Epidermal Theology
January 27, 2020

Skin is philosophically intriguing. It’s our largest and most sensitive organ. It’s a forming principle, working with the skeleton to give shape to the body. The beauty of a beautiful person is, in large measure, the radiance of skin.

Skin is the boundary between our inside and outside, and like all boundaries it both separates regions and serves as the point of contact between them. While skin shuts us off from the world, while it “imprisons” us (Diane Ackerman), it also gives us access to the world.

Without skin, we couldn’t touch. Touch is our first sense; infants get to know things by touch – with fingers, toes, and tongue. It’s our last sense; when our eyes fade and our ears close, we can still touch. Without touch, we couldn’t function in a world of three-dimensional space. We’d be limited to the comparative flatland of vision.

Skin is also theologically interesting. The whole story of the Bible is a story of skin.

As soon as Adam and Eve sin, they instinctively realize their shame registers on their skin. They instinctively know what Leviticus 13 elaborates, that blemishes on their skin make them unfit for the presence of God. So they make coverings, a second-skin, to meet their Maker.

Fig leaves are inadequate skins, but Yahweh doesn’t leave them naked. In the first act of sacrifice, God provides animal skins to cover their shame and to invest them to rule the creation (Genesis 3:21). Since the fall, we're all Eustace Scrubb, in need of new skin.

Every sacrifice after is a removal of old skin and the gift of new. A sacrificial animal is stripped, then placed on the altar to be re-clothed with glory-fire. When the animal ascends, it leaves behind its skin, which goes to the priest, as Elijah leaves his cloak for Elisha after ascending in a fiery chariot, as Jesus clothes us with His Spirit after His ascension.

The tabernacle has two layers of skin. The inner layer is ram’s skin died red, the skin of a land animal; the outer layer is porpoise or dugong skin, the skin of a sea animal (Exodus 25:5). Covered by land and sea skin, the tabernacle is a microcosm.

The tent is also an architectural human, covered with skin, anticipating the Word who was with God and was God and entered our skin.

The skin of Moses’ face was “horned,” reflecting the glory of Yahweh (Exodus 34:29-30, 35). The Word is that glory, and He entered our skin to give us new skin, so that we can stand with unveiled face and glow with glory.

Creation, fall, incarnation, exaltation, our present and future glory: It envelops us, literally as close as our skin.

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