This is the second part of the article that appeared in the spring Priscilla Papers.
To fully understand a book, it’s a good idea to start reading at the beginning because you usually get a focus there for what follows. The same is true of the Bible. To really understand what it’s all about, you need to begin with the Beginning. That gives you a perspective on cosmic and human history that puts the rest of Scripture in focus. We then see the Bible “through the Lens of Eden,” as Mildred Enns Toews from Winnipeg, Manitoba says.
But before we take a fresh look at the Beginning, let’s have a little fun. Another thing we overlook in Scripture is the humor. Anthropologists tell us that humor is the most difficult form of communication to translate into a different language. Perhaps that’s why we don’t recognize it when we see it in the Bible.
Let your imagination run loose for a minute. What I’m going to say is not found in Scripture, but I believe the point is bliblical.
Have you ever heard Bill Cosby’s dialogue between Noah and God? In that spirit, let’s take a flight of fantasy and imagine a dialogue between a present-day Adam and God. It might sound like this:
ADAM WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
Who me, Lord? It’s the woman thou gavest me. she talks too much, she’s completely scatterbrained, and you can never tell when she’s going to make a left turn.
RIGHT, ADAM. BUT LOOK AT THIS! IT HAS BEEN WRITIEN RECENTLY – AND THE FACTS CANNOT BE DENIED – THAT MEN TALK MORE THAN WOMEN IN A MIXED GROUP; ALAS, IT ALSO SEEMS THAT WOMEN ORGANlZE BETTER THAN MEN; AND FINALLY, ABOUT THE LEFT TURN – DOESN’T IT MAKE LIFE MORE INTERESTING?
Well, God, at least you made me first!
NO, ADAM. I MADE THE AMOEBA FIRST. AND THEN THE FISH, AND THEN BIRDS, AND THEN THE ANIMALS – IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!
Keep that little fantasy in mind, now. Then look with me at the real story in the first chapters of Genesis.
The first thing I see is God. God is. Then I see what God has done. God created all things. Next I see that God is good. Because everything God made was good.
“Let there be light”….and God saw that the light was good.
God separated water and dry land…and God saw that it was good.
God made the vegetable life and the small seeds that carry giant oaks inside them and that was good.
God made the sun, moon and stars,… and God saw that it was good.
God created animals so the world became a gigantic zoological garden – that was good too.
God made the human – just one, not two.
And that was not good.
The only time it was not good was when the man was alone.
But God soon fixed that; he separated the human into male and female.
And God gave them the privilege and joy of administering the garden.
That was very good.
It was good, it was good, it was good.
Good is God’s purpose for all creation.
The animals were not equal to the man, so they could not assuage his terrible loneliness – the “not good.” But when God created the woman, the man recognized his equal – “bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh.” She has his same strength of bone, and his same weakness of flesh. In other words, writes Samuel J. Terrien, they each shared the full spectrum of human characteristics. And because either of them alone would have been “not good,” they were mutually interdependent. They were “for” each other. “For” in the sense of “being in support of”, not in the sense of “being used by.”
God’s gift of co-humanity brought forth the first shout of human ecstasy. After the disappointing parade of animals, Adam may have fallen asleep thinking that even God had failed to find a companion for him. When he awoke and God brought the woman to him, he exclaimed “This one!” As the animals went by him, it always had been, “not this, not this, not this.” Now it is “this one.” She shall be called woman because she is just like me – only wonderfully different.
Biblical scholars point out that the Song of Solomon is a commentary on Genesis 1 and 2. Like a painting in rich color, based on an earlier pencil sketch, it shows the joyous, equal, and mutual delight in relationship that was made possible by God’s gift of the woman to the man.
When everything still was good in God’s creation, the man and the woman were fully equal. They both mirrored the image of God; they both were honored with the gift of responsibility for the rest of creation. James Torrance says that it is the privilege of human beings to voice praise to God for the entire creation that has no voice of its own.
It is important to recognize that the man was not inferior to the woman; he was equal to her:
*even if he had been created earlier and was closer to the animals;
*even if he was formed from dust, and she, from human being;
*even if the word “help”, used to describe the woman, is used to refer to God in other parts of Scripture (‘ezer).
In spite of all that, man is not lower than woman because the very first statement the Bible makes about human beings makes the man equal to the woman. He reflects the image of God in the same way that she does; and like her, he is given dominion over the earth.
All right, maybe you’ve heard a slightly different version. Some people believe that man is superior to woman for two reasons. He was created first; and second, the woman was taken out of the man. Think about the logic of that. If being created first means superior, the animals are superior to man because they were created first. Quite clearly, the order of creation is from lower to higher forms of life. So if you want to argue purely from the order of creation, you would have to assume that the woman is a higher form than the man. And if the woman’s being taken out of the man means that she is less than he; then that makes the man less than the ground out of which he was taken.
If you want to argue from the logic of the created order alone, then two biblical scholars, both men, write that woman is “the crown of creation” (Terrien), and the woman is “humanity twice refined” (Gilbert Bilezikian). Both men, of course, go on to point out that “bone of bone” and “flesh of flesh” describes the man and woman as fully equal and that they are dependent on each other for relationship.
