Who do you trust enough to let them see who you are?
You know, I’m sure, that there are two creation stories at the beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis. Those aren’t the only two creation stories in the Bible, but they’re the two most familiar.
The first creation story focuses on God naming things in binaries: Day and Night, Heavens and Earth, and then calling forth the fish and the birds and the wild beasts. And this, we’re told over and over, is good. And then God makes a human, in God’s own image, and this creation is very good.
That’s the first story. In the second story, we throw that “very good” assessment out the window. God makes a human and sets the human in the Garden of Eden to till and watch it, and then says, “it is not good.”
More specifically, “”It is not good for the human to be alone. I shall make him a sustainer beside him.” That’s usually translated as helper, which is one of the things that the Hebrew word ezer could mean: one who provides help.
The problem with translating it as helper, though, is that we often used that word to describe people providing aid in a subordinate way, like an assistant or a sidekick.
That’s not what help means, here. God Almighty is the being in the Hebrew Scriptures who is most often called ezer: the helper of the orphans, the helper of King David, and so forth.
The King James Version uses the word helpmeet to translate this, which is pretty accurate to the underlying Hebrew: ezer or help, and kenegdo for as in front of him. The human needs someone who matches them, a help that matches in a way that nothing else in creation could have. That’s what the word meet would have signified in King James’ time.
Ezer doesn’t just mean helper, though. It means strength.
Makes sense, right? If you had your car stuck in the snow and I offered to help push, you’d want to know that I have a strong back. If I were rewriting a piece and you offered to read it over, I’d be happier knowing that you had strong editing skills.
So, ezer kenegdo: a strength that matches, or that meets. The human needs a companion.
So, God got to work, making all the animals and birds and bringing them to the human in the garden. The human named all of the animals, but for the human no matched helper was found.
God put the human to sleep and performed some surgery, and then there were two: a man and a woman. The first human says, “This one at last, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called woman, for from man was this one taken.”
It’s fascinating to me that this passage is used to reject same-sex relationships among Christians, when what’s essential to the story isn’t that the man and the woman are different; it’s that they’re the same. Same bones. Same flesh.
They match. They can partner together. This one, at last.
The animals don’t correspond to the human. The new human, drawn from the first human’s side, is one who can meet the first human face to face. The new human comes, not as a lesser creature, but as an equal who fills a need that the rest of creation couldn’t.
Life is only bearable in community, friends. We were made for each other. Even the ancient Christian hermits, living in their isolated caves and cells, are known from their conversations with one another.
There in Eden, the two humans were naked and unashamed. That’s a beautiful way of thinking about intimacy within romantic relationships; it’s the hope that two people can reveal themselves to each other without fear or judgment.
It’s not just about romantic relationships, though, because Genesis isn’t the origin story of marriage. It’s the origin story of the people of God, being built together for faithful worship and faithful living. All of us are being called, on levels less literal but no less important, to get naked.
In the 17th century, some Quakers read this passage and responded by going naked as a spiritual sign. This did not turn out well, and is not currently recommended in any Friends’ Faith and Practice.
But as Paul advised the church in Rome, we should love one another sincerely, without pretending and without hypocrisy. It’s only when we stop with the dissembling and start with the honesty that we find the ways in which we match one another, in which we can know and be known across seemingly impassable gaps of life experience.
If we’re going to clothe ourselves in Christ, then we’ll first have to shed all the ways we’ve been trying to name and cover our vulnerability. We have to strip away the pretense, without shame. You have to get naked before you can put the right clothes on. We only make sense together, and we can only make sense of that so far as we let our selves be known.
That’s how we were created to be, after all: undisguised and unashamed, sustained by those who work in the garden beside us, helped along by those who are human with us, created in and for love.
Julie Rudd is the Pastor of Wilmington Friends Meeting, a LGBTQ+ affirming church committed to the peaceful and just work of Christ in the world. Learn more at wilmingtonfriendsohio.org .