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It is not good for a man to be alone. It wasn’t good for Adam, and it’s not good for any man. Even Jesus the God-Man is not alone, for he isn’t fully himself without his bride, the church. But why isn’t it good? Maybe it’s this: A solitary man gets lonely and needs a companion. Or: God gave man a huge task, to rule the earth and all that’s in it, and he can’t do it by himself. Or: The world must be peopled, and it can’t be peopled unless man is more than man.

All those things are true, but they don’t get to the heart of Adam’s solitude. We have to dig deeper and ask what makes something good or not good. The Gospels tell us. When the rich young ruler calls Jesus “Good teacher,” Jesus responds with, “Why do you call me good? Who is good but God alone?” That’s a basic premise of the Bible: God is good, and the standard of all good.

If Adam alone isn’t good, it’s because Adam alone is insufficiently Godlike. He’s the image of God from the first moment of his existence, but, in solitude, he’s not fully the image of God. Before God determined to create man, he consulted with himself: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” God speaks to God, for, as we learn from John’s Gospel, God is an eternal conversation: God, his Word, and the Breath of his Spirit. As male and female, man is the image of God because he too is a conversation and a communion, a creature capable of saying “us” as an echo of the divine “Us.” 

The woman isn’t given to the man to fulfill a function, or because she’s useful. Eve is a gift not primarily because of what she can do, but because of who she is: A helper both like and different from Adam. She’s separated from the man so man can reach perfected Godlikeness as male and female. Even a woman’s power of bearing children isn’t merely functional. We multiply to bear witness to the infinite fecundity of the Creator in whose image we’re made. Procreation is good because it’s Godlike. For who is good but God alone?

This is why Adam wasn’t given another male as companion and co-belligerent. Two men can’t form the kind of intimate, body-and-soul union that images the one God who is eternally Father, Son, and Spirit. If man is to be the created image of the Creator, there must be a radical, infinite difference within humanity, a difference that’s overcome, yet remains, when the two are united in one flesh. Creation is separation—heaven and earth, waters above and below, earth and sea. In Genesis, one separation alone leads to a complex unity: the separation and union of man and woman. Thus does man become good.

This is also why Eve is created as she is. God could have summoned the woman from the ground as he summoned the animals. He could have formed a female from the dust and breathed into her nostrils the breath of life. Instead, he goes through convolutions and contortions. He puts Adam in a deep sleep, splits him in two, and builds the woman to present to the man.

Paul says Jesus gave himself for his bride, but husbandly self-gift didn’t start with Jesus. It started with the first Adam, who literally gave himself so his wife could be. Self-gift is the foundation of marriage because it’s the basis of the sexual difference that images the God who says “Us.” Adam is never more good, never more Godlike, than when he goes through the death and transfiguration of Eve’s creation. Self-gift is the rhythm of a man’s life, the very substance of his manhood.

God’s method of creating the woman is notable in another respect. Adam is formed from the earth. Eve is built from Adam, the first creature to emerge from another living soul. They’re made differently, and from different materials. In the method of his making, Adam had more in common with the beasts than with his bride. The woman is like the man, a helper to him, but she’s also the opposite of him, nearly a different species. By virtue of their different origins and vocations, man and woman are drawn to one another yet pulled apart, moved by both centrifugal and centripetal forces.

That tension exists already in the very good creation. Adam becomes good only when he’s jolted to new life by the electricity of sexual tension. Even if they had remained without sin, Adam and Eve would have matured from glory to glory through the playful friction and sinless combat of sexual difference. Then sin enters the world, and this good tension turns violent. Adam, created to be Eve’s defender, turns prosecutor. Made to be united in one flesh, man and woman separate themselves with fig leaves. When they stand before Yahweh, they’re no longer a unit. Man—male and female—suffers death as their union dissolves into its component parts. Allowed to fester, sin turns every marriage into a tragedy of double solitude—not good because husband and wife are alone together.

It need not be so. In Christ, separated things are held together, estranged things united. In Christ, men and women now have a common origin. Men are no longer primarily defined by their origin from earth but by union with the heavenly man. Wives are not defined by their origin from the side of the first Adam, since they’re born again of the water and blood from the side of the Last Adam. In Christ, marriage anticipates the reunion of all things; it’s a sign of cosmic peace, a testimony to the gospel’s power to overcome sin, harmonize difference, and sum up all things in one. United in Christ as one flesh, a husband and wife become an epiphany of the God who says Us. They become the good they’re created to be and live a good life, a divine life, together. For who is good but God alone?

Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.

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Image by Rennett Stowe licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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