Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
- Genesis 2:24-25
What an odd thing to say. “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” The oddest thing about the statement, at least to me, is making a point of mentioning nakedness. Think of all the things that would be interesting to know – location, for example, or how plants dealt with blossoms that didn’t die, or chatting with the Lord. Of all the things that could have been recorded, the lack of clothing was what made the cut? Why would anyone want to be naked in any garden at any time? (asked the wrinkled, sagging, and dimpled aging chub-ette…)
Because I could remember almost nothing following surgery for knee replacement, my sister happily filled in the gaps. The recovery nurse, who was male, stayed by my side throughout my time in recovery because, apparently, he needed to verify every step prior to my release. I was appalled when she told me he’d taken me to the bathroom. The conversation went thusly:
“You let a man take me to the bathroom?!?!”
He was the nurse. Besides, he didn’t ask my permission. I went with you, too.
“We all went to the bathroom together?”
Well, you were the only one with business in there, but it was a challenge to get you in position with the bum knee after surgery.
“Oh, geez… how humiliating!”
Not really. The really embarrassing part is that you had a huge, hospital-gown wedgie.
“No!! Did you fix it?”
I couldn’t. The nurse was between us. You were too drugged to notice anyway.
“Quit laughing! That is not funny. You were with me to help!”
I was helpful! When the nurse told me he was married, I told him that one day his wife was going to look like you.
“That’s your idea of help?”
I thought he ought to know. Plus, if he thought of old women in that way, he’d have more compassion.
“What did he say?”
My sister was lucky I was suffering from impaired mobility at the time.
That really brings the idea of “naked but not ashamed” into sharp relief, does it not? None of us is eager to be seen in our weakest and/or worst moments. We can’t even imagine a scenario outside our private bathroom or bedroom in which we would not be ashamed if we were naked.
To be naked is to have nothing hidden, for all of you – your whole being – to be visible. The whole of a person is more than just physical, as if that were not unnerving enough, but having nothing hidden implies the whole self – the thoughts and emotions, the wishes and dreams. Nakedness is the image of total openness and complete vulnerability. We only have to think of it for a moment before a fervent aversion to the idea overtakes us.
In the Garden, the man and woman had no sin and, therefore, had nothing to hide, nothing of which to be ashamed. The first man and woman had not yet succumbed to the plague of sin and would have been pure and virtuous, meaning wholly lovable. Neither would yet have cultivated jealousies or petty complaints or craven insecurities. Rather, both would have been utterly free to love without defending or protecting the self from wounds that might be inflicted by the other. The idea of hurting or insulting the other had not even occurred to them.
What I want us to take from the text is what God intended marriage to be. Marriage between a man and a woman was and is supposed to be the place – the union, the state – where they both can be fully known and fully loved. Additionally, together the man and the woman are able to fulfill the two tasks given to them in Genesis 1: serving as God’s representatives governing and caring for His creation, and being fruitful and multiplying. Separately, they cannot accomplish their purposes. Moreover, marriage was given for their blessing, for their contentment and their delight in one another. That we do not experience marriage in this manner is a testament to our sin, not to a failure in God’s intent.
The second chapter of Genesis gives us several other insights worth noting. The man and the woman complement each other. The whole point of taking the man’s side to build the woman was to make the man perpetually aware that he needs her. The woman, in contrast, though crafted out of the man as a whole person is physically smaller and weaker. We need to keep in mind here that we are talking primarily about physiology because up to this point, they both equally reflect God’s image in spirit and in truth. Their union is for blessing and joy, just as it is for procreation.
This complementarity alludes to a greater truth. The man and the woman need each other. He’s been pulled apart in some sense, so he cannot fulfill his divine vocation without her. She is his helper – his helpmate – because God knew the man shouldn’t be alone. Without the need for her, which God made unavoidable, the man would strive and work toward nothing and for nothing. To have dominion over the creatures, to subdue the earth, and to accomplish nothing more than work, to have no joy or purpose greater than God’s creation would defeat the man even in success.
To the woman, God gave the great honor of being the bearer of new life. She alone can fulfill the mandate to multiply and fill the earth, but she cannot do so alone. The privilege of carrying new life in the womb and bringing that new life into the world requires the man’s participation. Without him, she cannot conceive at all.
God does things so very differently than we do. Have you ever wondered why God would give the all-important task of bearing life to the smaller and weaker vessel? Think about it. If one of us were going to ensure the existence of future generations, wouldn’t we choose the biggest and strongest human being and start from that person? God is not like us. He designed women – made whole from the man – to need the man. She needs the man not only to conceive, but also for her safety and protection.
I want to make an important distinction here. The man and woman are created to complement each other and to need each other, but they are not made to complete one another. Today, it is fashionable to say that a couple “completes each other.” As Christians, we should understand that we were created for Christ, and the completion of every human being is found in God alone, not in any other human being.
As we read and study the creation of human beings in the account of the first man and woman, we cannot but acknowledge that none of us experience marriage in this manner. There are moments in truly Christian marriage in which we approach the depth of union and communion that God desires us to have, that He created us to have, but realistically, we are far too sinful to achieve the state of marriage described. As the prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9) If we do not know ourselves fully, how can we possibly know another completely?
Likewise, as we delve into the creation of male and female as God designed, we have to accept that there is not an expression of Christian marriage beyond that of one man and one woman. God did not create one man and three women, nor did He create two men and one woman. God did not suggest any of the animals were sufficient company for the man, and He did not create another man to be the first man’s helper or helpmate.
Everything about the creation of man and woman is aimed to the dignity and wonder of their union and their blessing, but union and blessing are given to the man and woman. Even the sexual physiology conveys a “one flesh” union. What stands between us and the experience of marriage God desired for us is our own sin and the temptations of the evil one. All of us are victims of our alienation from God and our own disordered desires. We should have great compassion for people who do not live according to God’s design and intent because we also suffer some form of the same plague.
God created us all with the deep and profound yearning to be fully known and fully loved. Every human being seeks that. The intent of marriage – to give us that private, secret place where we are best known and most loved. Ultimately, only God knows us fully and loves us completely, but marriage is the most common state He uses to teach us to love. If we do not strive to love the “other” in marriage, how can we possibly expect to love the Other we cannot see?
Christian marriage is far more than we realize, but it is the reflection of the fulfillment of every human longing – the longing to be fully known and fully loved, to be naked and unashamed.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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