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God’s Helper

April 15, 2009

God’s helper – is a rather bold title, don’t you think? But it is true, isn’t it?

What is a helper? We have many illustrations and life experiences that provide definition. Do any of these fit? “Honey, will you help me outside?” “Honey while you’re out will you pick up … (fill in the blank)?” Sometimes “opportunity” listings in church bulletins are really just another way of letting people know that “help” is needed for this or that. Parents are often asked for help to get one child here, another there and don’t forget to bring this (whatever this might be). I have discovered helping and responding to calls for help have helped to define who I am. I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a student, a blog writer. These are all roles that express part of who I am, but these are not all of the roles. By virtue of these roles I am often a helper and I am often helped. The reckoning has come as I realize that how I help and who I help is influenced by culture.

When I read Scripture I am influenced by my faith tradition and how it reads Scripture. My commitment to Christ was solidified during the 70’s. If my memory is still working, this was a time when the Church was in turmoil – the charismatic movement was stretching the Church and fresh “winds” were blowing as well as a time when questions were surfacing regarding the submission of women. Does anyone remember Total Woman or All We Were Meant to Be? These two books represent polar opposite understandings of female identity (I read both).

So when I read Scripture I have tended to read it through the tradition in which I am immersed. (Which is also why our reading of The Blue Parakeet is essential if we are to understand how to live God’s ways today). To let go of this is for some, akin to remaking their faith. While for others is it a process more closely associated with “journey.” The creation passages are illustrative of the “journey process” in reading and understanding Scripture.

Before we continue let’s look at the passage that mentions “helper” from Genesis chapter 2:

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’…The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.”

Genesis 2:18, 20

One of the more difficult aspects of our journey with Christ is that from time to time misconceptions must be dealt with – it is difficult because we tend to think that when a misconception is addressed that everything is then in question. In other words our boat is rocked and it just doesn’t feel good.

My understanding of “help” was one such misconception. Sometimes the process is simply untangling the rope so that you can find the end (or is it the beginning?). A woman was to be the “help-mate” to the man. A woman’s focus was on the man and what the man was doing. This assumes a hierarchy in relationship and purpose. The definition of “help-mate” was based on the understanding that man was created before woman and it was man who named the animals, therefore man is to be in authority over the woman. Trust me this logic is still used today.

This always created tension for me, even in the 70’s and 80’s. Here’s why, if a woman is supposed to be focused on being a help-mate it seems that a woman could assume a place of providing for man in a way that could create non-biblical dependence on women rather than dependence on God. It also seemed that if I as a woman am so focused on being a help-mate that I lose a sense of who I am as a person, the only avenue then to meet my own needs is through manipulation. Which I remember thinking when I read Total Woman. It seemed like more than one idea presented in that book had more to do with getting what a woman wanted rather than a New Testament understanding of “serving one another.” But here was the tension for me at that time in my life – I wanted to do the right thing. I wanted to please others and be accepted, and there were no other explanations for “help” in my Christian community.

So what does help mean? The Hebrew word used in the Genesis 2 passage is ēzer.[1] But learning the Hebrew word doesn’t rock the boat or get to the beginning of the rope unless we are willing to look at when the word ēzer is used in Scripture and who is associated with its use. Guess who is providing help when this word is used in other places in Scripture? God. Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26 & 29; and Psalm 33:20 are ones you can look up if you want to check it out. In these texts the meaning refers to God as a “rescuer.” We have wrongly concluded that help – “help meet” or help-mate inferred authority or submission. Gilbert Bilezikian, retired professor biblical studies at Wheaton and author of several books including Beyond Sex Roles explains that “if anything the word points to the inadequacy and the helplessness of the man when he was bereft of the woman in Eden. God provided him with a “rescuer” to become with him the community that God had intended to create all along.”[2]

We dare not flip this to say something he is not saying. The issue is not subordination or authority of men over women or women over men. The focus must be on what God intended to create. To create community there is need to recognize what is truly coming into focus – aloneness. To carry out the task designated by God could simply not be accomplished by one individual. The creation story provides insight, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.(Genesis 1:27). In these first two chapters – before the fall—there is no hint that as ones created in the image of God that man has authority over the woman. They were given authority over created order (Genesis 1:26). The charge in Genesis 1:26 brings into focus on “them” fulfilling God’s intent together – companions. Our understanding of ēzer must include the realization that assistance[3] is provided because Adam was not created to be alone and “Eve was created precisely to ‘help’ him become with her the community of oneness that God had intended for both of them to be together.”[4]

Hopefully, with fresh insight into this important word within God’s design we can begin to look anew at our relationships with one another and with God. God’s dream still lives.

I have a role – an identity that I hope transcends them all – I am a follower of Christ and I am God’s helper. My husband and I have been having some conversations about being equally yoked. His insights and my study are deepening my understanding.

Grace to you.

[1] James Strong, revised by John R. Kohlenberger III & James A. Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001] page 498, 1434

[2] Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family 3rd edition [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005], page 22.

[3] Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2005], page 86.

[4] Bilezikian, page 22.


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