Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
Adam and Eve
4This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
5Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
8Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12(The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
18The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
24That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
25Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
The lectionary list of Old Testament readings has now begun a series in Genesis. That provides us with an opportunity to think about that book in general, as well as to look at this particular reading that’s listed for today.
Genesis is a part of the group of five books at the beginning of the Old Testament that are collectively known as “the Five books of Moses,” or “the Pentateuch.” These books make up the heart of what the Hebrew tradition calls “the Torah.” And when the Jews referred to “The Law,” they were usually talking about the Torah.
It’s important to note that these five books combine history, theology, parables, and commandments, but the ancient Hebrews didn’t feel any need to separate those things. As far as they were concerned, it was all one guide to their relationship with God.
Not all followers of Jesus agree on how we are to understand Genesis, especially the first eleven chapters. Some believe these chapters contain literal, factual history, and that the universe was created by God in the year 4004 BC. Others believe the dating is different, because the idea of a day in the first creation story refers to some much longer period, but that everything else is factual history. That would include an actual Adam and Eve, created by God and personally responsible for the fallen state of humankind.
Those who have worshipped or studied with me for very long might remember that my own understanding distinguishes fact and truth. I understand that every part of the Bible contains important truth, but that not all of it is meant to be taken as fact. Some parts of the Bible, it seems to me, are meant to be understood as parables that communicate important truths about God’s intentions for us, but are not to be taken as factual.
The parables of Jesus, for instance. I don’t believe these parables were ever intended to describe actual historical situations. I think they were intended as ‘thought problems’ that lead us to understand God’s truth. The Book of Job seems to me another example – I don’t believe for a moment that the God we love and serve can be provoked into letting Satan wipe out a whole family to settle an argument. But as a story that tells us how God’s people are to deal with tragedy in life, it’s a powerful, wise, and truthful story.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis, it seems to me, fall into that same category – parables that communicate truth, but are not fact. Take the first creation story, for instance. (Today’s reading is the second creation story.) The first creation story tells us that God created the universe on purpose, that it reflects his creative character, and that God is well pleased with it. (And by the way, that God has blessed the idea of taking a Sabbath after six days of work.)
This second story seems to tell us that God has placed us in the position of stewards over his creation. Also, that God intends us to enjoy and benefit from the things he has created, but that he has reserved for himself the role of arbiter of good and evil.
A really interesting part of the story, it seems to me, is the way it describes the relationship between the man and woman. It says that for the man, there was no “suitable helper.” The scholars of the Hebrew language of the Old Testament tell us that word translated “suitable” is the Hebrew term k’negdo, which means something like ‘corresponding to.’ And the connotation of the term is that the two partners are different but somehow complementary.
Later in the story, Adam will say that Eve is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” So this ideal relationship is one that includes both a sense of sharing a common nature but also of being different in a way that is complementary. It seems to me that reflects an important truth about the way we are made – that our ideal relationships have both aspects. We are most blessed if our partner provides what we are lacking (and probably feels free to tell us when we’re wrong). A relationship is never healthy if one partner expects the other to just be a human mirror that reflects their likeness. That’s narcissism, not real love.
There are some who would say that this passage expresses God’s will that all domestic relationships are to be between a man and a woman. I don’t happen to agree, but I understand why some people do, and I don’t want to get into that question here. But it seems to me that people in all relationships should be striving to recognize and honor the principle that healthy relationships are intended by God to have both a sense of common nature and also a complementary character that allows us to build one another up, and not just to be reflections of each other.
So, even leaving side the question of whether this story is factual, I hope we could all see that it contains important truth for our lives as God’s people.
Let’s pray. Lord, guide our study and reflection on the scriptures, and help us to arrive at understandings that allow us to live for your glory and be faithful to the example and teachings for Jesus. And help us to be faithful in our relationships with one another, to honor what we share in common and to benefit from the ways we complement each other. Amen.
Grace and Peace,