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When a Man Loves a Woman (Part I)

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

Ah, so I've been thinking lately about how men and women are supposed to get along and interact. Part of my fixation on this is because I'm terrible with chap stick, chapped lips, and things like chemistry. And partly because I see a need in this world for change -- economic, political, cultural, and (YES!) religious change.

For now, I'm going to look over some important passages relating specifically to the relation of the sexes. My main concern here is about the treatment of women, in particular.

Last year I started an as-of-yet unfinished series of notes on Genesis. I took down the huge note I had of Genesis 1-3 to rework it in Word before posting it. Those chapters have so much to talk about, it's just crazy (My word file is 8 pages, single-spaced). However, I did re-post the section on Genesis 1-2:3, and I will be drawing from that note. For my study in Genesis, I am relying heavily on Alexander Hamilton's Handbook on the Pentateuch. I would recommend it. So, if you want to fully follow what I'm saying in this note, please read Genesis 1-3 either piece-by-piece or all at once. That other blog post I linked to is just a reference for later, if you're curious.

So, concerning Genesis 1 (which I count up to 2:3):
The way God creates in Genesis 1 shows him as a loving and superbly powerful king. God speaks, and what He commands, happens. He tells the land to produce vegetation, something that is impossible for dirt to do, and the dry land obeys. The impossible is possible, because God says so.

God creates in a very ordered fashion, setting everything up. If all of Genesis 1 was a magic show God put on for the angels, then we are the grand finale. Everything leads up to the creation of man in Genesis 1.

Now, for Genesis 2 (which I count as 2:4 until the end of the chapter):
Here God is an intimate potter, crafting humanity with his hands. He set the man, his first creation, in a garden he had planted, so that the man could work the garden. More than work, God has given man food, too! But the man, despite God's full presence being near to the man, he feels lonely, and in God's infinite wisdom, it is not good for the man to be alone.

I will slightly romanticize the rest of this chapter, but I feel that it captures the heart of the story (and hopefully the readers' hearts, too). Now, God brought every living creature that he had made to the man, to see what he would name it. Nothing would work, though.

So God puts on a knowing smile, and tells the man to lie down and relax. After making the man sleepy, God pulls a second blueprint, one much like the man's, out of the man's dreams. God strokes his beard for a moment and says to Himself: "Now, if I use this blueprint, it's going to take a rib. Neither one will be complete alone if I do this thing. But... nothing else could possibly do." With a nod of His head, God goes to surgical work and extracts a rib, then closes the flesh around the wound, and he crafts (yes, not "makes," but crafts) the rib into the most amazing thing the man ever dreamed of.

When the man wakes up, he asks the Lord God what happened, and He just smiles and says "One sec. Let me show you what I've been working on while you were asleep." Then, with a flourish of his hand and a few angelic trumpets in the background, in walks the woman.

The man is overjoyed, and immediately makes a pun (which sounds like something I'd do). First, he calls her "a bone of his bones" and "flesh of his flesh," which is something an ancient Hebrew would say that more or less means you've adopted someone as your "blood brother" or "soul sista." The irony is that she is literally crafted from his bone and flesh. Then he makes the pun: I will call her woman, for she was taken out of man!" (The pun is true in Hebrew as well.)

The chapter closes with an explanation that this Edenic experience is the reason that a man shall forsake/leave his parents and cling to his wife, and the two become one flesh. This means much more than just "they're gonna hold each other tight and have sex." However, the wording should make that very thing spring to your mind, because that is symbol of union between man and woman (and God, whose name is often invoked during the union). It symbolizes that in marriage, the two become a completely new entity. A new family.

Bringing Genesis 1 and 2 together:
These two chapters are so very different. Some scholars go as far as to say that they were originally two independent stories. I'm indifferent to that idea, but they are very different in their expression and in what aspects of God they highlight. Genesis 1 shows God as the Creator-King, supreme in power and kind in love. Genesis 2 shows God as the Hand-crafter and Friend, unfathomably deep in intimacy and kind in love. Can you see a yin-yang thing here? The first chapter climaxes with the creation of man, as in, male. Chapter 2 begins with the creation of man, and then a problem develops, perhaps loneliness. Only one thing can cure that: chapter 2 climaxes with the creation of woman. The first story also highlights God's masculine attribute (strength) while the second focuses on his feminine attribute (intimacy), while both stories show his generous love.

