“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18)
Anyone trying to take the Bible literally runs into trouble right at the beginning of the second chapter.
The fact that there are two very different creation accounts tells us, again, that Genesis is not history or science but story. Its truth is found not in its ability to be proven but in the wisdom it conveys.
Genesis 2 focuses on humanity’s role in creation. While in Genesis 1, people are not created until the world has everything else it needs, Genesis 2 brings humanity – or at least “man” – into the picture fairly quickly in order to play a role in caring for the earth.
Genesis is not history or science but story. Its truth is found not in its ability to be proven but in the wisdom it conveys.
Whereas Genesis 1 focuses on God’s sovereignty over creation, Genesis 2 focuses on God’s intention for humanity to partner in creation’s cultivation. Made in God’s image, humanity has a creative, nurturing role to fulfill.
The interconnection between all aspects of creation is given more prominence in Genesis 2. Whereas in Genesis 1, all things are related by virtue of having the same Creator, in Genesis 2, the connection is made between the rain that falls from the sky and the plants that grow up from the ground. Likewise, humanity’s connection to the earth is recognized not only in that humans are made to till the earth, but in the fact that the first human being is taken from the dust of the ground, into which God breathes life. “Adam” means “of the earth.” Our dependence upon and responsibility to the world is implied.
Also in this creation account, all the animals are created after Adam, with “woman” created last. Beyond the scientific inaccuracies and sexist interpretations, this is problematic in its implication that animals were made expressly for human benefit. But we can choose to interpret this scripture exploitatively or humbly. If we interpret it exploitatively, we upset the balance of creation we are meant to cultivate, species are harmed or eradicated, the web of life unravels, and our own lives become more precarious. But if we interpret it humbly, knowing that each animal in creation has a purpose that ultimately does enhance our own existence, we are closer to fulfilling our vocation as God’s – Love’s – image-bearers.
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God made the earth not in separate pieces, but in interlocking systems. Interconnection and interdependency are the hallmarks of creation. To be called to till the Garden of Eden is to be called to uphold the delicate ecosystems of the world with gentleness, grace, humility, and love.
Not only are we called to love the earth; we are also called to love each other. If the first half of Genesis 2 is about our role in cultivating harmony among creation, the second half is about living in harmony with one another.
“It is not good that man should be alone,” God says. Up until now, God has called everything good. But the one thing that is not good is aloneness.
To be human is to be wired for relationship with other humans. We need each other not just for protection and fulfilling material needs, but for shaping our desires and pursuing our dreams. Unlike animals that can survive in isolation, humans are born completely dependent on others and remain at least partially dependent forever. In this instance, we can interpret scripture literally: it is not good for any human to be completely alone.
So God makes all the other animals, but Adam cannot find a suitable partner until God makes “woman” out of man.
Interpretations of heteronormativity and woman’s subserviance have had tragic consequences. But let’s take a step back.
The truth of Genesis 2 is this undeniable fact: humans are made to help one another. Being made in the image of God is being made to serve as well as delight in each other, as Jesus later reveals. (“The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.”)
This scripture doesn’t give us a prescription for heterosexual marriage but a description of one way in which humans are meant to find help and and comfort in each other. Same-sex partnerships, friendships, and other interpersonal bonds also come from God’s desire for human beings not to be alone.
When we balance Genesis 1 and 2, we find not hierarchy and patriarchy, but the truth that God made the whole world good and made all people – male, female, between, and beyond – in God’s image to care for the earth and each other.
But judgment and violence have also slithered their way into the world. In Genesis 3 and 4, we’ll explore how we mess up… and how God heals and guides us through as we navigate this good, but strange and messy, world.