Our first reading today (Genesis 2:18-24) has been used for centuries to place women into subservient positions. The words man, woman, helper, and partner reinforce culturally defined expectations of what relationships and marriages should be. The word helper can be used in a diminutive way, reducing the “helper” to someone less than the person being helped. A partner, in our language, can sometimes make this person less than the person they’re partnering with. Part of this problem comes from our frame of reference. If we keep the “man” at the center of the action, we make the entire story revolve around him. But if we take a step back and place God at the center of this text, than the interpretation we commonly use to reinforce our culturally constructed gender roles begins to unravel.
This text is part of the second story of creation in our Bible. The first story (which also includes the creation of human beings – Genesis 1:26-29) involved God creating the universe and saying that many things are “good.” Today’s text is the first time when God noticed something “not good.” The “man” was alone and God viewed their loneliness as “not good.” The word “man” is a poor translation, and we should replace “man” in Genesis 2:18-22 with “human being” because the spectrum of gender hadn’t been created yet. The “human being” represents everything that a person could be. And God doesn’t like that this person was alone. God wanted people to have life-giving relationships so God invented every kind of animal, trying to give the human a compatible companion. The companion for the human should be a partner (like a co- equal partner in a law firm) and a helper. God doesn’t see helpers as something negative. Rather, the Bible calls God a “helper” over and over again (ex. Psalm 115). God wanted the human being to have a companion as life-giving to them as God is. But after failing to create an animal or bird that would work, God used the human as a template to create their life-giving companion. And since this new companion is from the human, the human (who is changed and is now Adam), is called to be a helper too. God values the relationships we create with each other and those relationships, when they give us life, are good.
Much of the commentary on this text focuses on the nouns (helper, partner, woman, man, etc.). We usually don’t spend enough time looking at verse 23 which, according to the second story of creation, was the first recorded words Adam (the man) spoke: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This phrase is rooted in joy because they discovered who, along with God, will help them become who God is calling them to be. In this joy-filled moment, they stand before each other as they truly are. They are naked. They are vulnerable. They are unpretentious and full of possibilities. They are as God made them to be: people who can love each other because they are loved.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/07/2018.