Vulnerability and Exploitation
If you choose to put your lips to the fruit of that tree, it will prove to be the kiss of death for you. (Gen. 2:17 paraphrased)
The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25 NIV)
The biblical understanding of nakedness refers to the condition of being vulnerable.
It is no coincidence that humans were originally created naked and vulnerable, for that is how God intends all the universe to operate throughout eternity. Without vulnerability it is impossible for true love to even exist or thrive. Genuine, intimate love requires willing vulnerability, transparency, honesty and openness in order for love and trust to thrive and dominate.
It is no coincidence that the very next verse introduces a sinister element into the story transpiring in the Garden of Delight (the real meaning of Eden) where our first parents lived in complete vulnerability and joy. The sneaky snake, the crafty, diabolical serpent of old referred to in Revelation 12 is defined with a word rooted in the very same base word as this description of our first parents. Only in his case it is the very opposite of vulnerable. The serpent introduces the factor of exploitation, a disposition to take selfish advantage of vulnerability wherever it finds it.
Selfishness is the disposition to exploit vulnerability with more interest in what the exploiter might gain from the experience while caring little or nothing about what or who is being exploited. Sin, then, is antagonistic toward all God's creation. Selfless love cannot thrive in a heart bent on exploiting. Love and exploitation are opposites, for love removes all fear while exploitation by its very nature elicits fear and thrives on it.
Let me offer a very crude visual aid to portray the relationship of vulnerability and exploitation spanning the entire course of the history of the universe from eternity past to eternity future.
Notice that before exploitation ever existed, vulnerability was the only atmosphere that defined everything and everyone. Before creation ever existed, the triune God defined as love lived in complete vulnerability with each other, for if God truly is love, it must be that for this love to even exist there had to be complete vulnerability.
As God began creating, nothing was out of harmony with this basic principle of love couched in complete vulnerability. Indeed, the very existence of sin itself is proof of this fact, for without vulnerability sin would have had no capacity to even come into existence. It was the vulnerability of God and His universe that allowed Lucifer to begin questioning the very wisdom of vulnerability and to experiment with imagining what existence might be possible if one were to choose an alternative.
Because intelligent beings are created with the freedom to choose for themselves whether to live in love or not means that God's creation is vulnerable to exploitation should anyone choose a way of life apart from love and dependence on their loving Creator. This is precisely how sin originated, and no less than in the mind of the most brilliant created being in the universe exercising his free will to develop an alternative system where vulnerability would be scorned and freedom would come to be viewed as something dangerous. This, despite the fact that without both of these factors immovably entrenched in the very foundation of God's government – freedom and vulnerability – it would have been impossible for Lucifer to even initiate a rebellion.
Because we have been immersed our entire lives in lies about God and about what is good and right, we have been preconditioned to think that vulnerability is often a bad thing, something to be avoided. We do so because we are keenly aware that vulnerability generally invites exploitation by those who have little or no boundaries or self-restraint, who live selfishly looking for opportunities to exploit. This follows in the pattern of the first great exploiter, the lion who is not the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
The question inevitably arises when discussion about vulnerability as being the atmosphere of God's kingdom comes up. “It may be fine and good to look forward to heaven where it might be safe to live in complete vulnerability. But how can anyone practically live in this world now by choosing to live vulnerable when it is almost a guarantee that one will be exploited?”
I bring this question up, not because I feel I have all the answers figured out but because my own heart keeps asking this very question. Yet at the same time the conviction is unshakeable that I must choose this path if I desire to participate in the kingdom Jesus came to establish, not only when restored throughout the entire universe but today. If I am unwilling to be vulnerable like Jesus demonstrated while here on earth, I cannot enter into His kingdom either now or in the future.
Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3 NAS95)
It is almost like I am being asked to lay down all my protective defenses, abandon all my hiding places and techniques and make myself vulnerable to exploitation with no hope of protection. And in some sense that is true, for what else did Jesus have in mind when He repeatedly talked about a willingness to die if we wanted to be His followers?
Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mark 8:35)
Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. (Luke 17:33)
The cross was the symbol of the ultimate exploitation, the public shaming and humiliation of a person as they were slowly tortured to death. The cross was all about exploiting vulnerability, so to choose a cross rather than trying to avoid it at all cost would sound like the height of insanity, completely illogical. Why in the world would anyone in their right mind every choose to take up a cross on their own? Why indeed, unless it is to prove once and for all eternity that God really is vulnerable and that Satan's accusations against Him are totally unfounded.
Jesus talks about being ashamed. What does it mean to be ashamed of someone? Shame has to do with vulnerability gone awry. Remember the original condition of our first parents in Eden? They were naked and vulnerable, yet there was no shame at all. Why was that? Because they existed in perfect love, perfect trust, perfect openness, transparency, intimacy and joy. That is how each of us are designed to live and what every one of our heart's crave to experience. We were made for love, and love requires the atmosphere of vulnerability. Yet we also need freedom from shame in order to thrive.
So what went wrong with God's design? Did God make a huge mistake by allowing the very author of exploitation access to the vulnerability that defined the Garden of Eden? If we think God made a mistake, we may find ourselves feeling ashamed of the very One who created us to live and thrive in the atmosphere of vulnerability and believe He cannot be trusted, just as our first parent's came to think about Him. To be ashamed can mean we think a mistake has been made and create a lack of trust. In short, to be ashamed of Jesus, the One who created us in the first place, is to distrust Him. And distrust of God is the very essence of sin. Yet unbelief and distrust of God are unavoidable so long as we believe lies of the exploiter, for fear and distrust always result so long as we believe God is not trustworthy. The outcome will always involve taking things into our own hands and looking for alternative ways and sources to provide for our needs including protection from exploitation.
As I mentioned above in my crude illustration of the relationship between vulnerability and exploitation through the history of the universe, God began with everything beautiful and vulnerable, but an enemy came in and began to exploit that for his own selfish interests. The result has been mayhem and destruction that we see all throughout history and increasing even today.
I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:9-10)
One of the hidden questions that lurks in the back of our minds is whether or not God is really vulnerable or not. That is precisely the issue Lucifer leveraged at the very beginning of his grand experiment with sin to further his deceptions to entice myriads of angels to embrace his lies about God. By convincing them that God was not willing to be as vulnerable as He expected everyone else to be, Satan created doubts about God's goodness, integrity and the very existence of agape love itself. If love is not actually as vulnerable as it is purported to be, then God is a liar and Satan is right in his accusations against God's government. But if God really is vulnerable, then why does it seem He remains so distant and untouchable while everyone else is susceptible to being exploited?
How does God respond to such compelling insinuations about Himself that still haunt our thinking today? First He created an entire world designed to illustrate even more vividly than anything seen before, the nature and character of His own heart exhibited in more tangible displays that could help make it easier to grasp what He was like inside. Our world and everything in it was God's response to the attack on His government and the allegations about His character.
As the ultimate crowning act of creation, He personally formed beings in His own image that would reflect the heart of the triune godhead (Elohim, plural form) to demonstrate that in fact vulnerability and love would always be the basis on which He would relate to others and nothing would ever change that. The vulnerability of our world was not a mistake but was intentional, and the fact that the great exploiter took advantage of that did not prove God to be the fool. Rather, in the long term it will be seen that Satan is the fool and that vulnerability is not a weakness but rather God's greatest strength.
If this all seems illogical, that is no surprise. Our typical logic and wisdom is all conditioned by faulty assumptions and worldly wisdom infected by the lies about God inherent in selfishness and sin. Not until the Son of God came to this earth as Jesus to demonstrate as a vulnerable human being the true character and disposition of God could it clearly observed that indeed God really is as vulnerable as He designed His creation to be. In addition, vulnerability will always remain the preferred atmosphere of God's kingdom, one in which truth, love and freedom can exist and joy is the norm. Any alternative system is doomed to self-destruct. All exploitation will one day cease to exist and vulnerability will be fully restored as the only normal after sin has exhausted itself into extinction.
But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. (Revelation 12:11)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:3-4)