Gazing At Our Father’s Nakedness (Jan-Apr 2006)

By Matt Dabbs

by Scott Sager
January – April, 2006

“Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, gazed at his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.” (Gen. 9: 20-22)

Poor Noah.

By anyone’s account he had had a rough last hundred years or so. Born to be a farmer, God placed in Noah the hope of the entire world. When Noah found grace in God’s eyes it immediately made him a carpenter. What if your first wood-shop project involved building a watertight ark big enough to handle at least two of all the animals in the world? God planned the ark-itecture, and Noah and his three sons got busy collecting wood, constructing the vessel and preparing for the coming of all the animals.

This monumental project began when Noah was 500 years old, and for 100 years he built, he fathered and he preached righteousness to the people who came to see his “vessel of dreams” —when he builds it the rains will come. For one hundred years Noah talked about God, judgment, grace and the wet stuff from the sky that was going to fall. During this time his children grew up, the animals showed up and God finally got fed up. God closed the door and the rain began to fall. The world was flooded and God began to start anew with Noah and the boys.

Noah spent just over a year on the open sea with an ark full of animals. The pressure was enormous! Imagine if you and your family were the sole survivors of a nuclear war that exterminated all life from this world. The ark was Noah’s bunker, and restoring civilization was his charge. After a year he found himself on the top of Mt. Ararat, and the first step off the boat was a doozy. The door of the ark swung open to reveal a world God had returned to pristine splendor. What must it have felt like to be God’s second Adam, and to sense that you were God’s new creation?

Noah got everyone and everything off the ark. He sacrificed to God and received a new covenant from Yahweh as well. Then Noah went back to his roots, back to farming and back to doing what he really loved—growing grapes and making wine. Perhaps Noah had packed a few vines in an out of the way spot on the ark, or maybe God had some grand ones just waiting for him. It would have taken him three years to get the kind of grapes he was waiting for, but finally they arrived.

For the past hundred years Noah had been too busy saving the world to enjoy a good glass of wine. Now was the first time he could really kick his feet up, enjoy the aroma of a great glass of Merlot and savor the taste as the wine swished around his mouth and over his tongue. Noah was enjoying himself remembering all the good times he had shared around a glass of wine and then it hit him….

Most of the people he had memories of sharing a drink with had died in the flood! His drinking buddies were all gone; they had died a violent death. Now there was no one his age with his shared experiences left in the world. Noah began drinking more and more. Soon he was drunk, and went back to his tent to sleep. Tearing off his clothes he flung them wildly around the tent, but before he could get into bed he passed out. Noah was now a 600-year old man drunk as a skunk, passed out naked on the floor of the tent.

The youngest of Noah’s three sons was named Ham (what youngest son isn’t one?) Ham went looking for Noah early the next morning and found his dad stone cold drunk, past out naked in the middle of the tent floor. Needless to say this was not a pretty sight—Noah was exposed. Ham stood at the entrance and gazed at his father’s nakedness. When Ham saw what he saw, and realized what he had witnessed it struck him that he had found his father in the most compromising of positions. Ham smiled the grin of a silly fool and began to laugh at his father.

Detail of Sistine Chapel ceiling - Noahs Drunkenness - by MichaelangeloGoing outside, Ham began to think about how to use his father’s weakened position to his own benefit. Ham was the youngest in the family—he knew what it was like to be the smallest and last. Ham wondered how he could leverage his new knowledge about his dad into a better standing for himself. Ham was happy his father’s standing was weakened and he hoped exposing him might damage Noah’s integrity and undercut dad’s moral authority. So Ham went like a bad tabloid to tell his brothers.

Ham smiled and giggled as he told his older siblings about dad’s wild night on the town. He wanted his brothers to join in his laughter and share in his contempt for their old man. Noah became the butt of his jokes and then Ham tried to get his brothers to go inside the tent and laugh at dad’s late night escapade. Dad couldn’t hold his liquor, couldn’t handle his business and left himself exposed as a drunk.

Ham’s brothers Shem and Japheth were too wise to get sucked into such a despicable scene. They reasoned, “If our father Noah had found grace in God’s eyes, then shouldn’t he find grace in our eyes as well?” They had watched their dad work tirelessly and faithfully for over 100 years. They knew it was their dad’s faith that had preserved them, and that all that was right and good about the life they were now living could be tied back to him. They remembered their dad’s holy fear and deep devotion to God. They remembered his trusting faith even as the world doubted. They recalled the integrity dad had displayed in preaching righteousness to every person who showed up to ridicule them for building a giant barge on dry land.

Recalling all that was good and right about their faithful father, Shem and Japheth resolved not to laugh. They resolved not to look. They resolved to cover Noah up without creating a cover-up. So Shem and Japheth went and found a blanket. Shem held one side while Japheth held the other. Walking into Noah’s tent backwards, with their faces looking the other way, the two boys draped a blanket over their dad without ever needing to gaze at his nakedness. Then they resolved to never talk about it again.

