Seeing God Differently: God as Clothes

by Rev. Doug Gray

His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college. He is intelligent. Kind of esoteric and very, very bright. He became a Christian while attending college. Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students, but are not sure how to go about it. One day, Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair. The service has already started, so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find a seat. By now people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Bill gets closer to the pulpit, and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right on the carpet. That may happen in a college fellowship, but it had never happened in that church before! We all run into people like Bill, if not in church then somewhere in our week. In a split second, we take their measure. How do we do that? What do you think? If we were in this situation, how would we evaluate Bill?

I agree. Long before we ever speak to a person, we communicate with our clothes and our behavior, don’t we? So when Laura Winner, in her book Wearing God, drew my attention to the fact that God is sometimes talked about like clothing, at first I thought she was nuts. And then I thought hmmm.

For example, sometimes clothes really do make us feel different. Do you remember getting your first set of real work clothes? Maybe it was a uniform, or maybe it was steel-toed boots, or the fierce black pencil skirt. For me, it was a charcoal gray, gabardine wool suit. I was getting ready to graduate from college. My aunt and uncle knew I needed a power suit for interviews, and so they worked out with my mom, and we went shopping, got the tailor to make the alterations, and I put it on with a crisp white shirt and a power tie. I remember the feel of it as I put it on—the smooth softness of it, and the way it fit just right. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a grown-up me, the me that could land a job and pay the bills. Whenever I put on that suit, I experienced the love of my Aunt and Uncle and my mom, the sense of power and authority that came with it, a sense that I could do anything and do it as well or better than someone else. People would take me seriously in that suit. Or maybe you have a party outfit, when you are just hanging out with some friends after a long day. What do you wear for that? When you put on those clothes, do you feel yourself relax? What would it be like if we tried to put on God, as Paul suggests? The way Paul describes it, when we are putting on Christ, we are layering up for a cold world. First, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience are close to our skin—soft and warm in all kinds of weather. Next comes forgiveness—a little more protective and durable. And then over all, is love, which makes it all work. What would it feel like to put on Christ?

Another example is that sometimes clothes communicate belonging. Were you ever on a team? Whether that’s an athletic team, or a work team, or a group of fans of one thing or another, there’s a uniform you wear—the team colors, the team logo, the team gear. We wear them so we can tell who belongs to our team, right? It reinforces some of the positive energy that helps us be a team or root for our team. ‘Course, there’s a downside to that, if you are someone not sporting the team uniform. One of my good friends is a baseball fan and was excited to get to go to a ball game. Of course, he wore his team colors to show he was a real fan. When he showed up at the ball game, it didn’t take him long to figure out he was different. If I told you he wore a Yankees jersey and hat to a Red Sox game, would you understand how lonely he might have felt that evening?

Which brings us back to Bill, coming to church with no shoes, jeans, a t-shirt, and wild hair. Bill was not wearing the team uniform. I can imagine the church packed with people in suits and dresses—a formal place. Of course, Bill stands out! One would hope in a church that he wouldn’t get treated like a Yankee at a Red Sox game. Well, it didn’t take long for the people to get really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick. About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly, but with great determination, making his way toward Bill. Now the deacon is in his eighties, he has silver-gray hair, and a three-piece suit. He is what some would say was the perfect image of a godly man—very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this young man, everyone is saying to themselves that you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor? It takes a long time for the deacon to reach the young man. The church is utterly silent, except for the clicking of the man’s cane. All eyes are focused on him. The minister can’t even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do. And now they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won’t feel alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion. When the minister gains control, he says, “What I’m about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget.” He is right. For this, too, is a tale of clothing. By coming and sitting next to Bill, this deacon, who is part of that church’s culture, and more, who has put on Christ, has covered any shame or awkwardness Bill might be feeling, and even clothed him in grace, so others in that culture will be less likely to humiliate him. When we are clothed in Christ, we have a part in clothing others, using the same spirit of welcome and hospitality Jesus has shown us. Scripture calls it the white robe of a right relationship with God.

Today, when you get home, you may take off your “Sunday go to meeting” clothes, and put on your comfy clothes or perhaps your Patriots team colors. But I hope you will consider continuing to wear your God-clothes through the day. And tomorrow as you rise, put on your God-clothes first—compassion, kindness, humility and patience, forgiveness and over all, love. Maybe if we put on Christ first, whatever else we wear, whatever else we do, it will be more of grace. And perhaps the more we wear Christ, the more comfortable we begin to feel with God, the more others recognize our true team clothes are God’s.