While I don't know if Genesis 1-2:3 and 2:4-25 were originally separate or not, I can tell you this: if they were separate, then it's no accident that they were brought together. Neither is complete alone. Both show elements of God's character that complement what is found in the other story. And if you want to understand how man and woman are to interact with each other, it is to be with complete trust, humility, and joy, because neither is complete alone.

Genesis 3
A major connection between 2 and 3 is the word "naked." Note that the word "crafty" in 3:1 looks very much like the word "naked," so that provides a clear link between the two chapters. Now, in this land of harmony, the craftiest of all the wild beasts holds a conversation with the woman. The serpent purposefully misquotes God, and then reacts with feigned shock that God would ssssay sssuch a thing. I imagine the serpent was slack-jawed with his tongue hanging out awaiting the woman's reply. And reply she does, for she knew well what she was supposed to do.

But the serpent guffaws and says "you (two) definitely won't die; God just knows that once you eat of it, you'll be like Him -- you'll be able to judge for yourself what's good and what's not." The way the woman heard it, she would understand "knowing good and evil" not as moral choice, but as in autonomy. What flashed through her mind was the situation in the movie Home Alone: stay up as late as you want, watch whatever you want on TV, and (of course) eat whatever you want.

What's ironic is that everything the snake said was technically true. He didn't lie, but he did deceive. Once she (and the man) bit into the fruit (pomegranate?), they were no longer innocent and now knew evil as well as good. They gained moral familiarity with evil, but never had the autonomy that the snake tricked them into thinking they'd gain. That tricky snake! What's more, they didn't "die" right on the spot, but the introduction of sin into the world brought about a decay that is moral, social, and physical.

Overwhelmed with this new feeling -- guilt, it is called -- they hastily cover themselves physically in an attempt to hide from their own emotions. When God approaches, he asks the man, who is the head of the two, what happened. As woman's leader, he is ultimately responsible and God demands an accounting from him first. He quickly places blame on the woman. So God demands an accounting from her, and she likewise blames the snake.

The snake, being of a class lower than humanity, does not merit an opportunity to explain its actions. Punishment follows for the snake. In poetic justice, since the snake made them eat what they should not eat, God makes the snake eat dirt, which we all know snakes cannot eat. That is the snake's curse. Then God goes back up the hierarchy ladder to the woman, and pronounces something to her. With pain she will bring forth children. Then he goes further up the ladder and pronounces judgment on the man. God will not curse man, but God curses the ground because of man. In case you don't like the idea that God didn't give the snake a chance to explain itself, please realize that the point is not that God is unjust, but that man and woman are special and are given consideration beyond that of a mere beast.

Now, what are these punishments on the humans? God demands an accounting firstly from the man, and notes that part of his folly was that he [blindly] "listened to his wife." I absolutely encourage listening to a woman's feelings (they're important!) and to her advice and opinions. Love her for the mind that lies behind that beautiful face, too, fellas. There is nothing wrong with taking suggestions from a woman. However, since it is man's place to lead, what he should have done was stop and ask "is this a good idea?" It is for skipping this crucial step that God reprimands him.

The woman does not receive a curse, but she will have pain in her childbearing, which is the highest point of fulfillment in a woman's life. With pain he will eat of the earth's bounty. Working the earth is man's highest point of fulfillment in life. Now sin has led to pain, though both are still allowed to continue their highest point of fulfillment. And now, the woman's desire will be for her husband. The NIV study Bible leaves an interesting comment on this that explains this as sexual attraction. Uh-uh. That's wrong. God is describing the natural consequence of sin in the world: "your husband will no longer be perfectly loving to you, and you'll have desires go unfulfilled. Now instead of being gentle he will utterly dominate you." The pain-in-childbirth thing was the punishment, but this is NOT a punishment nor is it a curse. Rather, it is a description of the natural consequences of what she set in motion. The fact that God bothers to explain this to her shows that God treats woman as a rational being capable of making decisions, and as someone of value.

So, the five dialogues of God here are: A: demand accounting from man; B: demand accounting from woman; C: judgment on snake; B': judgment on woman; A': judgment on man. God gives both man and woman exemption from being directly cursed, and allows them an opportunity to explain their actions. As such, both man and woman are special to God and in His image. They are subject to God and it is righteous for Him to punish them, but He grants them dignity. Humans are both a cut above the rest of creation. This is somewhat like how medieval nobles were not supposed to be executed in an undignified manner such as hanging, but they would instead be beheaded (except in cases of high treason).

