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There is a very strange story in Genesis about Noah. Maybe you’ve read it. You can find it in chapter 9, after Noah and his family have weathered the flood. Everyone is safe and all is well, but that’s not the end of the story.
As Noah’s family begins to rebuild, they plant a vineyard. One day Noah drinks too much wine, and he passes out drunk in his tent. Here’s what happens next:
When [Noah] drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. (21-23)
This is already a weird father-son scenario, but Noah’s response is even more confusing. When Noah wakes up and discovers what Ham had done, he curses him. Shem and Japheth, he blesses.
That’s the end of the story.
A couple years ago I wrote about this passage, and what it teaches us about gossip. However, on Sunday our teaching pastor, Steve Daugherty, preached a message that gave me a whole new perspective on it. It was just too good not to share.
In his sermon, Steve talked about “grace and truth.” He explained that the root word of “truth” means “uncovering,” a contrast with the word “grace,” which often implies “covering.” In Genesis 3, for instance, God covers the nakedness of Adam and Eve. As Christians, we are “covered” in the blood of Christ.
“Grace and truth,” then–the kind that comes through Jesus (John 1:17)–is both a covering and an uncovering.
Steve pointed out the importance of this covering/uncovering combination when we think about speaking truth to others. Before we uncover, we must cover. To explain this concept, he used the illustration of a changing room in a store. If you wanted to try on an outfit, you wouldn’t strip down in the middle of the aisle. Not only could you get arrested, but you wouldn’t be comfortable doing it. No one wants to lay themselves bare in public.
Instead, you step into the changing room. That thin swath of fabric makes a world of difference. Behind the covering of that curtain, you feel safe and comfortable to strip down.
Grace is like that.
Grace is the changing room where truth is safely uncovered. It’s a place where we can be stripped without feeling exposed, and Jesus exemplified this all the time. In John 8, Jesus spoke truth to the woman caught in adultery–“Go and sin no more”–but not before showing her grace. Before her uncovering, he created a covering.
This perspective is helpful because it provides an understanding of grace that isn’t overly vague. It’s so easy to “speak truth” in a coarse way and call it grace. “Tough love,” we say. But the changing room of grace reminds us: before the vulnerable uncovering of a hard truth, we should do everything in our power to cover, to honor, to love.
Which brings us back to Noah. Noah was already naked when his sons found him, but Ham found a way to strip him even further. He multiplied Noah’s shame by telling others about it, and forfeited any opportunity to have a truthful conversation with him later.
Shem and Japheth, on the other hand, covered Noah’s sin. They honored him and and dignified him. They communicated their love and respect. We don’t know what they did with that opportunity, but hopefully they used it well. Hopefully they didn’t simply “cover” and hide, as shame and cheap grace will tempt us to do.
It’s easy to swing in one direction or the other, but we need both truth and grace. If you swing toward truth, if you are not afraid to “call out” a friend or a person on the internet for some perceived wrong, I hope you can take this lesson to heart. Before you uncover, do everything you can to cover. This is how we witness to the good news that God first covered us.