In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth . . . And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”
In the last couple of months as I having been working my way slowly through Genesis 1-2, I was impressed once again by the picture in this passage of the relationship between male and female. In Genesis 1:27, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Then, God blessed both male and female together and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .” (1:28). Humankind, as male and female, bears the very image of God. Humankind, as male and female, is given authority and stewardship over creation. This passage reveals God’s intentions for a deep collaboration between man and woman in the work he assigned to human beings.
Genesis 2 confirms this image, though from a different perspective. First, God created the man and puts him in the Garden of Eden “to till and keep it” (2:15). But, God recognized that “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (2:18). Though the word “helper” (‘ezer in Hebrew) almost always suggests a person of superior capability (God is often called ‘ezer in Scripture), the phrase “as his partner” and the rest of chapter 2 show that the woman is not the man’s superior, but rather his equal collaborator in human work. The woman complements the man, enabling him to do the work assigned by God. She joins him in tilling and keeping the garden, even as she and the man are full partners in being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth, and having dominion over it.
Of course, I am well aware that Christians differ on exactly how this should be worked out in practice. Some emphasize the full equality between the sexes in the matter of work, with the potential for a woman to fill any leadership role. Others stress the differences between the sexes, seeing the woman’s role as complementary, but not the same as the man’s when it comes to leadership positions.
I don’t intend to jump into this debate right now. But, it seems to me that sometimes, in the argument about the roles of men and women, we Christians neglect the big picture revealed in Genesis 1-2. And this picture, I believe, is of a profound, essential, pervasive, and collaborative partnership between men and women. The creation story in Genesis holds up a vision of shared work, shared stewardship, and shared leadership, since God gives to humankind, male and female together, dominion over the animals of the earth (1:28) and partnership in the business of tilling and keeping the garden (2:15, 18).
Of course, we’ll soon see how sin messes up what God intended for men and women. I don’t mean to understate the challenges and problems we’re confronting here. But I do believe that we who affirm the divine inspiration of Genesis 1-2 should be leading the pack when it comes to a compelling and consistent vision of collaborative, healthy, holy, and flourishing relationships between men and women in the workplace.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you respond to the biblical picture of male and female in Genesis 1-2? In what ways does your work life reflect this vision? If you’re a man, how do you encourage, support, and collaborate with your female colleagues? If you’re a woman, how do you encourage, support, and collaborate with your male colleagues?
Gracious God, thank you for creating us in your image as male and female. Thank you for seeing that it is not good for us to be alone in our work. Thank you for creating man and woman with the potential for deep partnership.
As you know, Lord, this is an area where sin has taken a considerable toll. Working relationships between men and women have not been what you intended. Forgive us for how we have fallen short of your plan.
May the vision of male/female partnership in Genesis teach us, inspire us, and empower us to hold up this vision in our workplaces and our culture, through what we say and what we do. May our work relationships honor your and enable us to be maximally fruitful for your kingdom. Amen.