For Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Genesis 2:20)
Helper. Many women in our day have chafed at this word, at this characterization of our calling from God. A helper is clearly not in charge. A helper is not usually center stage. A helper may feel (and rightly!) that she has gifts and talents that enable her to do the work better. A helper rarely gets as much recognition for her work. A helper may feel like a second-class citizen. And we could go on.
Some of these assumptions may be true, some are outright lies, but all of them miss the point. Each of the above statements comes from the perspective of fallen creatures, socialized in the modern world; none seriously attempts to consider what the Creator himself had in mind when he designed and assigned callings to men and women.
“When God created male and female, he did not mean to glorify men and demean women.”
When God created male and female, he did not mean to glorify men and demean women, as if helper somehow meant lesser. God created humans — men and women together — as the pinnacle of all creation, crafting both in his very image (Genesis 1:27). He created them with distinct and complementary attributes, inclinations, and gifts that make them indispensable to one another and to his plan for filling the earth with his glory.
Helper with Equal Honor
Now, God did make man first, and he gave man the primary responsibility (and accountability) for the outworking of his plan (Genesis 2:7, 15–17; 1 Timothy 2:13) to extend his glory (Ephesians 1:10). But by giving man primary responsibility and accountability, did God intend for Adam to be a mini-god on earth, decisively higher than his wife, who was also made in God’s image?
No. Before God made Eve from Adam, he humbled Adam by permitting him to discover how impossible his task would be without help — God’s help and human help. God had already indicated that it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), but then he set Adam to naming all the animals, building to the discovery that “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:19–20). Then, at the creation of Eve, Adam’s “at last” shows the relief and delight he felt (Genesis 2:23). He knew he needed a helper for this mission.
Woman, then, was not created as a subjugated slave, but as a means of mutual blessing for them both. She was, and is, an essential partner and helper in the grand work of subduing the creation and filling the earth with God’s imagers, giving glory upon glory to the eternally worthy God.
The twisted lie that Adam is more important, that Adam’s call means power and privilege, and Eve’s subjugation, springs out of the pride that human hearts have harbored since the fall. Men too often have been puffed up to lead with domineering power, and women too often have been puffed up with righteous indignation, asserting that they have just as much of a right to power and privilege as men do.
“Self-centered, bullying leadership was never God’s plan. Neither was self-centered resentment when called to help.”
Of course, Adam could not assume responsibility (and accountability) without the associated ability (and burden) to make critical decisions. But all throughout the Bible, and especially in the life of Jesus, we see that every earthly power is subject to the righteous and holy God. A holy exercise of any ability may not please everyone, but it is never to be self-serving or oppressive, and is always to be characterized by humility and self-sacrifice. Self-centered, bullying leadership was never God’s call. Neither was self-centered resentment when called to be helper.
Pride on Both Sides
At this point, I expect some women today want to say, “But men’s leadership throughout the ages has rarely reflected humility and self-sacrifice. Men have abused power and oppressed women (and others) in every generation!” Yes, they surely have. And I’m not excusing that in any way. To the contrary, we long and pray for justice in this earthly life, and my soul trembles when I see men misuse their authority. If you believe for a moment that a righteous and holy God will not hold men accountable for such sinful behavior, you are not familiar with the God of the Bible. Judgment is real, and it is coming.
At the same time, we can’t condemn men without acknowledging that women, too, have been guilty of being more concerned about our own image, advancement, power, and perhaps even “rights” than about honoring our God by being the kind of people he made us to be. God’s people were made to humbly, sacrificially, and joyfully welcome the privilege of their God-given callings and delight to reflect God’s own beauty and righteousness in those callings. Oh, how men and women should both fall on our faces in repentance — and thanksgiving — as we acknowledge our failures and lean on God’s loving grace through Jesus.
Exceptions and the Rule
We cannot escape the conclusion, then, that God made men to act as the head of our homes and our churches. In a few cases in the Bible, as a desperate measure revealing desperate times, God called women to leadership roles typically assigned to men, but Scripture doesn’t suggest that God altered his original plan. There is no indication, for example, that after Deborah there were a growing number of women judges (Judges 4:1–16), or that Abigail, after quietly taking initiative to protect her community from the poor judgment of her “worthless” husband (1 Samuel 25:14–35), and later married David, took charge in that relationship.
When Jesus enters the picture in the Gospels, we do see women deeply involved in and around his ministry (as in Luke 8:1–3). If anyone would have been justified in lording his power and position over others, it would have been Jesus, but he never led that way (Mark 10:42–45). He clearly loved and welcomed women’s contributions to the ministry. At the same time, however, Jesus did not name women among his Twelve. Paul, too, treats women with a remarkably high regard throughout his ministry, even commending Phoebe as his messenger to the church of Rome (Romans 16:1–2), but he clearly did not ordain women as pastor-elders (1 Timothy 2:12–3:7).
God’s ways often turn ours upside down, but this we know for sure: God does not want us to sin and rebel against him, but to see the all-surpassing wisdom and love behind his design and eagerly dedicate our lives to his call. We bring glory to God when we believe and joyfully obey him.
Are We Helping?
Sisters in Christ, it is wonderful that God has called us to be helpers. We are helpers in God’s very image, and we alone are made to bear God’s image-bearers. What a sacred and holy responsibility! If God has given you a husband, you were made to fit with and help this man whom God has charged with leadership. If you aren’t (yet) married, but would like to be, the word helper is a reminder to be wise and discerning before accepting a husband. Choose a godly man you will gladly help as he leads.
If we humble ourselves before our God, we will have the opportunity to use our faith, creativity, discernment, gifts, and abilities to join with, build up, and encourage husbands, pastors, and other male leaders. If we bring a humble servant-heart and true joy in Jesus to our task, who knows how we might change relational dynamics and contribute far more than we can think or imagine?
Are we helping? Is our spirit filled with discontent and envy at the calling God has given us, or are we delighted to be given such an important opportunity to rule and reign with our men under Christ? Are we judging rather than trying to understand? Are we critical rather than compassionate and encouraging? Are we faithful — trusting that God has placed the male leaders in our lives for his good purposes?
Women, let’s set aside our own distorted views of what it means to help and ask God to show us how he planned this calling to be a blessing to us, to the men in our lives, to our community, and to all creation. We live and serve to please One, and he delighted to make us helpers in his grand plan. Oh, that we may delight in this calling too.