The Story Matters
Not many stories describe life before the fall. Only two chapters of the Bible describe that world, and the first (Genesis 1), though full of sweeping images of the created cosmos, is scant on particulars. The second (Genesis 2) offers only a few additional glimpses.
But our hunger for Paradise lost isn’t the only story we can tell. Along with glimpses of that strange, harmonious world, we see another story. Examined closely, it’s one that might surprise many of us, given the way we tend to think about perfection and Paradise.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. . . . Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:15, 18–23)
Don’t let familiarity with these verses cause you to breeze over them. Here is Paradise, a world without sin and decay. Everything is in perfect harmony and everything hums and buzzes with God’s brilliant design. And yet it is not good that the man should be alone.
This isn’t a moral statement; Adam wasn’t evil because he was alone. Instead, it’s an expression of incompleteness. God’s creation is not done. It needs a bit more. Imagine that a painter brings you into his studio where a project is only half-complete. You see a canvas that is beautiful, but seems to need more attention. The image is roughed out, and the colors hint at what you know you’re meant to see—a landscape, or perhaps a portrait—but it needs a few more layers. It needs the finishing touch.
In Genesis 2, God looks at man and knows that he’s not quite finished. God could have created Eve to begin with; after all, he knew the end from the beginning. He also could have snapped his fingers and conjured Eve out of Eden’s ether, but he doesn’t. Instead, he goes through a journey with Adam, bringing each creature to him, searching for the helper the man longs for.
It’s interesting to imagine this world without sin, where Adam feels dissatisfaction and where God himself acknowledges that it isn’t good for him to be alone. We can see that even in a perfect world, we were made to be dependent, and that life is meant to be mutual and communal. God has surely made us so that we’re supposed to be satisfied in him, and yet that satisfaction is made complete with the experience of love and community with other image-bearers. The world was good, but it wasn’t good to be alone in it.
We can see that even in a perfect world, we were made to be dependent, and that life is meant to be mutual and communal.
Here we should ask, why? Why didn’t God simply snap his fingers? Why did Adam have to first endure a parade of cows, sheep, aardvarks, and wildebeests before he finally got to meet his wife?
I think the answer is this: the story mattered. It was better, for Adam, to go on a journey to find his bride.
By searching through the garden and cataloging every creature, Adam went through a sort of courtship with creation. He experienced a longing that went, for an unknown period of time (long enough, at least, to catalog the animals), unfulfilled. Ultimately, to meet the one he would love, he had to give something of himself. So God put him to sleep, took his rib, and made Eve.
When Adam sees Eve, he bursts out in response. The first song in the Bible is a love song, sung by Adam to his newfound bride. It’s a moment that has been echoed a thousand times: when Etta James sang, “At last, my love has come along”1 ; when Romeo and Juliet first see one another; when Sleeping Beauty’s Princess Aurora and Prince Philip meet in the woods; and when, in Arrested Development, Buster Bluth (Tony Hale) sees Lucille 2 (Liza Minelli) from across the room without his glasses and falls immediately for “a brown area . . . with points!”2
Love at first sight. A transformative encounter where two people meet and are indelibly transformed.
Even in a world without sin, there are love stories, and love stories are always marked by longing, searching, and finding one another.
The End of Love Stories
I find it interesting that in romantic comedies, sitcoms, and reality shows, the end of the story usually occurs in the moments after the wedding. 30 Rock ended with Liz finding a husband and adopting children. How I Met Your Mother will end with Ted meeting his wife. Friends ended with Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) finally getting together. The list goes on and on.
Stories with weddings at the beginning (or even in the middle) necessarily have a very different arc. Genesis 2, our prototype of the search for love, is of course followed by Genesis 3, and we all know how that went. The story of a marriage is always more harsh, more full of trouble. More difficult to tell.
To believe that the search for love ends with everyone feeling “happy ever after” requires a suspension of reality— something we need for most of the stories we tell. In truth, we’re well aware that love does not ultimately satisfy the needs of our broken hearts.
Joan Didion once said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live”3 —a statement that carries an awful weight of skepticism and despair. These love stories, she might say, are a grasping way that we cling to hope for love even while the real love stories around us disappoint and crumble. We tell them because we need a reason to hope. To believe. To get out of bed in the morning.
But the Bible doesn’t let Genesis 2 or Genesis 3 have the last word on life or love. Ultimately, the sacrifice of Adam’s rib for the creation of his bride is only a sign that points to a greater sacrifice and a greater union. That greater story tells of a Man who rescues his bride by laying down his life, making her new, and ultimately restoring all things.
Maybe underneath all of the tendencies toward gossip and voyeurism, the fairy-tale fantasies, and the oversold exploits of people searching for love, there’s a thread in the human heart that can’t give up the belief that one day, true love will come along.
1. James, At Last!
2. Hurwitz, “Key Decisions,” Arrested Development.
3. Didion, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.
One of the amazing things about the Bible is the grand scope of its vision.
I guess being married or not married, being in a relationship or not—is a really, really big deal.
Behind the exclamation points and cupids lie all the normal stuff of everyone’s life: sickness, heartbreak, rejection—and loneliness.