I started this series of reflections on Genesis by thinking about when Creation was not yet good : when the man is without the woman in Genesis 2, and when heaven is without the earth in Genesis 1 (when we do not hear the expected refrain, “And God was that it was good” on the second day). Now, before venturing into the great evil of the first disobedience, I want to linger for one last moment on the goodness of creation. I especially love the moment in the second creation account that matches the culmination of the first creation account, when God sees everything he has made and “behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).
The two creation accounts do match each other in all sorts of ways, which I think are not accidental but stem from the artistry of biblical narrative. So just as the “not good” in Genesis 2 matches the silence about the goodness of creation on day two in Genesis 1, I think we should be looking for the moment in Genesis 2 that matches that culminating “very good” in Genesis 1.
It is not hard to find. All you have to do is recognize the striking and wonderful fact that the man gets to say it. He does so in the first human speech set down in the Bible, a rapturous little poem of naming:
This one—at last!—is bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh.
This one shall be called woman because from man this one was taken (Gen. 2:23).
He can’t seem to get over “this one,” (using the feminine indicative pronoun three times to indicate the one before him, whose existence he is celebrating). This one is so good that in her very being she answers God’s earlier concern that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
A human being gets to say what is very good here because that is his role in creation: As the image of God, he is the animal with logos , the creature who can speak and hear a word. In him God’s good creation has one who can speak of the goodness God himself sees. He does it by recognizing the goodness of what God has given him, and especially the goodness of “this one” who is other than himself but like himself, the helper fit for him. He “gets” the biblical logic of otherness : He sees that he is not good without the other, and so he rejoices in this other whom God has given to be with him.
As the animal with logos , he has authority to name the goodness: first the other and then himself, calling her “woman” (ishshah) and himself—for the first time—“man” (ish). The words can also mean “wife” and “husband.” Before this point, the man was called “the adam ,” a word that can be both a proper name and a common noun. Now instead of a word doing double duty for both the individual and the species, we have words that do double duty for both individuals and their relationship, articulating the logic of otherness: husband and wife, the one different from the other, yet the one not being good without the other, and both together very good.
It seems Jesus was making this connection when he jumped from the first creation account to the second, from “he made them male and female” to “therefore a man [ ish ] shall leave father and mother and cleave to his woman [ ishshah ], and the two shall become one flesh” (Matt. 19:4, quoting Gen. 1:27 and 2:24). The two become one in the unique way of the human male and female—husband and wife, the one and the other, in whom creation finds its goodness.
Reading the first creation account in light of the second, we see that the creation is not called “very good” until we have the human male and female . For the goodness of creation requires the logic of otherness, which becomes articulate only among those who, being in the image and likeness of God, can speak and hear a word from one another. Therefore they can also hear a word from God and speak to this divine other words of praise and thanksgiving, which give a voice to the goodness of creation. They are creation’s own voice giving thanks for its own goodness, which happens when the one sees the goodness in the other: “This one—at last!” So creation is perfected, fully good, when there is the human male and female, the man and the woman, Adam and the helper fit for him.
Something must be said about that word “helper” before we go on. In Hebrew it is a word for an other who has power that you need. It is used often of God, who is the helper of Israel (Isa. 49:8), of the fatherless (Ps. 10:14), and of all who call upon him in trouble (e.g., Ps. 46:1, 121:2, 146:5). When used of human beings, it typically refers to military allies, the kind of people who come in the nick of time to help you win a battle (e.g., Josh. 10:6, 1 Chron. 12:1, 2 Chron. 26:13).
A helper, in other words, is an other who comes with the strength needed to save you from defeat and death. That is the good that the woman is meant to be for the man. In an earlier post , I mentioned the good the man is meant to be for the woman: Having heard the word of God when he was still alone and without her, he is now to speak it and teach it to her. This is all very good. But as we know, something is about to go terribly wrong.