You’re Better Off Alone

I think Eve has gotten a bad rap. When humanity falls and sin enters the world in Genesis 3, it’s Eve who first eats the forbidden fruit and who offers it to Adam to share with her. She’s the one that Adam blames when God confronts them about their disobedience. She’s the one who most often takes the heat for ruining God’s perfect world. Some even go as far as to say she is the cause of everything bad in the world. The explanation I have most often heard is that this happened because she was weak and gullible. (I have a whole blog post about why I think it’s not that.) But when we look at the creation of Eve as a helper suitable for Adam, I think there’s a deeper strategy to why Satan targeted her first.

When Adam is still alone in the garden both he and God recognize that it is not good for him to be the only one of his kind (Gen. 2:18, the first thing in God’s perfect world to be declared “not good.”) God remedies this deficit by creating Eve, to whom Adam responds with deep joy:

23 The 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.”

We might be tempted to say that Eve is created as an afterthought as God is trouble-shooting this new world, but certainly God deserves more credit than that. What if God was intentionally allowing Adam to feel the void of loneliness in order to set a pattern with humanity, a pattern of understanding that we alone are insufficient? What if we need something outside of ourselves to more fully understand God and to more fully experience the world?

As Eve mirrored God’s image in a way that was unique from Adam, they both understood more about who God is through being in relationship with one another. For those of you who are married or simply have a close friendship with someone of the opposite sex, you know that there are fundamental ways in which they are very different and “other” from you. There are things about them that are inherently mysterious and which you can never fully comprehend because you are just not the same. Yet you are drawn to them and want to keep trying to know them better and to share life together. It is this pursuit of the other that teaches us more about how we pursue God, and, possibly, about how God pursues us.

Male and female

Our Lord is far more mysterious to the human heart than we are to one another and yet God is at the same time near and loving. When we grapple with the challenges of knowing one another, we are being trained to recognize a God who is more vast than we can imagine but Whose image lives inside of us. A God whose “thoughts are not your thoughts” but who knows us better than any other and invites us into close relationship.

This plays out on a cultural level as well. God’s character is far more complex than any one person or people group can encompass. Each culture around the world magnifies an aspect of God, and when we do the hard work of coming together we experience more of who God is through one another. This is obviously not easy to do, it is much easier to be with those who are like us. But just as Adam was experiencing less of God and less of the world in his isolation, we make God smaller when we remain in homogeneity. It becomes far more tempting to believe that God looks and thinks like me, and I begin to reduce God into my own image when that is all I see. The struggle of relating to those who are very different from me forces me to remember that my God is big and limitless.

Not only did Adam need Eve because she would not be the same as him, Adam needed to understand that God’s intervention and God’s help are always very good. Our mysterious God also knows us perfectly and is responsive to our distresses and needs. He is always powerful to see us and provide for us. Eve herself is not salvific, she was entirely human, but there are things about the way God brings her into the world that are a forerunner to Christ, the ultimate answer to our insufficiency. Just as Eve is sent to do what Adam cannot do for himself, so Jesus would come to complete a salvation that we could never achieve. Then Jesus would send the Spirit (another “Helper”) and continue demonstrating God’s very good help.

When Satan goes after Eve and takes her down, he understands that she had influence in Adam’s life. If Satan got her, he could get them both. He wasn’t just instilling distrust in Eve, but he’s trying to instill distrust in God’s help. The creation of Eve was meant to teach Adam and all other people that God sends us exactly what we need to flourish. Satan can’t survive if we always believe that to be true. In attacking Eve, he tries to undermine that truth and convince Adam that he can’t trust anyone and he’s better off alone. Satan wants Adam to believe he should put up walls and keep Eve and others at arm’s length. That they should both believe that no one can care for you like you can care for yourself so from now on you’d better not rely on anyone and just do you. On the other side of the coin Eve walks away thinking that it’s pointless to try to help anyone because they’ll just turn on you, so she’s better off alone as well. In so doing they begin a terrible pattern of distancing themselves from the other, and cutting themselves off from the fullness of God’s image.

