Sunday, February 21, 2010

Genesis 2:18-25's naked and suitable helper

In Genesis 2:19-20, Adam names the animals. Of course, we know that Adam couldn't have evolved from apes, because he would have recognized his Mom & Dad when he was naming the animals. To revisit some familiar themes: Adam is involved with God’s creation; he is exercising free will, modest levels of dominion, and his budding powers of discernment (not forbidden knowledge).

This is the first (reported) use of language (although the words unreported). Again, Adam is bringing order to creation (in the image of God). And, so to speak, he is “making his own world”—the first human “invention”. As Kass observes: “Human naming, while it does not create the world, creates a linguistic world, a second world, of names, that mirrors the first world of creatures.”

The animal-naming parenthesis is bracketed by Gen 2:18a's "not good for man to be alone" and Gen 2:20b’s “no suitable helper”. Adam is “alone” vs. all other animals with ‘their kind’ (1:24-25).

He is also “alone” vs. the presence of God. We often assume that God would have been “enough”, but it’s God’s testimony that Adam is alone and this is “not good”. Puttnig it another way, even though Adam had walked with God, he needed Eve to complete him. We need relations with both God and man—vertical and horizontal; if only one or the other, it’s “not good”

Why was it not good for Adam to be “alone”? Solitude is an oft-overlooked good—and at least externally, requires being “alone”. There are two possibilities. First, Adam may have been insufficient, implying a weakness. Kass: “lacking a suitable mirror, might be incapable of self-knowledge”. But Kass also notes that aloneness can invite the illusion of self-sufficiency—a mark of real or imagined strength. If so, the remedy is weakening by division, opposition, conflict—still a “help”, but in a different way! We see both angles in play within marriage.

Kass continues this line of thinking by wrestling with the Hebrew phrase ezer kenegdo. First, ezer often refers to God! Second, it can be defined as a helper “corresponding to”—OR “opposite, over against, in front of”—him. (Kass proposes the term “counterpart” as “fitting and suitable to be sure, but also opposed”.)

In Genesis 2:21, we see God as the first anesthesiologist and surgeon. And he uses a rib—lit. “part of the man’s side”. Two interesting analogies here: selal is almost always used to denote “side(s)” of the Tabernacle, temple or Ezekiel’s temple; and as the Church was born in a sense from out of Christ’s side/wound.

It’s also interesting that God didn’t create Eve with Dust II—the sequel. Note the intimacy of the chosen body part. You’ll hear Matthew Henry quoted but not credited at many weddings on this: "The woman was made out of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved."

Note also that after surgery, Adam is no longer “whole” individually—but ironically, more of a whole together and thus, in a sense, individually!

In Genesis 2:23, we read the Bible’s first recorded words. Of course, there’s no need to speak—or at least, to record it—until someone else shows up! Adam is, reasonably, much more interested in these events. The NIV masks this by opening up with “this is now” rather than “this one at last”, with its implied emotion, length of time—as if an answer to prayer. Kass notes that “The man reacts to the woman’s appearance, as have billions of men down to the present day…” And he does a nice job—with poetry and a love song.

He names the woman ishah and then renames himself ish. He names himself in relation to the woman, acknowledging her otherness, but focusing on her sameness. This is almost certainly sexually charged—from the language and the context (24’s “one flesh”). As Kass argues, “This should not surprise us: no worthy account of…human nature would fail to give sexual desire a central place…”

Gen 2:24 also describe the new family unit and establishes the divine plan for inseparable monogamy (Mal 2:13-16a)—a passage cited by Jesus and Paul in discussing God's will for sex and marriage. The text also points to two of the key problems in marriage—a failure to leave or cleave—especially for younger couples. Interestingly, they are called to be separate/distinct from parents, even without parents in their picture yet!

The phrase “become one flesh” is loaded—from the one-time, first-time event of sex, to the on-going event of sex, to the on-going process of coming together as a couple (partners in body, mind, soul and spirit).

Gen 2:25’s “naked” speaks to their relation with God and each other—no sin, no separation; vertical and horizontal; loving God and others; emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy. And “they felt no shame”—a picture of innocence, akin to kids running around naked, deer in animal refuges, and hopefully sex/nakedness with one’s marriage partner.

To close, two questions: First, Kass wrestles with whether this a “man-centered” narrative. He says yes—at first blush. Man is created first and woman is derived from (and dependent on) man. But they are also co-equal (in 1:26-28). Beyond that, man’s origin is lower (dust vs. living flesh—and that, from near the heart!); and man only understands himself and is complete when the woman shows up.

Second, in The Genesis of Perfection, Anderson wrestles at length with Jewish and early Christian tradition on when and where Adam & Eve first had sex (and why it can matter theologically). Here, I want to focus on his conclusion that we are generally called to marriage (and then, sex within marriage), but we are also occasionally called to transcend our sexual nature in special cases. In the OT, there are times when Israel was called to ritual cleanness for consecration/dedication (Ex 19:15, Josh 3:5). In the NT, we have I Cor 7 and the example of Jesus.

Anderson notes: “a theological paradox that is at the very heart of the Bible’s teaching about sexuality…we are both anthropos and theos, part human, part divine. On the one hand, sexuality is at the very center of what it means to be human…On the other hand, our vocation as persons often follows a quite different trajectory…we are commanded from time to time to draw near to him…[to] renounce our sexual nature in order to enter his sacred space…We are both sexual beings and beings who can transcend our sexual selves.”

Anderson continues by noting the two errors in exaggerate either aspect of this balance—focusing on ourselves as sexual beings or relegating sex to something dirty.


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