Gender Roles: Can a Helper be A Holy Calling?

In the waters of gender roles, I am dipping my metaphorical blogging toes.

There is a passage in Genesis that is somewhat controversial in how it assigns the role of women as a helper. The context was God had just created the whole earth and the heavens, He created man, and he lived within the Garden of Eden. He had just finished telling the man that he should not eat from the tree in the centre of the Garden–“then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”” Genesis 2:18 (English Standard Version)

On the surface, perhaps it is a bit misogynistic—a justification to belittle females and make them lesser than men. In fact, I am sure this mindset has been played a million times by atheists in an attempt to ridicule Christianity as men being power-hungry and seeking to control lives. In many ways, there is some truth in this claim looking at Christianity of ages past–but the problem has been the interpretation, not the actual Bible.

What I find fascinating is that the word used for “helper” is the word, “`ezer” which means according to Strong’s Dictionary, “to surround, to protect or aid” The reference of the Bible translators when they say, help is in context with being all encompassing in their aid.

In Maori culture (the indigenous of New Zealand), in iwi meetings where the whole tribe would meet in the central marae or town hall–women were and still are forced to sit at the back row while men sit at the front of the tribe meetings. Yet, this is not out of male domineering, but out of respect, that women are more valued than men in this context.

Moreover, the function of a helper is a Holy function because God is a helper. The 54th Psalms was written by David when the Ziphites went and revealed his hiding place to Saul, saying that he was hiding in their land. David’s praise was to God:

“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.” Psalms 54:4 (English Standard Version)

The word used for helper here is “`azar”, which is the variant on the root “`ezer”, and means exactly the same as before. So then, perhaps, if God is a helper then perhaps being a helper is not an undesirable aim in life? Therefore, the problem perhaps is not so much what is wrong with the functions of a bridegroom and bride—but what functions we have assigned to God. Perhaps, we have imposed an idea of what we expect God to be and creating a hierarchy of what His nature should be, instead of seeking to submit to what He is. Changing the God is often much easier and simpler than changing the natural closed nature of our hearts.

If I could posit the question: Is our idea of God a strong arm that swipes away all that defies Him, that we are struck with fear to obey Him? But also, do we believe a God that helps, that stoops down to help me, even the most stubborn of creatures?

One thing I am learning more and more, is that though there are many that find it difficult to stomach the vengenance of God in the Old Testament, but truly this one thing is sure: He truly did love Israel. Though, however many times He was disobeyed, he still loved Israel and continued to provide for them. There are perhaps two harsh opposites of the nature of God when we read the Old Testament, there is the holiness of God occurring, but there is also the loving hand of the Helper as well working in unison together in marriage together.

“The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” Psalms 118:7 (English Standard Version)

Seeing People Saved

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Romans 10:1-2 (English Standard Version)

Here in the writings of Paul to the Roman church addresses a heartfelt love for the unsaved—the “they” that he is referring to is the people who have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. The context of the passage reveals that he is in fact referring to the Jewish people who had resorted to Pharisee-ism in an attempt to earn their own salvation.

The context to the passage also reveals that Paul was praying for these people that he was preaching against. In the previous chapter he says of Israel, “who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.” Romans 9:31a (English Standard Version) In the height of all his arguments against the Jewish legalism, he also was quick to point out how much desire he possesses within his heart toward them, and the desire that they might be saved.

Furthermore, it is not merely a sentiment towards the unbelieving Jewish, but a desire that he would see the whole world under God. This pattern of redemption occurs again in 11:11–12, 15 — we can see that this is a prayer not only directed at Jewish unbelieved, but of all peoples, in this mirroring God’s own desires that all may be saved, and none would be cast into hell.

In this passage he is not arguing here for a superficial saving—but a full salvation with justification, sanctification, and glorification. The word used for saved is soteria, translated literally means to save both physically from the fires of hell, but also in a moral sense. He is arguing more than a sinner’s prayer to save these, but a complete life change to bring them back. More than church attendance weekly to appease the human conscience, but a daily surrendering of everything to God, that He would increase and we would decrease.

Moreover, he does not merely desire, but he is praying to God—of whom He is the master of all souls. The commitment of the desires of his heart translates specifically into prayer to God. I wonder how often that we would take things into our own hands, instead of giving it up to God. There are few people who would give up their whole lives to save the world, but even fewer like Paul would give up their lives to God.

I am reminded of the hymn, “Rock of Ages” that we sang in church the other day that has stuck in my mind for quite a few days. This particular stanza was the one that stands out to me:

““Not the labour of my hands/

can fulfil Thy law’s demands;

could my zeal no respite know,

could my tears forever flow,

all for sin could not atone;

thou must save, and Thou alone.”

(Toplady, Augustus. Rock of Ages.)

There is a wonderful helplessness that is translated through to the lyrics of this song. The story for the inspiration is interesting too, where he was travelling along a cliff-face when a storm quickly approached and starting pouring down. Upon finding shelter in a gap in the gorge—the rock that was protecting him gave the inspiration and he scribbled down lyrics on a playing card.

Therefore, when Paul says that the Israelite has a zeal for God, what he is saying here is no mere compliment, but a whole-hearted yearning for souls. Matthew Henry states that: “The unbelieving Jews were the bitterest enemies Paul had in the world, and yet Paul gives them as good a character as the truth would bear. We should say the best we can even of our worst enemies; this is blessing those that curse us.”

I am continually reminded and convicted of how we should approach those who disagree with us—it is an important dialectic between voicing out our disagreements, but also love. I find in Christianity today, there are commonly only 2 positions: one that does not mention sin, and one that emphasizes only sin. We have the Westboro and the Crystal Cathedral–both of which are disastrous to the Gospel because they cannot injure nor mend. They have not the Gospel within them, only a personalised Jesus who cannot save.

Paul points out that the sin of the unbelieving Jews was that their zeal was not according to knowledge. God gave them the Law and they hung so tightly to it without understanding—so much so that when the Messiah came onto this earth, they did not recognise him. When he came to fulfil the very Laws that they were following, they did not know him, and even disowned him.

 Where does the line between what we preach against, and what we remain silent over and pray occur? How honest are we in our dealings with those that disagree? Do we desire that they be saved for merely another debate to occur?