In the words of the song, “Let’s start at the very beginning–a very good place to start.”
The first of the long list of questions burning in my brain is this: Why did God make women?
God has unfettered creativity. Look out the window for a moment. Little about nature is purely utilitarian. Creation is both beautiful and functional–from trees to birds to stars everything has a purpose and a place in the intricate balance of the biosphere. Remove one piece–a piece as small as a honeybee–and other dependent organisms will wither, die, and disappear. And yet, even though everything in nature has a function, everything is also beautiful, or weird, or wacky, and colorful and diverse.
There are animals that are both male and female. There are animals that are programmed to make a gender switch at a certain stage of maturity. There are asexual animals that reproduce by breaking off little pieces of themselves.
God could have easily made humans to be that way. He could’ve made us all one sex, or all with both sets of sex organs built in, or creatures completely devoid of sex, not male or female or anything else.
Yet He made Adam. And then He made Eve.
He made Adam first. There’s no explanation as to why He made him first. He made everything else necessary for Adam’s survival first–light and the sun and water and plants. Animals even came before Adam did (Genesis 1). God set up everything the way He wanted it and proclaimed it good. Then He said: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen. 1:26).
So God made human beings (“mankind”) to be the rulers of the rest of nature. Not to bully nature, but to maintain it. God scooped up Adam and put him in the first garden and told him to take care of it (Gen. 2:15).
How long Adam maintained that garden by himself isn’t spelled out. But it didn’t seem to take too long (a few verses later, in fact) for God to declare that Adam needed help. “It is not good that the man should be alone,” God said. “I will make him a helper fit [or suitable] for him” (Gen. 2:18).
Yet God didn’t whip up this helper immediately. First God had Adam name all the animals in the garden. The animals, like Adam, had been handmade out of dirt (Gen 2:19). God trotted them out, two by two, for Adam to examine them and name them. Yet out of all these creatures, Adam couldn’t find anyone like him. All the animals he named had others like them, “But for Adam no suitable helper was found” (Gen. 2:20). None of the animals–wonderful as they were–would cut it.
Only after Adam was shown his need for someone like himself did God make Eve.
Eve wasn’t made out of dirt–at least not directly. She was made from Adam’s rib (Gen. 2:22). She was quite literally fashioned out of Adam’s own flesh and bone. And when the first man saw the first woman, he was so overcome with what he saw that the world heard its first love poem:
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.” (Gen. 2:23)
And for centuries, people (religious and irreligious alike) have pointed to this passage as proof that women are intrinsically less valuable than men.
After looking at the creation story very, very closely, I’m not sure where they’re getting that.
You could point out that Eve was created second and, somehow, coming second makes her an afterthought. A mistake, even. God should have stopped while He was ahead. That logic doesn’t match the rest of the passage, however. After all, the animals were created before Adam (and from the same dirt, no less), yet God expressly gives authority and dominion over these creatures to mankind (a term that includes both male and female human beings) (Gen. 1:28).Birth order, in this case, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with personality and certainly not with worth. Eve certainly isn’t an afterthought, either–of all God’s creations, she seems to get the longest drum roll before her arrival.
Many hold the phrase “helper suitable” (or, as the KJV puts it “help meet”) over our heads and say “See? She’s just a helper. How degrading.” The non-word “helpmeet” is tossed around in Christian literature and rhetoric quite a bit and has caused more trouble than the commissioned translators of the 1611 version might have intended. I say “non-word” because “helpmeet” just isn’t a word (I’ll write more on this one in later posts–it’s a juicy topic). The KJV reads “a help [space] meet,” not “helpmeet,” and the phrase means “a helper suitable” for Adam. Even “suitable” seems an understatement when we gauge Adam’s reaction to Eve–she was clearly more than just “suitable.” And “helper” can’t be equated to a term like “the hired help,” and certainly not “slave.” Adam couldn’t handle the garden on his own. Man could not be an island. Helping someone else is not degrading. Especially not helping someone rule the planet. Adam needed a friend. He needed a relationship. He was made in the image of God, and God is a relational being.
Others lean heavily on Eve’s subordination stemming from her origin in Adam’s rib cage. (Simone de Beauvoir, I’ve noticed, has a particularly hard time letting this point go.) Yet this justification is immediately dashed by Adam’s slack-jawed response to seeing her for the first time. His sinless eyes immediately recognized her as a being made not for him, but of him. Cut from the same cloth. To look at her was to look at himself. Eve, like Adam, was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).
And God looked at everything He had made and called it “good.”
Were Adam and Eve unequal? No. They were part and parcel of each other. God rightly calls them “one flesh.” One person. One being. Equally treated. Equally loved.