Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
We Are Not Meant to Be Alone: Genesis 2:18-24
When I think back over my years of biblical study, I often remember two lessons that really blew my mind. The first one came when I was in college. Before going to college, I had attended church regularly from the sixth grade through high school. I thought I knew the Bible pretty well, or, at list knew the gist of things. Imagine my surprise when I got in an early Western Civilizations class and my professor told me that most scholars believe that the creation narrative in Genesis isn't actually one story. It's really two. Have you all ever heard that before? Chapter 1 and a few verses of chapter 2 is the first story, and the rest of chapter 2 is the beginning of the second story. The first story is the one that tells us how creation comes about step by step: first come the heavens and the earth, and a formless depth from which God's creative force emerged to sweep over the waters. Then there was light, and darkness, and day and night. There was water and sky and earth and plants and stars. There was fish and birds and all matter of creeping thing. And, at last, humans were made, together, equally in God's image. At each step of the way, God call creation good, sometimes even very good. And, then, God took a day off.
It is important to remember that the humans are both made at the same time in the first story. They are both called good and said to be in the image of God. I had always learned that the man was created first and then the woman. I had been raised in a branch of Christianity that called upon women to be subservient to men and declined to allow women in most leadership roles in the church, due, in part to how they understood women's place in creation. I was raised hearing that women were created second, as helpers to men, and that women had caused all of humanity to fall into sin because Eve did what the serpent told her to do, not what God told her to do. But, this order of creation did not come from the first story, but the second. I learned that some scholars had a different take on the second Genesis story, too. This interpretation is a little complicated. Stick with me for a minute. I promise that it is worth hearing about. It's the second lesson that blew my mind.
One of the ways that scholars realized that there may be two different creation stories is that things happen in a different order and through different processes in the two stories. They start off the same, with God creating the heavens and earth. The first story has all of the plants and animals being made first, with the humans as the last bits that God needed to call it complete. The second story is different. When the earth is still only mud, with no plants or animals, God takes up a pile of dust and roughs out a human shape. It is important to note that the word for dust or dirt in Hebrew is adamah. This new creature is called a-dam. Now, you might be more familiar with this word not as a thing, but as a name, Adam, given to the first man. Well, there's one school of thought that argues that this not the only way to read that word.
Some scholars say it is valid to read a-dam not as a human man named Adam but, instead as a the mud-creature or earthling. And, they argue the earthling isn't necessarily what many people would call a man. There is a Hebrew word for man, ish. But, the mud creature is not called an ish. For the majority of this creation account, this thing is just called a-dam. God and the a-dam hang out by themselves for a while. God then goes on to create a garden in a place called Eden. But, notice, still no animals. Just plants. It is only when God realized that the earthling might get lonely and need help do any creeping, feathered, or furry things show up.
Now, I had always learned that when God said that God would make a guy named Adam a helper, it meant that God would give Adam a subordinate. But, it turns out that, in the Hebrew Bible, this word "helper" doesn't usually mean something like an assistant to a master. In fact, it is often used to describe someone of great power who helps someone in need, like, in some of the Psalms when God is called a helper to God's people. The same scholars who argue that a-dam means mud-creature would also argue that God is trying to help the mud-creature find an equal co-worker. All of the animals are then formed in the process of finding a co-worker for the mud-creature. While the other animals seem to have a place in creation and a relationship to the earthling, none is truly suitable to be the earthling's partner. So, God puts the earthling to sleep, and removes part of it's side to fashion a second human.
It is only at this point, when we are three quarters of the way through the second creation account, that we finally read the Hebrew words for man and woman, ish and ishah. When there was only one creature, only one word was necessary- a-dam. Now that there are two, we need two new words, ish and ishah in order to differentiate one from another. The newer being would become known as a woman named Eve. The part of the creature who remembered what it was to be alone, the man who would be called Adam, cried out, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." Now, I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like any version of Adam and Eve that I had ever heard before. Here were scholars arguing that this is a legitimate reading of the second creation account. I think you can understand why this interpretation blew my mind.
It must be said that not everyone finds this interpretation convincing. And yet, even knowing that other scholars are not convinced that this is the best reading of these verses, I cannot help but be struck by the compassion and equality expressed in this interpretation. God created two humans so that one human would not be alone. God created two humans so that they could help one another and they could be partners. God created these two out of the same stuff, out of mud and breathe and love, though one seems to have the good fortune of having been recycled first. All of the rest of humankind is said to have been created through the relationship between these two. While the second creation story never explicitly uses this phrases, whenever I read these words, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh," I can't help but here the echo of "This is good" from the first creation account. Far from simply being an obscure argument between academics, I believe that this interpretation shows us a God who recognizes that people are not meant to be alone and that we are, in fact, created by our very nature to be in relationship.
Now, when I say that we are created to be in relationship, I don't mean that everyone has to be married to feel complete. Instead, what I think this story can tell us is that our existence relies on our ability to nurture relationship with other people and with God. This reading of the Creation story demonstrates that communication, intimacy, and co-operation are just as much a part of God's creation as the Sun, Moon, and stars. It shows a compassionate God who wants to help humanity and acts on our behalf, providing us with mutuality, community, and partnerships for our journey. It show us that God intends for our lives to be richer than they can be if we try to live our lives on our own.
Now, this scripture seems particularly apt on a day when the connections between and among humanity and God are in the forefront as they are today. Today is World Communion Sunday, a day when we remember our ultimate hope for international Christian unity and celebrate the relationships among Christians on a global scale. It is also the same day as the meeting of the Kennebec Valley Association of the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ. This is the day that the churches in our regional body come together in worship and to discern how we can better serve Christ and our neighbor through our work together. And, it is also the first Sunday after our Board of Church and Community Concerns has sent out a letter asking you to prayerfully and hopefully discern how you can financially support this congregation in our mission to love God and serve our neighbor. While relationship is always part of worship, today especially, our relationship with one another and with God is central to our gathering. Today, especially, we are reminded that we are made for each other, and we are challenged to find ways to live that out every day.
In a culture that values individualism over mutual dependence, how can we recapture the joy of Adam's exclamation, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." How can we see that everyone we meet is made up of the same bits of dust and breath as we are? How can we take this deep, muddy memory from creation and allow it to shape the mission and vision of our church? For, we are not created to be alone. This church is one mechanism through which God provides us relationship, just as God once made a partner for the earthling. And, we have the chance to use this relationship for good. So, folks, how will you help your partner sitting next to you? How will you help your partner next door or down the street or the one that you haven't even met yet? Because, we are made for each other and it is time to start acting like it.
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted while writing this sermon:
Wil Gafney: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2537
Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003).
Sara Koenig: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1359
Dennis Olson: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=400
Laurel Koepf Taylor: www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.