They say “clothes make the man.”  I believe it, but not in the way you may think.

A decade ago I was finishing my graduate degree and seeking a job in ministry.  My job search narrowed to three very good options, one of which is the fantastic job with a private Christian high school I still have to this day.  Another very enticing option was your traditional preaching position at a great church in upstate New York.  I have never regretted turning down that job offer — because of the fulfillment I have in my present ministry — but I am sure I would have been very happy with that welcoming community of believers too. 

Throughout the interviewing process with this church, my main contact had always been a particular man whose name I am afraid I can no longer remember.  But I will never forget his heart.  I imagine we have all met people for whom it seems God is as present a reality as a flesh-and-blood companion.  This man was one of those kind of people.  I guess I had met a few others like that through my life up to that point, and I have met others since then, but they are rare and so inspiring when you find them.  My New York contact left quite an impression on me.  God was always lurking under the surface or around the corner in every conversation.  He was as active a participant in the events of this man’s life as his wife or kids.  God’s actions were as certain to this man as those of his boss or his friends.  And God got all the credit for the good my contact found in the world and in others.  Some of the last words this man said to me as we sat in the airport waiting for my plane back to Memphis were: “I am very thankful for the God I see in you.”  The GOD I see in you!  He didn’t say he was thankful for me or my abilities or my willingness to serve.  No, he was able to look past me and see that anything good in me was truly coming from the God in me.  How impressionable!  How right!  What a blessing my encounter with this man has remained a decade later. 

In today’s reading we come to a perfect word for what this man possessed: “God-consciousness.”  This idea is connected in this passage with the clothing metaphor that runs throughout.

Children of Adam, We [Allah] have given you garments to cover your nakedness and as adornment for you; the garment of God-consciousness is the best of all garments. (7:26)

It was this clothing of God-consciousness that Adam and Eve possessed.  But it was not long before Satan stripped them of these clean clothes and God began to fade from humanity’s collective consciousness (7:27).  But the Children of Adam can once again “dress well” (7:31) by directing our “worship straight to Him,” by devoting our “religion entirely to Him” (7:29).  This is the worship of a person like the man I met from New York whose God is so big it fills his consciousness.  This is the kind of person for whom it is as important to “put on” God in the morning as it is a pair of pants.  This man is always properly dressed.  At the end of life, a “God-conscious” man gives all praise to God for guiding him there, knowing had it not been for God he never would have found his resting place in the Garden of delights (7:43).  Like the New Yorker, God is always just under the surface.  That is God-consciousness.    

Commentator Abdullah Yusuf Ali says this about this clothing metaphor in his translation of the Qur’an:

There is a double philosophy of clothes here. Spiritually, God created man “bare and alone” (6:94): the soul in its naked purity and beauty knew no shame because it knew no guilt. After it was touched by guilt and soiled by evil, its thoughts and deeds became its clothing and adornments, good or bad, honest or meretricious [tawdry], according to the inner motives which gave them colour. . . . But the best clothing and ornament we could have comes from righteousness, which covers the nakedness of sin, and adorns us with virtues.

These “clothes” really do make the man.