Genesis 3:11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
Shame distorts our thinking and behavior. It makes us fearful, secretive, distant, and obsessive. It disorders our priorities, twists our values, and hollows out our relationships. God continually invites us from shame into grace, which necessarily leads through a thorough, open admission of our failing, and so he asks Adam to open up to him about his shame. If we refuse grace, then we will inevitably buy into legalism, either redoubling our efforts at goodness to earn back acceptance or downplaying our failings to make us look acceptable: making excuses, denying fault, blaming others, and a thousand other deflections to soothe our guilt.
Neither alternative to grace is convincing to ourselves—under a legal system we never feel fully accepted. Perfectionism is unattainable so it leads to constant striving though always falling short, but turning the other direction and downplaying the demands of the law so that we meet some reduced standard is also unconvincing to our consciences. Our efforts to satisfy the law are just so many silly fig leaves to cover our shame.
The whole scheme of trying to earn acceptance is a disastrous plan. Our worth to God is not diminished by our betrayals or increased by our earnest efforts. We are loved because God is loving, not because we are inherently loveable, and this is true of Adam and Eve even in their innocence. Grace precedes sin. It is already actively at work embracing the first couple not because they are so wonderful but because God is so wonderful. Adam and Eve, blind to this unconditional nature of God’s love, choose to hide their sense of shame until they are called out.
Grace, like a healing ointment, only heals what it touches, so the more complete our admission of guilt, the more fully it can relieve our suffering and restore the breaks in our relationship. A thorough admission is not at all the same as a cringing admission as though we could earn God’s grace by our self-flagellation. God never wishes us to grovel, which really flows from a doubt in his love and grace and so can stymie its work in us. We rather come with confidence to God’s throne of grace (Heb. 4:13), confident not in our deserving, but in God’s matchless love.