But what about the term “helper” that is used to describe the woman? Here is a case where our own context of what “helper” means – our own cultural glasses – may pervert the scriptural meaning. We usually think of a helper as one who is inferior to the one being helped. A “helper” is an employee, domestic servant, or a teacher’s aide. It is very important to understand that the Hebrew term for “one who helps” never implies subordination. It is used 19 times in the
Old Testament. In 15 of those 19 times, the word is used of God. For example, Psalm 70:5: “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! Thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord do not tarry.”
“Thou art my help.” That word “help” addressed to God is exactly the same word used for the woman’s relationship to the man.
Again it is necessary to point out that this does not make the woman superior to the man. What comes after the word “help”, makes this clear. that word describes the helper as one who is worthy of him or matching him. Samuel Terrien says that woman is the savior who delivers the man from his void of alienation.
Genesis 1 and 2 presents a sublime picture of what the relationship of women and men was meant by God to be. It was good in every way and for every one. but, of course, that is not the end of the story. The Fall changed everything. It splintered the image of God and it shattered the relationship between women and men.
Ray Anderson, of Fuller theological Seminary, has written this rather poignant piece of poetry:
“Let it be good”
He (God) breathed, as he kneaded
The swirling dust into every hope and hue of his own image,
And then, stepping back a bit
From his still-new creation, separating its fresh consecration from his older glory,
He whispered again, to no one in particular, “It is good!”
But even then, as the green world groaned and stirred to life – making minor miracles seem common enough,
The image lost it footing
And set the whole plan ajar – the simplicity of good splintered into a thousand possibilities
and worst of all, unawareness.
The world is still reeling from that terrible, cosmic disaster. The man and the woman were alienated first of all from God. And then from each other. We are alienated from or unaware of others; we are imprisoned within ourselves. But we are especially alienated from the opposite sex. Right there is the basis of hostility between women and men that is a fact in every culture and every time.
In our time, people from many branches of the social sciences are trying to explain this phenomenon. Mostly they explain it in terms of socialization. But Mary Stewart van Leeuwen, a professor at Calvin College, says such an explanation misses something. Those who espouse it either do not realize or refuse to admit that there is an inescapably religious dimension to the problem. The consequences of the Fall are more important than the process of socialization.
The mistake of the traditional interpretation of Genesis is to think that this shattered relationship is the way God meant it to be. If you begin at the Beginning, a different picture comes to light.
The first sin brought consequences for male/ female relationships as well as for the human relationship to God. It is important to realize that these are the consequences of sin, and not what God first intended for humanity. The way things are between men and women after the Fall is not the order of creation. According to the German theologian, Helmut Thielicke, it is the disorder of creation.
A fresh look at Genesis 3: 16 will show that this verse is descriptive, not prescriptive. The woman’s desire will be to her husband and, in spite of that, he will rule over her. That’s what will happen because of sin, not what ought to happen. It shows how things will be, not how they should be.
Man and woman both committed the same sin, but the consequences are somewhat different for each. Remember how Satan tempted them – “you shall be as gods”? Now the man and the woman will try to be as gods to each other, but in different ways. The man will try to dominate the woman by force; the woman will try to rule him by pleasing him. The man takes more responsibility than he should. The woman evades personal responsibility. Men dominate, woman manipulate. Remember the book, The Total Woman, by Marabel Morgan? That book was read by thousands of Christian women. but it is a guide to manipulation from start to finish – how to get what you want from your husband and make him like it.
Another way to say it is that man tries to be God to the woman by pre-empting the place of God in her life. The woman is willing to go through anything in order to keep the relationship. For every abusive man, there is a woman who lets it happen, who doesn’t take the responsibility for stopping it. The man has forgotten what it was like to be alone, so he takes the dominion of the creation on himself, including the right to dominate women which was never given to him. The woman has forgotten that she was meant to be a help like God to the man. Instead, she contributes to the idolatry of the male. But what appears to be her devotion to him, also has a strong element of self-interest, whether she recognizes it or not.
It all happened after the Fall. There is nothing in the first chapters of Genesis about a wife meeting her husband at the door dressed only in Saran-wrap. In case you didn’t know, Marabel Morgan passed on that suggestion as one way for a woman to get what she wants from her husband. And by the way, before the stores run out of Saran-wrap, it didn’t work for her anyway. I’m sorry to say she’s now divorced from her husband.
The trouble is, no human can bear the burden of Godhood. Neither the man nor the woman. Trying to be God to someone else only ends in terrible perversions. Idolatry of any kind has the most devastating consequences. Is there anything more clear in the Old Testament? Only God is God.
But, thank God, even that is not the end of the story. The New Testament is about restoration. The broken body and shed blood of Jesus is able to restore the broken image of God in us and in our relationships. What was lost in Eden is restored in Christ Jesus, if we live in the awareness of what God means by good, in the strength of the in-dwelling Spirit of God, and in mutual submission to the rule of God.