My grammar teacher told me punctuation was important…..

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

In reading a book, Flawed Families of the Bible: How God’s Grace Works Through Imperfect Relationships (David and Diana Garland, 2007, Brazos Press), I came across these two statements at the end of a chapter on Tamar and her difficulty in seeking to secure her place of belonging in the Israelite family of her deceased husband.

Regularly, I see women who operate out of identities defined by the first statement. They feel they have no identity separate from a relationship with a man. Self-esteem is non-existent because they have no self except as it is related to another person in whom they expect to find significance and security. Sadly, most have come belatedly to discover that significance and security cannot be found in such relationships, no matter how much of oneself she gives to it. Yet they cling to the hope that the NEXT relationship will be different. A pattern develops that is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The second statement, I believe, more closely reflects what God intended in the Garden of Eden when He made woman as a helper to man:

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. (Genesis 2:18,20)

I read in a Christian booklet on domestic violence that the Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:18,20 to describe this role of woman, “helper”, is used only 16 more times in the Old Testament, and in all of those other references it is used to describe God as the one who saves, upholds, and sustains His people (as in Psalm 46:1) There is no indication of a position of inferiority or subordinate status in any of the uses. Also, the word “suitable for” literally means “in front of”, signifying one who stands face to face with another, essentially equal and qualitatively the same.
(God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce, 1982 Thoman Nelson, Inc.)

There was a time in my life, too, when I would have identified more with the first statement than the second. It was only when the Lord allowed me to get to the place that it seemed that my identity, my security and significance, and even my life were all being lost along with my relationship that I began to really understand that my identity was not in that or any other human relationship, but that it could only be grounded in my relationship to Christ.

This is the challenge that I have with many of the young women with whom I find myself working in recovery. It’s a much easier case to make with a 40+ year old woman who’s been around the block a half dozen or more times in relationships than it is in a tender aged youth of 18-25 who still believes that a savior-knight-soulmate is going to magically appear from among the questionable lot she keeps associating with. That’s one of the reasons that we find ourselves ambivalent about accepting younger women into a recovery program. As soon as they get some relief from their current pain and feel that they are able to stand on their own again, they set off to find the NEXT relationship that will make them feel like someone special.

A couple of days ago I was in the company of 4 other couples- all of whom are in first marriages, the youngest with 10 years of marital bliss, the other 4 of us with 25 to 37 years of, well……mostly blessed marriages. In every case, I believe that the wives would say they have identity first in Christ, then in relationship to their husbands. Similarly, these husbands would testify to the fact their identities are first in Christ, then in relationship to their wives and that their wives are suitable helpers for them.

The story of Tamar tells us something about relationships. God can and does use even the most impossible circumstances to bring about His purpose. From Tamar’s desperate and deceptive tricking of Judah after his despicable treatment of her in a culture that had little use for childless widows, came Perez who became an ancester of Boaz, who fathered Obed by Ruth, who fathered Jesse, who fathered King David, who led to the family line of Jesus. A few courageous (though flawed) women are sprinkled pivotally in the lineage of Jesus. I think it says a lot about the place that women hold in God’s heart and the place that He expects men to hold them, too.