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Lost Women of the BibleFinding Strength and Significance Through Their Stories
By Carolyn Custis James
ZondervanCopyright © 2005 Carolyn Custis James
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Forgotten Legacy-Eve
She lost the woman God created her to be.
The last time I saw my grandmother, she was a thin shadow of her former self. My daughter was only a few months old, and more than anything I wanted my grandmother to see and hold her great-granddaughter before time ran out on us. I got my wish one afternoon during a visit to the Northwest when my mother drove us to the nursing home. I didn't allow myself to dwell on the fact that neither my grandmother nor Allison would remember this historic meeting that meant so much to me, but the moment I saw my grandmother's blank gaze and sagging form, there was no denying it. The fun-loving, intelligent, energetic woman I had known and admired all my life was nowhere to be seen. In her place a feeble, worn-out body slouched in a wheelchair alongside several other wheelchair-bound individuals in varying stages of decline. It broke my heart to see her so altered. Yet even in her frail and failing condition, the presence of a baby energized her and brought a glimmer (just the slightest) of the woman I remembered. "It's a baby! It's a baby!" she cried in a weak raspy voice as she extended her trembling hands. "Bring him here. We'll take care of him."
Anyone who tried to reconstruct my grandmother from the shell that was left at the last, or who searched for clues to the legacy she passed down to her daughters and granddaughters in this final version of her, would be setting themselves up for failure. The penetrating blue eyes that caused my grandfather's knees to buckle, that devoured countless books including all the classics and just about everything C. S. Lewis ever wrote, that read to her children and made loving books a family tradition were now clouded over by macular degeneration. There was no trace of the beloved teacher of God's Word, who nurtured and influenced so many young women in the faith, not the least of whom were her own two daughters. Her well-worn Bible lay undisturbed on the table beside her bed. The vibrant woman I remembered-the woman God created her to be-was lost somewhere in a fallen, aging body that was no longer hospitable to her marvelous spirit.
The last time anyone saw Eve, she was only a shell of her former self too, a broken-down version of the woman God created her to be. The original Eve was lost in Paradise. Sadly, instead of remembering her in those earlier glory days, the world's memory of her was frozen in time at the worst possible moment-back in the Garden of Eden just as she swallowed a piece of forbidden fruit and served some to her husband. John Milton, the great English poet, couldn't get that image of Eve out of his mind.
Her rash hand in evil hour Forth reaching to the fruit, she pluck'd, she eat: Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe That all was lost. -John Milton, Paradise Lost
A bite of fruit, and everyone forgot God's stunning sixth-day assessment: "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). We forgot the woman he created as the perfect remedy for man's lack. From the vantage point of hindsight, perhaps the man would have been better off without her, considering the damage she had done. Even Adam seemed to think so when he blamed her for his actions. "The woman you put here with me-she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it" (Genesis 3:12).
Eve's role as instigator in the debacle blotted out the wonder and significance of her creation out of Adam's side, along with Adam's rapturous delight in her. Rarely does anyone recall her as the sole inspiration of the world's first poetry. Even if she lived the rest of her life like Mother Teresa, the world can never forgive what she did to us in Eden. There's no talk of amnesty for the first human being to break rank and rebel against God. No chance we will forget the "rash hand" that reached for the fruit. A few swift movements and it was over. Eve got lost in Paradise-as lost as any woman has ever been. What she was in earlier times is only a dim and distant memory.
THE TROUBLE WITH EVE
We wouldn't dream of doing to my grandmother what we persist in doing to Eve. We forget what Eve was like in her prime and try to reconstruct her legacy from the broken remnants that remained of her at the end. What would be a simple injustice to my grandmother proves far more injurious where Eve is concerned, simply because of her powerful influence over the rest of us, an influence that remains undiminished despite her terrible failure and our attempts to distance ourselves from her. As one writer put it, "There is no way to talk about women without talking about Eve."
