…Begin caveat… It’s quite jolting to be writing this blog in the shadow of the recent verdict given down by the grand jury in Ferguson. To be honest, until recently, I haven’t paid much attention. It’s not because I lack empathy or an ability to deal with the reality of the situation. I could blame it on the fact that I am in graduate school. (fragment) When getting a Master’s in Social Justice you are inundated on a daily basis with the oppression and injustice experienced by others throughout human history. With that said, reading it in a textbook, watching it through a documentary or talking about it in a discussion is NOT the same as experiencing inequality and subjugation first hand. However, these mediums have made me entirely more aware of how I react to each one of these instances of injustice. This is not a blog on Ferguson. I won’t be sharing my opinion on the grand jury’s ruling or the different reactions expressed by the parties involved. I simply want to make it clear that writing a blog on injustice, like the one that follows, is intensified when there is such unrest and anger being felt by almost everyone in our country, regardless of which side is believed to be telling the truth… End caveat…
I’ve recently done a careful reading on the second and third chapters of Genesis and the relationship they have with each other. I’ve read them countless times before. God made humans, humans were made in the image of God, God told humans what was forbidden, humans ate the forbiddenness, humanity falls into sin. God banishes humanity from the Garden, humanity is cursed to struggle and yearn its way through life and thus, this is the relationship that Christ is sent out to redeem.
My interpretation of this story is reminiscent of the simple flannel graph exhibited in Sunday school. The cause for humanity’s banishment from the presence of God was their disobedience to God’s command. Humans were deemed sinful purely because of the denial of their relationship with God, sinful even in a desire to usurp God. This is how the Christian Church has understood the “fall of man” as evidenced in the documents of the early Church and in the creeds that we confess communally with one another. However, as of late, I can’t help but wonder if there was more to this banishment than just humanity’s denial of God. That is, there exists a large part of me, deep within my soul that suspects there exists more to our separation from God than just our refusal to acknowledge His sovereignty.
It is fascinating to read both Genesis 2 and 3 together as one. In Genesis 1 the story of creation’s evolution is told through an overarching, picturesque composition. There are seven days of creation, including the day of rest. Each day is unique in a very specific way. Each aspect of creation has its own day and every creation and day is deemed to be good in the eyes of God. God is pleased with what he has done. There is a rhythm and a flow that has been established by the Creator. It is this very ebb and flow of life that humanity will eventually disrupt in the third chapter.
However, before we get to that point we must wade through the brilliance of Genesis 2. In this chapter of Genesis the depth of the rhythm and flow that God has created is fully realized. Its profundity emanates in the form of the way the writers talk about the relationship between Adam and Eve, man and woman, human and human. In Genesis 2:18 God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” In this context, in light of the entirety of Genesis 1, the word good here has a more profound meaning. Throughout the creation narrative the writers of Genesis said that God’s approval of his work came in the form of, “And God saw that it was good.” God’s endorsement came when he thought it was good enough; when he thought nothing more could be added to its value. Thus, the word good is carrying the weight of the creator’s support. In Genesis, for God to utter that something is good is to say that he is behind it.
Therefore, in an attempt to complete the creation of Adam, God set out to find a comparable match. It is written in Genesis 2:19-20 that God and Adam wade through all the animals of the air, land and sea without any success. God brought all candidates to Adam to “see what he would name them.” It’s as if God is waiting for Adam to have a certain reaction, waiting for him to find his “helper,” waiting for him to shout, “This is it!” It is then that God puts Adam into a deep sleep and creates woman. After awaking Adam from his slumber and in the same form that he brought the animals before Adam, God “brought her to the man.”
What happens next is what God had been searching for in Genesis 2:19-20. Adam proclaims, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” Imagine the elation that Adam must have felt, and the relief that overwhelmed his soul. Finally, there was an equal. The creation of humankind, the creation of the world is complete in the formation and existence of woman. The place of women can never be negated nor subdued. This is the being that brings life into the world; the being that bears the Son of Man, the being that brings forth the One who carries our salvation.
What follows below is the crux of my entire blog and the hinge upon which the rest of this entry depends. It is imperative that we correctly understand Eve’s role as the “suitable helper.” In no way does this mean that man is better than woman. It does not mean that woman was never created to lead, explore, invent or discover. It does not mean that women cannot be prophetic and it does not mean that women are less than men. In fact, it means the complete opposite. In the Hebrew language, the language of the Old Testament, the words used to convey “helpmate” actually attempted to express the reality of women as an equal “power or strength for the man, who would in every way correspond to him, or even be his equal.” Eve is fully and completely equal to Adam because of who created her. The words Adam uses to describe Eve should not be whispered and we cannot let them get lost in the modern day arguments of gender roles. In his declaration Adam is saying, there is no difference between us. She is mine and I am hers. What she carries, I will carry. His words are a poetic proclamation of thankfulness and gratitude for the reality that Eve brings. Adam is not complete until Eve is present.
In the beginning of this entry I stated that I believe there was more to the banishment and sinfulness of humanity than just their denial of God himself. It is in the later half of Genesis 3, in the conversation between God and humanity that this “more” is found. After Adam and Eve partake of the forbidden fruit it is written that they hear God walking through the garden. Out of fear they hide in the bushes, away from God’s all knowing presence. God calls out to Adam, “Where are you?” Adam responds, “I heard you were in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” God brilliantly retorts, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
Now, remember the words that Adam just got done using to describe Eve, “She is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” In this moment between God’s question and his answer Adam had a choice to make. That is, he is left with asking, “Should I own up to my part in the act, or should I try and evade my mistake and place the blame on Eve?” Having made his choice Adam answers God, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Think about the gravity of what is happening here. The man who just one chapter before shouted in exaltation about his excitement and elation for the creation of Eve blames her for his mistake. Hell, he blames God for putting her there with him.
I cannot even begin to imagine what Eve felt in that moment when Adam denied her. I cannot imagine the heartache and destruction that overtook her emotions and her spirit. The man who she shares flesh with, the person whom she is united as one with, and the person she will bear children with just threw her under the proverbial bus. In that moment Eve became a means to an end for Adam. She became his way out, his scapegoat. She no longer existed to him as a human, but as something that had become unnecessary. Adam denied his need for her in favor of a false protection of himself. Thus, in Adam’s denial of Eve humanity was banished from God’s presence. God denied man because he denied woman.
Regardless of the literal or metaphorical position one might take in regards to the creation account in Genesis, this rendering of the relationship between Genesis 2 and 3 forces us to see that how we treat each other matters. It matters all the way up to the things we say about each other. The words we use and the actions we partake in can destroy the souls of others instantaneously. The disposition by which we interact with the other on a daily basis not only has an effect on the relationship we have with other people, but on the relationship we have with God. The two are not mutually exclusive. There is not your relationship with God and then your relationship with humankind. What you believe about God and how you interact with God is seen in the way that you treat other people. Injustice comes in the moment we decided to deny the reality of the equality found in the other; when we think that their worthiness is found in their servicing of our needs.
-R. David Freedman, “Woman, a Power Equal to a Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review 9 1983: 56-58.