Tag Archives: creation

Asset or Ally?

married-handsIn our early years of marriage, my husband and I faced a mish-mash of assumptions and theories about what our relationship was supposed to look like, especially in regard to my role as his wife. Before marriage we had been classmates, peers, and debate partners, enjoying the freedom of a relationship built on mutual admiration for each other’s opinions, abilities, and unique contributions to the world. But having said “I do,” I suddenly felt a nagging theological pressure to change the way I related to the same man.

Intruding into our easy friendship came the idea that I should drop a step back and start following him, that I should lay aside my goals and dreams and replace them with his, and that I should suppress my natural tendency towards critical thought and assertive action in order to make sure that he always came out on top. While introducing the element of hierarchy into our heretofore cooperative partnership seemed unnatural, I felt that it was the right thing for me to embrace as a Christian wife. Despite my husband’s protests that this is not why he had married me, I felt that I should live out my created purpose as a woman to be his “helper.”

Much of my confusion came from the way I had always heard the story told of why God made Eve. Looking back on the story from this side of the fall, I assumed that a “helper” is someone of inferior social status who exists for the purposes of someone higher up a chain of command. In a world of hierarchical pecking-orders, it was hard to imagine a working relationship without clearly delineated and regularly exerted indicators of who is in charge. But leaving behind these social assumptions and looking with fresh eyes at how Genesis 2 tells the story of husband and wife, I now see a refreshingly different sort of relationship from the one I had pictured.

4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. 5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Long before the lack of a helper suitable for the man comes up in our story, the Bible points out that there was no helper suitable for the ground. God had created the earth and the heavens, but without someone capable of taking care of the ground, there wasn’t much point in planting a garden. So out of the substance that was in need of help, God created a man. From within this telling of the story (which obviously does not encompass the whole range of God’s purposes for humanity), the man’s primary created purpose in being made was to meet the earth’s need for a “helper,” someone who would enable it to fulfill its created purpose and to maximize its full creative potential.

18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.

Similarly, within this telling of the story, the woman’s created purpose was to meet the man’s need for a “helper.” Though the nature of the man’s need was quite different from that of the earth’s, God’s manner of meeting it was surprisingly similar. First He took the man through an interactive learning task to help him discover his need for himself. The man exercised his authority over the animals by determining what they would be called, in a sense assigning them an identity. But as he set about his work, a realization about himself began to dawn. All these other creatures formed from the earth had two versions of themselves. In fact, it was through this diversity that they were each able to fulfill their calling to be fruitful and multiply. Where was his “other?”

So just as God had done for the earth, He completed what was lacking in the man by creating a helper from the very substance that needed help. From the man’s wounded side emerged a version of him more beautifully capable than anything he could have imagined. The word used to describe what she would be to her husband (ezer) is the same word used throughout the Old Testament to describe what God is to His people: a helper or ally (for more on this see Carolyn Custis James’ insightful book Half the Church). She would come to his aid in shouldering along with him the enormous task of governing the rest of creation and of filling the earth with more little images of themselves (and of God).

23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Genesis 2:4-25

And waking from his death-like sleep, Adam recognized just what a gift he had been given. This wasn’t another animal to rule or govern—her being was of the same substance and nature as his. He acknowledged her equality with himself in what he called her, embracing her as a treasure worth letting go of everything else (including parents) to gain.

Far from the picture of subservience and inferiority that I had assumed, Genesis 2 paints a picture of loving partnership and empowering mutuality between husband and wife. My role as helper to my husband doesn’t lower my status any more than God’s role as our Helper or man’s role as the earth’s helper lowers their positions. If anything, it emphasizes my God-given power, capacity, and responsibility in working alongside my husband to lead and to serve our shared corner of the earth. Yes, it will involve laying aside my “rights” and my independence just as much as God’s service to us required His sacrificial death-to-self, but it does not make me the second-class citizen or the passive follower that I had assumed. Rather, being the kind of wife God made me to be calls me forward to throw the full weight of my gifts, aspirations, and man-power into our shared calling as servant-leaders of God’s creation, whether in our home or out in the world.

And it’s about time I sorted that out–my poor husband has been waiting long enough!

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What Abuse Is Not

Abuse is a topic I have too long avoided writing about. But something as pernicious and pervasive as abuse cries out for a righteous response.

God is love. He embodies everything that abuse is not.

Domestic abuse. Child abuse. Sexual abuse. Spiritual abuse. Abusive language. Abusive relationships. We use the word abuse in so many different ways that what it really means becomes obscured. By what standard do we judge that something or someone is being mis-used?

To understand what abuse is, I want to go back to a clear picture of what it is not.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. … God made two great lights–the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. … And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.”… God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
Genesis 1:2, 16, 20, 22

Not aloof. Not destructive. Not demeaning. In the beginning, God came personally near to the world. His Spirit hovered over the place where He would create beauty out of chaos, meaning out of darkness, life out of emptiness, love out of void. He took great delight in calling forth the moon and the stars, the sea creatures and the sky creatures, the plants and the animals, instilling them each with the dignity of a role and a purpose. To the lights in the sky He delegated the powerful, illustrious role of ruling over time and seasons. To the plants and various living creatures He entrusted the task of finishing the work He had started, empowering them to reproduce and fill the earth with more of themselves.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”… God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:27-28, 31

Not restrictive. Not degrading. Not isolating. He raised a man up out of the dust, carefully crafting him to look, think, feel, and function like Himself. He did not attempt to keep the man alone to Himself, but instead designed the loveliest of companions to fulfill his social needs. Together He exalted them to His own position as rulers over the earth, endowing them with the right to govern His abundant resources. Reveling in their radiance, delighting in their goodness, God equipped them, blessed them, and set them free to carry on His creative work in the world.

He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate– bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. … These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
… who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. … As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 104:13-15, 27-28; 103:2-4, 13-14

Not threatened. Not stingy. Not hard-hearted. Even after their rejection of His authority and insistence on their own autonomy, God did not retaliate with whole-scale physical deprivation or emotional abandonment. He continues to direct the sun and send the rain to nurture life on the earth, to open His hand and feed its many creatures. Like a loving Father, He facilitates the accomplishments of His people and satisfies their desires with good things. And when they come back to Him broken and needy, He does not lord it over them with a smug, “I told you so” or make them grovel with a “Do you know how much you wronged me?” He throws open His arms to welcome them, compassionately healing their wounds and joyfully celebrating their restored relationship.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Ephesians 5:25-27

Not distancing. Not penalizing. Not cruel. In response to shortcomings in His bride, Jesus chose self-sacrifice instead of her punishment, violence against His own body rather than against hers. He lovingly labors for her, tending her like a cherished garden which needs constant weeding and faithful feeding. He washes away her impurities and enhances her beauty so that He can show her off for all in heaven and on earth to admire. He delights in her glory.

God is love. He embodies everything that abuse is not. In the next several posts, I intend to examine abuse within human relationships from several angles. But for now, I want to bask in the beauty of how God relates to us. This relationship is not only our reference point for all others, it is the one right relationship that heals us from the wrongs of abusive ones.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8