God cast the mold for all women when he created Eve. She embodies the secrets of his original blueprint for us. So we rightly turn to her to understand who we are and to discover God's purposes for us. We see and evaluate ourselves, as well as the women in the Bible, through the definition we draw from her. Which makes Eve both powerful and dangerous. Mistakes with regard to our understanding of her are costly for everyone. Like the missile that launches only the slightest fraction off course, we will miss our ultimate target by light-years if we misinterpret Eve. Conversely, a better understanding of Eve as God created her promises much-needed direction and ensures we have a true target in our sights. So before we attempt to understand any other women in the Bible, much less ourselves, we have important groundwork to do with Eve, for she is the foundation of all that follows.
The trouble with Eve is that in the rush to evacuate Eden, we picked up the wrong pieces of her to tell us who we are. On the downside, we're left with the impression of Eve as a temptress, which leads to the belief that women are morally weak and, if given the chance, will bring men down or seize control. This is a fallen view of women. On a more positive note, Eve is remembered as wife and mother. Yet even this poses something of a problem. It means little girls must grow up before becoming what God created them to be. Moreover, it excludes women without husbands or children. Eve's old legacy simply doesn't fit us all.
If we want to recover Eve's true legacy, we must begin where the Bible does-with her creation. We must retrace our steps to the Garden of Eden to retrieve the truth God revealed about Eve before the serpent showed up. God's definition of the woman and her significant place in his purposes came out in the planning phase of creation when his blueprint for women was spread out on the table in heaven's holy conference room.
EVE'S LOST LEGACY
When Michelangelo painted the magnificent ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, he painted not one but two frescos of Eve. Next to the ceiling's centerpiece is the fresco that depicts her fall and expulsion with Adam from the Garden of Eden. Theologically, Michelangelo understood Eve's role in what went wrong in Eden. But, in the center of the ceiling-as the focal point of his magnum opus-he pictured God creating Eve out of Adam's side. According to art historians, Michelangelo's artistic decisions were driven by his theology. He somehow wanted to communicate that Eve's creation is central to our understanding of what God intended for us in the first place, what we lost in the Fall, and what Jesus came to restore. Michelangelo's masterpiece gives the full story, including the Fall, but begs the eye to focus on the newly created Eve. Here, at the consummation of creation, God reveals his true vision for humanity and Eve's lost legacy for women. I think the old Italian master was onto something.
In many ways, Eve's creation fulfills the fantasies of a lot of adults who, having suffered through the growing pains and regrets of youth, can only dream of a life that skips the awkward, stubborn, bumpy, learn-the-hard-way stages and starts out as an adult. Wouldn't it be nice to begin life appreciating the value of relationships, education, and opportunities and making the most of them? Eve had that chance. She didn't have to learn to walk, talk, or feed herself (at least we don't think she did). She could easily have started out pondering the big questions of life: "Who am I?" "Where did I come from?" "Why am I here?" If she did, Adam was right there, recovering from surgery, to help her find the answers.
Eve's forgotten legacy resides in explicit statements God made when he created her. First, God created Eve to be his image bearer-"in his image and likeness"-and second, to be the ezer, or the strong helper. Furthermore, she shared with Adam what theologians call the "Cultural Mandate"-God's command to be fruitful and multiply, to rule and subdue the earth. This global mandate included the call to reproduce physically and to engage in scientific, technological, and artistic pursuits. More importantly, the mandate was also profoundly spiritual and theological-the call to reproduce spiritually by multiplying worshipers of the living God and to extend God's gracious rule over every inch of this planet. This staggering enterprise encompasses all dimensions of life and has occupied the human race ever since. God's creation design for Eve applies to every woman all the time, from the cradle to the grave.
EVE, GOD'S IMAGE BEARER
The Bible's very first statement about Eve is without question the single most important fact we can know about her. "God created [mankind] in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27, emphasis added). God created Eve to bear his image-to be like him. This is the Bible's starting point for any definition of what it means to be a woman. It is also one of the most staggering statements in the whole Bible, even though it has become so familiar the shock of it has completely worn off.
In Genesis, however, this announcement is understandably surrounded by intense drama. On the sixth day of creation, we are unexpectedly drawn behind the scenes into the secret council of God, where we overhear a conversation among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they draw up plans to create the man and the woman. "Let us make [mankind] in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground" (Genesis 1:26). You can actually sense the excitement.
Excerpted from Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis James Copyright © 2005 by Carolyn Custis James. Excerpted by permission.
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