9a. Slimy Girls

Don’t we all still struggle with that temptation today? (2016 made our fears and divisions and distrusts abundantly clear.) We all feel the temptation to keep others out and stay safely behind our walls where they can’t hurt us and can’t let us down. But that also means that we distrust God’s help and experience less of God’s character. We may even distrust the free gift of salvation and think there must be some strings attached. Or we let Jesus handle certain things in our lives but the stuff that’s high stakes and risky we want to take the lead on. When we’re trying to control our lives and other people we’re falling into that age-old trap of thinking we’re better off alone. That keeps us slaves to ourselves, slaves to anxiety and fear, slaves to sin and shame that we can’t break free from, slaves to loneliness and isolation. That is exactly what Satan wants. He has more power over us when we’re cut off and alone, and he starts losing power immediately when we reach out to Jesus and to other members of the Body of Christ.

We think we’re safer and stronger when we’re toughing it out on our own and not relying on anyone else, but, actually, we’re at our weakest and most vulnerable. Don’t believe the lies. Don’t give in to the temptation to keep others out. Take the risk of allowing Jesus to demonstrate His trustworthiness. Reach beyond the borders you have created around yourself. You just might find a boundless God who wants to give you everything.

World map

 

Advertisements

Image-bearing when not child-bearing

For the past 10 years I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Mother’s Day. Ever since my brother died it’s become a very bittersweet day for my mom and our whole family, and it’s made me increasingly aware of how many women in my life experience some kind of struggle in regards to motherhood. I’ve recently written two pieces (Created #LikeAGirl and Periods, EW!) about women bearing the image of God in our ability to create life, and I also want to talk about the other side of this aspect of womanhood. Many women do not have children or are unable to have as many children as they desire. I know several dear friends who have grieved miscarriages, who struggle with fertility, who are unmarried, or who don’t have the heart’s desire to have children at all. There are many reasons why women may not be mothers, and I want those sisters to rest assured that they are equally loved and equally entrusted with the image of their Creator regardless of their parental status.

There are several barren women in scripture, and many of whom go on to have miraculous children. Sarah (Gen 21), Hannah (1 Sam. 1), the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4), and of course Elizabeth and Mary (Luke 1 and 2) are among the top examples. These women show us that God is merciful to His daughters who are without children and does not treat them as broken or inferior. Rather, they are vessels for God’s power to be shown more fully and to show that God is the one who calls forth life, it is not a product of human effort.

 

Lest we think that God’s ultimate purpose is for every woman to have children, let’s look at some other passages on this topic. In the Old Testament, Esther’s story does not involve motherhood as she intercedes to save the Jews from genocide (the book of Esther). We see no mention of her going on to have children, the point of the story is her actions as a woman and leader, not as a mother. Ruth eventually has children and is an important figure in the lineage of Jesus (book of Ruth and Matt. 1) but her story revolves around her chapter as a childless widow whom God receives into His covenant community and eventually restores her to a family. Again, the focus is on her faith and life, her worth is not contingent on child-bearing.

In the New Testament, Anna the prophetess in Luke 2:36-38 is one of my favorite biblical figures. The text doesn’t give us absolute confirmation that she was childless, but it focuses on the fact that she serves in the temple full-time. The fact that Luke doesn’t mention her parental status at all but only talks about her ministry at least shows us that women have valuable roles and gifts to offer to God outside of bearing children. While we know that she had been a widow for decades and must have struggled with that loss, we see God calling her into vocational ministry and blessing her faithfulness with being one of the first people to meet and recognize the Christ child.

anna

Priscilla is another woman whose motherhood is not mentioned and who is also active in ministry. We see Paul meeting Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, in Acts 18 and they are greeted in 3 subsequent epistles (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Timothy.) It is certainly possible that they had children, but Paul focuses on their work of church leadership and hospitality and always names them together as a team. Whether or not they are parents seems irrelevant to what they brought to the Body of Christ. Paul also talks about singleness (and by implication childlessness) as ideal in 1 Corinthians 7 and recommends it to both men and women as the best state in which to serve God. A clear implication for women is that they can fully reflect and serve Christ without having children.