God allowed them to maintain dignity and cover their shame by making them garments to cover their physical nudity. Then they were expelled from the Garden and moved eastward. Always east with the book of Genesis, for some reason. Despite the fact that every event in Genesis 3 has "death" written all over it, the man names his wife Eve, which means "life-giver." He believed in God's promise in 3:15.

Now let's take a step back and look again at the actual temptation narrative. First, Why Eve and not Adam? There's a multitude of answers to that. One respected scholar (Gerhard von Rad) actually bites the bullet and generalizes that women are the weaker sex, more inclined to engage in fanciful speculation. Specifically, he sees women as more likely to engage in astrological cults (Ezek. 8:14, for instance). I'm quoting him second-hand, I admit, so I can't really say too much other than that is pretty extreme. Now that I think about it, though, most Wiccans are female. What's more, is it boys or girls who use Ouji boards? And is it an old man or an old woman that you think of first when you think of crystal balls and fortune telling? There could be some truth in saying that women may tend to enjoy fancies such as that, but that doesn't make women morally weaker overall. If anything, I would say that men are more likely to fall prey to the promise of autonomy from God, which is the specific "fanciful speculation" the serpent is using.

At the other extreme you have the moderate feminist Phyllis Trible, who instead argues that the serpent considered Eve the more challenging of the two humans. Now, I do have access to some excerpts of her writings, so I can directly critique her. In comment on this passage, she writes that "speaking with clarity, the first woman is theologian, ethicist, [scriptural interpreter], and rabbi." God's exact words to both people were "you shall not eat of it," but Eve gives a longer quote than recorded earlier: "... and you may not touch it, lest you die." Apparently, this makes Eve a rabbi and Bible commentator in Trible's eyes just because she quoted a longer form of what God said. That's a bit of a stretch, considering the man is the one who heard the prohibition personally before the woman was even created! Is there even a remote possibility that the man is the one who expanded it for the woman? Apparently not.

So, how about a sane explanation for why the woman is tempted directly? The very thing I just mentioned is Hamilton's explanation: it is easier to tempt someone who only heard the prohibition indirectly, and that's why the snake went for the woman. We see the same thing when the people and Aaron make a golden calf, while Moses, who directly received God's Law, did not.

Now, let's tie all this together and see what Genesis says about the relation between man and woman.

Both are made in God's image. Both contain such dignity as God's representatives that they in fact are special, and are the capstone of God's creation.

God made man with the intent that man alone rule over everything else. When God was dissatisfied with this setup (2:18), He amended that plan by creating a helper for man. No longer is man second to God without equal, for there is one in dignity and God's image who is like him: woman. The fact that man was created first and that he named woman is not an insignificant fact. Naming something implies power. However, this does not reduce woman to the same status as an animal any more than me naming my cat elevates her to human status. Even Phyllis Trible admits that the Hebrew word for helper can means someone equal or lower in rank.

Woman was created by God in some sense FOR man. The question is how to unpack that statement precisely. God clearly said that man on his own wouldn't do. There was a problem. Woman was the solution to that problem. As such, she takes some part in the man's formerly exclusive stewardship/dominion of creation.

Woman is meant to assist man in the endeavor of stewardship over all creation. This does not mean that each individual woman's purpose is solely to assist an individual man in fulfilling his purpose, though. Rather, it means that women also have responsibility to speak out against the injustice of this world and to nurture and encourage what is good. Maybe the man worked in the fields with vegetables, while the woman instead took care of the trees. In this case, she'd have her own individual purpose, but she would be helping him in the overall purpose.

For a contemporary illustration, a preacher's wife can run a soup kitchen without her husband's oversight. Since the church's purpose is to proclaim God's justice and mercy, she is still contributing to her husband's purpose while fulfilling her own individual purpose with a separate (but linked) identity. She does not have to support him by being the church's secretary or even by being the most influential female in the congregation. Women should not be pressured to aid men in everything they do.

I had originally deluded myself into thinking that I could treat this passage and a few others all at once. I'm definitely going to make at least one more note over another passage. There's plenty more than could be said about Genesis, but I tried to trim this specifically for the relation between the sexes.

God bless and keep you all. And everybody -- regardless of what views you may hold, speak in love when you comment. Thanks!

*quotes of Phyllis Trible are from The Christian Theology Reader pages 151-152.