Marriage is for work

husband_wifeJudging by the influx of distraught fan mail, it’s no secret that I’ve been off the Script for a little over a  month now. Rest assured, I have not withdrawn from public life. The energy required to maintain my typically torrid production here had to be diverted to other projects–namely, a marriage seminar–but having passed through that arduous season we now return to our regularly scheduled program.

Speaking of marriage, a couple months ago I offered a quote from a marriage book on the meaning of Genesis 2:18 — “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” The gist of the explanation was that it was not good for Adam to be alone without a companion. The “companionate interpretation” espoused in the book is so widely accepted these days that we count it as a truism as we quickly skim on in our reading.

But the “companionate interpretation” has three problems.

First, if 2:18 was about the need for a meaningful relationship, it’s not entirely clear why the solution should be a (single) woman and not another man or even a gaggle of people for instant community.

Second, helper is an unlikely term for someone who will be created for companionship. If the man’s relational solitude was the problem shouldn’t we expect to hear God say “I will make a companion/friend/lover suitable for him”?

Third, and most importantly, the contextual cues indicate that what the man needs is a co-worker:

1:28 God creates man & woman as his image bearers and gives them a job to do: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

2:5 The state of nature is incomplete (i.e. no plants of the field) because “there was no man to cultivate the ground.”

2:15 God creates the man and places him in the garden “to cultivate it and keep it.”

2:18 God declares Adam to be in need of a helper.

Small wonder that, charged with caring for his newly created world, God would look on the man’s solitary state as “not good” and set about creating a suitable helper for filling, subduing, and ruling the earth. At the risk of sounding thoroughly unromantic, marriage was created for work. [Unromantic? Noooo. -The Wife]

It’s not that Scripture doesn’t consider the relational good of marriage, it’s just that it doesn’t do so at Gen 2:18–at least not in the way we often think. In fact, when the Bible does point to the personal rewards of marriage it’s interesting to note how closely those blessings are associated with fruitful labor (Psa 128). It may just be that orienting our marriages toward “the joyful shared service of God,”¹ would actually prove far more satisfying than so many of the self-serving models now in vogue.


¹Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God. Ash’s work was a paradigm shift for me in my view of marriage. His book should be required reading for all pastors.

Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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