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Genesis 2:18-24

If you read the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 back-to-back, you have two starkly distinct pictures. Genesis 1 has an unfolding progression of space created, filled, and blessed. Everything is accomplished by God’s speech. There is no resistance or difficulty. Everything is ordered and interwoven with well-being. In fact, God’s proclamation about Creation throughout Genesis 1 is “It’s good, good, good, good… Very Good!” 

Genesis 2 does not seem so instantaneous. Creation seems to begin in starts and fits. We don’t begin with the tohu wa bohu (the “waters”) but sitting in the dirt. Nothing is growing. Like a potter, God begins to form an earthling from the dust and breathes life into this bit of dust. Human from the humus is created to cultivate the ground so that the ground might produce fruit. The human is not only of the creation but deeply connected with the cultivation (or suppression) of its life. 

But, as much as this is good work, productivity cannot ultimately replace meaningful community and connection. The human has all of creation to itself and yet having gained the whole world finds itself alone. For the first time in the creation stories we hear God say, “It is not good.” There is a red flag in the creation. It isn’t that God has created something that is not good but there is something more that is needed for life to be whole – community and intimacy. 

God then begins the work of forming beasts and birds from the ground. The human gives names to each of the creatures, yet there is still loneliness present. The text says there is no “suitable partner” for the human. Naming something indicates power over that thing. The human has named everything. There is nothing of equal stature in the creation with which to relate. All of the stuff of creation can be possessed and yet a deep void remains. God causes a deep sleep to come upon the human. The first surgery is performed – a rib removed. From this rib, God creates another human.

Note that the rib is taken rather than something removed from the head or foot. This human pair is on equal footing, side-by-side, face-to-face. The first human’s reaction is to exclaim, “It’s like me!” We have sometimes interpreted God’s creation of a helper (ezer kenegdo) as a hierarchy within humanity, particularly between male and female. But, there is no sense of hierarchy between the pair… yet (that comes with the entrance of sin in the world). “Co-laborer” may be a better term. The word for “helper” used for this newly created human is also a word used to describe God throughout the Hebrew Bible. We certainly don’t mean to describe God as our lackey when describing God as our “help.” This newly created human is not intended to be a rug for the other human but someone who shares in the wonders and work of creation. The apex of Genesis 2 occurs in two moments: Creation of the first human and creation of the second human. 

There is a note, almost an interruption, at the end of the story. These two humans are bound together as equal partners in the work of creation, tending to the cultivation of life. The story  makes a claim about marriage, which has sometimes been used as justification for our conceptions of the institution of marriage. But, here, we must be extremely careful not to make marriage carry more weight than is possible. The bonds of committed relationship are important for the sake of life and community. But, this text can isolate those who are single as somehow deficient. The point of the story is not that everyone must be married but that everyone needs committed relationships of mutuality. The apostle Paul makes this clear when he says it is better for someone NOT to be married but to commit themselves fully to Christ. Marriage can be a visible symbol and sign of our intent and promise to be fully committed to each other as co-laborers in the creation which God has entrusted into our care. But, we must not turn marriage into an idol. 

Most of our dysfunction in society is rooted in a lack of community and intimacy. Our brokenness is rooted in inappropriate or misappropriated community or intimacy. We are a constantly connected society but we lack in-depth intimacy that is not exploitive, utilitarian, or self-seeking. We have come to see people as threats or tools for our own pleasure instead of those we might be joined with as mutual partners and co-laborers in God’s good creation. Our technology and rabid consumption of products reduce people to commodities. The story of Genesis 2 calls into question our practices of inequality which create social disparities and cheap intimacy that dehumanizes others and discards them afterwards.

The lectionary doesn’t include verse 25. Maybe it feels too explicit to use for family worship. But, this text needs that final line: “they were naked and knew no shame.” The intimacy in this newly formed human community is one of no secrets, no shame, no hidden places between. This is a community of honesty and openness that is only possible in places of deep intimacy and knowing. Humanity is created to know and be known, to bare all before one another. That certainly doesn’t mean that all our dirty laundry needs to be aired out with everyone. But, it does mean we need people and space where we can be honest about our struggles, our hopes, our life. Isolation and shame are deathly realities. The Church can begin to imagine its life as a place where these realities are diminished and dispelled.