who have a distinct otherness about them, those very different from us: the orphan, the widow, the poor, the foreigner, those with disabilities, or the child.
How conceited am I when I think that I am getting so little out of church by serving my children? I can hear a thousand sermons and never be changed, but by humbly serving the least from my heart, God changes me. By serving the least, God also works in the lives of those we serve to show them mercy and grace - the true means which changes another's heart. By serving others, those who look on our gracious and loving service may be softened by seeing Christ truly lived out, drawing them into the church or restoring them to a healthy relationship with Christ. By serving others, God is glorified and his body is edified. Jesus even tells us that by serving the least we are directly serving him.
We are myopic fools to think that the preaching of God's word will change us when we refuse to allow the very Word of God to be incarnate in us and through us. Hearing the word is nothing without regeneration, and regeneration comes through the indwelling of Christ's Spirit in us. His Spirit will certainly be exemplified not in mere faith, but as James says, in our every action. And what are the actions of a regenerated, Spirit filled heart? As Philippians tells us, the doctrine of other is the embodiment of Jesus Christ himself, and it is in like manner we are to become incarnate towards others. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!"
God has blessed all of us with constant reminders of the otherness which exists in his world. Some are married and some are single. Some are teachers and some are evangelists. Some have disabilities and some have more physical and mental prowess. Some are young and some are old. Whatever your church and community consist of, I can guarantee you it consists of others and otherness. This is not a flaw and it is not a call to require assimilation. It is a call to praise God for diversity and for his mercy and grace in using each of us in our strengths and weaknesses. But above all, it is a gracious reminder of our triune God that we do not exist as gods who live for ourselves, but as creatures who are to live in loving community. In a culture saturated with individualistic and materialistic tendencies, no reminder could be as important in drawing us away from the first damnable lie told so long ago, that to be like God, we must eat of the fruit and satisfy ourselves. No, in the person of Christ God showed us what it means to truly be like God. To be like God we must condescend to live incarnate lives, laying down our preferences, comfort, and lives for others. This is how Jesus draws all humanity to himself, how Jesus glorifies the Father, and how Jesus is exalted. In like manner we must take up our crosses if we are to be like the God who Jesus perfectly revealed. Only when we do this will we no longer be mere "believers," but true followers. Only then will we be like God.