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Topics: Genesis 1–3, Womanhood, Women, Women in Ministry

Modesty in the Shadow of the Fall

July 30, 2013

 modesty in light of the fall

By Courtney Reissig

In a recent post on the Q Ideas blog, Rachel Held Evans tackles the ever popular (or unpopular) topic of modesty. After presenting varying spectrums of the modesty discussion, she comes to this conclusion:

 “And so biblical modesty isn’t about managing the sexual impulses of other people; it’s about cultivating humility, propriety and deference within ourselves.”

Often, she says, the modesty discussion centers on shaming a woman for having a curvy figure or a beautiful frame. But she sees the exhortations for modesty in the Bible as focusing more on a modesty of spirit, rather than dress. The female body is beautiful and we can’t get away from that.

Is the common exhortation to dress modestly failing to recognize the beauty of the female body?

The Bible never presents modesty as a covering for the shame of a woman’s body. God created men and women in his image, and this means he created a woman’s body for his glory. The Song of Solomon is full of vivid imagery coming from a man who very much is attracted to his future wife’s body. God created a woman’s body to be visually appealing to a man, but not just any man. Within the beautiful love story of Song of Solomon are these careful words: do not awaken love before its proper time (Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4). There is a time and place for enjoying the wife of your youth. So God never presents a woman’s body as shameful or distasteful, but he does give parameters for how we are to view it.

Any discussion of modesty, purity, or simply life in general, must carry with it an understanding of what it means to live in this fallen world. It is true that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. It is also true that our bodies bring glory to God. But part of that glory is only meant to be seen and experienced within the covenant of marriage. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed precisely because of the covenant. It was only when the covenant was marred by sin that they frantically tried to cover their nakedness.

As I was preparing to get married, the dress shop owner where I bought my wedding dress recounted to me how she had just seen a high school student who looked amazing in her prom dress. She had chosen a tight, strapless mini dress for the event and the owner remarked that this girl had “a body to die for.” In her mind, the girl had it and she deserved to flaunt it.

God is not ashamed of our bodies. He created us. But we also live in a post-Genesis 3 world, where we are no longer “naked and unashamed.” Every morning when we put on clothing, it is a reminder that things are not as they should be. We can’t go back to the perfection of Eden, and there are displays of our body that are not glorifying to God simply because they reveal what God has seen fit to cover.

John Piper has this to say about modesty in the shadow of the fall:

“You are not what you were and you are not what you ought to be. The chasm between what you are and what you ought to be is huge. Covering yourself with clothing is a right response to this—not to conceal it, but to confess it. Henceforth, you shall wear clothing, not to conceal that you are not what you should be, but to confess that you are not what you should be. One practical implication of this is that public nudity today is not a return to innocence but rebellion against moral reality. God ordains clothes to witness to the glory we have lost, and it is added rebellion to throw them off.”

Evans is right to say that women should not feel like they are walking stumbling blocks to all men simply because they look like women. But in addition to her misunderstanding of modesty, she also fails to understand that because of the fall even our bodies (male and female) are not as they should be. Our discussions surrounding modesty must consider that God clothes Adam and Eve. He saw fit to cover their nakedness, not because he was ashamed of their bodies, but because part of their glory had been lost when they sinned.

Modesty matters precisely because we live in a post-Genesis 3 world. Everyone is telling a story about our relationship to God by what we choose or choose not to wear. What we wear is an outpouring of our hearts, telling a story about how we view our bodies in the shadow of the fall.

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