My hope in all of this is to encourage the Church to affirm and value all of our sisters and to shield from shame or despair those that are not mothers or for whom this is a complex experience. While child-bearing is a unique office given only to women, we see that God endows us with creativity and productivity that extends beyond reproduction. Childbirth is a gift, not a right or conditional command. All women are daughters that glorify and honor the Triune God, which includes women who are single, full-time mothers, those that have dealt with struggle and disappointment, and those that nurture and create in other areas of the creation. Each has a valuable role to play in the Kingdom, and a glimpse of God to show to the world.

My dear friend and co-laborer, Rev. Karen Stevenson

Periods, “Ew!”

 Ew 2

Most women remember when they first got their period. More often than not, it was an embarrassing and mildly traumatizing experience. I remember asking my mom how long I would have to deal with this and thinking that menopause sounded awfully far away. “You mean I have to experience this for DECADES???” The average woman feels inconvenienced by and sometimes plagued by menstruation. It can be painful, uncomfortable and inconvenient, and we are often embarrassed and ashamed of it. Culturally we are taught to hide it. Feminine products base their marketing campaigns around how their brands will help women be discreet and act as if their period isn’t even happening. In many ways we believe that it’s gross and something that we have to overcome.

dearperiod_1.2_905-1_905   dearperiod_2.2_905_905

But what does God think about it? In Leviticus 15 we find God’s laws for both men and women on how to respond to bodily discharges. If you’ve ever doubted whether God does indeed care about everything, read this chapter. God is so closely involved with His children that He even gives us guidelines for how to handle our bodies when they do weird and unpredictable things. God isn’t ashamed or embarrassed by us, He created us to be physical beings and equips us for life on earth. When we read through this chapter, especially with our 21st century lens, it’s easy for women to feel a renewed sense of shame about menstruation.

19 “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. 20 And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. 21 And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 22 And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 23 Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. 24 And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.

On the surface this feels like women are to be shunned from the community during their periods and are contaminated in some way. We should first note that there was more than one form of uncleanness. In this case women were ceremonially unclean but that did not mean they were sinning against God. They could not participate in religious ceremonies but that did not imply that they were morally unclean in God’s eyes.

If we continue reading through Leviticus, chapter 17 sheds more light on this conversation. The passage centers on eating animal blood, which God forbids.

14 For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.

This command is about eating practices, but reveals a profound truth. Blood is a sacred thing because it represents the life that only God can give. To consume animal blood is to act in the place of God and to take ownership of a gift that belongs solely to the Creator. Blood is not gross, it is our very life.

If animal blood holds these sacred properties, how much more so does menstrual blood? This is the substance that brings new life into the world and which contains incredible power to nurture and sustain. It is the representation of the way that women bear God’s image in our unique ability to create life and bring something new into the world that has never been before. (For more on this, see my post “Created #LikedAGirl”) Rather than God commanding the Israelites to abhor women’s menstruation, I think God is commanding a reverence for blood that is sacred. God is the one that brings life into the world, and menstrual blood is evidence of the power and value of life. Women were to be set apart during their periods because something special was taking place as their bodies mirrored God’s image.

As Satan is threatened by women and the way they are like God, I think he is behind our struggle to view menstruation positively. He wins when we are angry and annoyed at the way in which God has set us apart. Think about how many women loath their periods, how many times women say out loud, “I hate my period.” When we are ashamed and embarrassed about our bodies in this way, we are experiencing shame over God’s image within us. Take some time to reread Luke 8:40-48 and watch how Jesus does not withdraw or rebuke the woman with the flow of blood who touches Him (making Him and anyone that she touched in the crowd unclean), but heals her and publicly restores her to community. The Lord draws near to His daughters, equipping us to handle the hard aspects of reproduction and blessing us with His creativity. Let’s stop believing the lie that we are gross and rejected, and encourage one another to believe the truth that we are called and loved. For both men and women, let’s affirm the sacred gift that God has placed inside women’s bodies, and rejoice in the beauty and power of life.

Menstrual cycle