When Noah finally awoke, he realized what his youngest had done. Noah then cursed not only Ham, but Ham’s son Canaan! Ham had failed to respect his father. He had gazed upon Noah’s nakedness and laughed—and those who came after Ham would pay for the sins of their father. Noah then blessed Shem and Japheth for caring about their father’s reputation, and coming with compassion in his time of need.

The problem with established religious movements like the Churches of Christ and with established churches like mine is that we all have “a Noah moment.” In each of our histories is at least one event where we made the wrong decision. Honest reflection requires an admission that there have been times when we have somehow gotten drunk on pride and made a spiritual decision that exposed our own nakedness. For instance, in the past some of us have gotten drunk on the pride of being “the only Christians.” We have exposed our nakedness by telling the world we were the only ones going to heaven.

Years ago we got drunk on racial pride. We exposed ourselves as naked with our position to slavery in America. We continued to expose our own nakedness when we were late to end racial separation. We got drunk on the pride of maintaining male dominance in society. We exposed ourselves as naked when we preached against woman’s rights. We exposed our nakedness when we drank the pride of a superior blueprint theology and exposed our nakedness when we insisted that kitchens in church buildings, one cup or two, Sunday school or not, mattered to God.

I wonder if young people today feel we are drinking the pride of Restoration traditionalism—insisting that restoration churches have to be a certain way. I think they feel we are exposed and naked when they hear a position still being held that insists the use of instrumental music in worship is a sin. I think they see us exposing our nakedness by refusing to open opportunities to woman that even a conservative reading of the New Testament would certainly allow.

So how should the church respond when we realize the “moments of nakedness” in those who have gone before us? How do we respond to the embarrassing situations that are still in our tent? You recall Jesus once told a story about three men who happened upon a man beaten, naked and left for dead. Two who past by without helping blamed the fallen man for his condition and were too busy to stop and offer help. The third, a Good Samaritan, showed genuine compassion and even pity for the man left exposed on the side of the road. Getting off his animal he used oil and wine, a bandage and a donkey to bring this fallen man back to the Inn where he belonged. Jesus said it was the neighborly thing to do. Shem and Japheth might add it is the brotherly thing to do as well.

Our forefathers in the Churches of Christ have, for the most part, been spiritual, godly, brilliant men of great faith. Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address is still widely considered one of the finest religious documents ever produced in America. Alexander Campbell’s life story speaks of a man of superior faith, intellect and influence few of us could ever hope to match. Barton Stone led one of the greatest revivals in American History that single-handedly changed the shape of American frontier religion. These men, and many who came after them, left a legacy that indicates “they found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”

As we study their lives however, we will find moments where they made a poor spiritual decision and were left (spiritually speaking) exposed to be drunk and naked. Why should that surprise us? We will always be able to look at the past and find wrong decisions. Yes, it is easy then to gaze at the nakedness of earlier restorationist’s and laugh. Laughing is always easy. But God is not honored in our laughter, and we become smaller every time we do so. There is no blessing in poking fun at the dark moments in our church’s past—just ask Ham.

Like Noah’s wise sons we can cover up the nakedness of those who went before us, and we can do it without it being a “cover-up.” We do not say it never happened; we just quit picking at the scab that is causing it to bleed again and again. Like the Samaritan, we can get off our donkey and bear the burdens of someone who went before us. While others laugh we will cover the nakedness and bind up the wounds of our forefathers and carry them back to the Inn.. Oil and wine in the hands of a Good Samaritan can allow years of scabbing and bleeding to finally heal.

Unless the Lord returns soon, our day of being spiritually exposed as drunk and naked will come. One day some hot-shot group of young, bright preachers and progressive elders and academicians will happen upon some poor decisions we have made. They will gaze upon us: old, drunk and naked–exposed in all our glory as broken jars of clay. They will question our wisdom, and wonder why we drew lines where we did. They will marvel at how times have changed and the fresh light that has been revealed upon issues. All of this will expose our short-comings and failures.

They might gaze at our nakedness and laugh at us like Ham did. They might pick at our scabs with self-righteousness, then walk by on the other side of the road leaving us to suffer our indignity alone. Or they might just join Shem and Japheth in covering up our nakedness instead. Perhaps they will think of how hard we tried, and all the ways God used us for good—the grace we found in God’s eyes. Then they might get down off their high horses and bind up the wounds of their forefathers and carry us back to the Inn.

They will be much more likely to do so, if that is the legacy we have left them.
New Wineskins

Scott SagerScott Sager is the preaching minister at Preston Road Church of Christ, Dallas, TX. He received his M.Div. from Abilene Christian University in 1991 and achieved his Doctor of Ministry from SMU in 2005 in the area of evangelism—graduated with highest honors on project thesis. He served six years as Campus Minister at the University of Texas, and was Editor of Campus CrossWalk Magazine; then two years as Associate at the Preston Road Church of Christ with Lynn Anderson. He has served on the Board of Camp of the Hills, Board of the Christian Relief Fund, and as Director of Christ’s Family Ministries — a non-profit health clinic for the working poor located at PRCC. His hobbies include golf, jogging, book clubs and all sports. Reach him at [sager@prestonroad.org].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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