Our typical images of romantic, married love picture a couple facing each other, eyes locked in mutual affection. And for good reason.
Adam’s first words to Eve were a serenade. In the Song of Solomon, the whole world serves as backdrop to the beauty of the beloved. And one day, our Lord Jesus will “present the church to himself in splendor” (Ephesians 5:27), a bride adorned and deeply adored. While friends typically stand “side by side, absorbed in some common interest,” C.S. Lewis writes, “lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other” (The Four Loves, 61).
And yet, as most couples know, marriage calls for more than tender clasping. In fact, the inward gaze, if allowed to exclude all else, will turn sick; the Solomonic song will spiral out of tune. For from the beginning, God built into marriage another gaze, another song.
When we hear the Lord God say, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” we may assume the not good refers to a relational lack, an emotional hole in Adam’s heart. No doubt Adam felt that lack, that hole. But God’s next words turn our eyes, surprisingly, to Adam’s vocational need: “I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). God had given Adam an outward mission (Genesis 2:15–17), and Adam needed help. He needed not only a face before him, but a shoulder beside him.
Marriages today still need a mission. And that means men today still need a mission.
Woman and Helper
This dynamic picture of marriage, this inward and outward posture, finds beautiful expression in Eve’s two titles in Genesis 2. She is, one the one hand, woman. When Adam awakes from his deep sleep, and finds his rib returned to him transfigured, he breaks out in verse:
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. (Genesis 2:23)
Lest we imagine marriage as a union of mere usefulness, a practical arrangement for the doing of tasks, God shows us the first husband singing the wonder of his wife. Here, standing before him, is woman — his own humanity refracted through the prism of triune diversity. She answers the longing of his heart, and he hers.
Yet Eve is, on the other hand, helper. When she enters Eden, she meets a man already on a mission to work and keep the garden under the authority of their Maker (Genesis 2:15–17). And then, together, she and her man receive the commission to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). By God’s good design, the mission of the garden required not just one, but two; not just man, but woman. Adam needed a compatible co-regent, a queen to assist in his reign, a helper of the highest honor. Together, in complementary glory, they would garden the world.
In the pattern of Genesis 2, then, a husband loves his wife as woman, and he leads his wife as helper. He waxes poetic about her beauty, and he labors with her beside him. He rises up to praise her (Proverbs 31:28–29), and he empowers her dominion (Proverbs 31:11–27). He embraces her as lover, and they stride forth as fellow rulers. Their inward romance, like the trunk of a great tree, branches up and out, bearing fruit for outward mission.
Marriage on Mission
Men today, of course, do not receive a direct, specific mission from God as Adam did. Nevertheless, God’s original pattern of creating a man, giving him a mission, and then granting him a wife as both woman and helper tells us much about God’s lasting designs for marriage.
Today’s Adams may not have a literal garden to work and keep, but we have our own spheres for mission: homes to manage, children to father, churches to love and lead, jobs to work, and neighborhoods to reach for Christ. Each is a field to de-thorn and un-thistle, to plow and sow, to take dominion (Genesis 1:28) and make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20). And any honest man, gazing upon those fields, will agree with God’s ancient verdict: “It is not good that the man should be alone.”
Some men, like the apostle Paul, will advance their mission unmarried, with the help that comes from friends and fellow laborers rather than a wife. Most, however, will follow the creation norm, and with their wives they will expand the garden of God’s kingdom in their surrounding spheres. Together, he and she will look with longing — at each other, and also at all the land around them, waiting to be claimed for Christ.
Too often, I fear, I act as if the mission of marriage were simply marriage — that merely a happy home, and not also a happy world, were God’s aim in our union. I live like an arrow at home in the quiver, forgetting the feel of the bow, the rush of outward flight.
How, then, might men like me recover, in Christ, the lost design of Genesis 2? How might husbands live with our wives as treasured women and as precious helpers, together building something beyond ourselves? I find help from a simple three-part framework: dream, draw, do.
Adam’s leadership began with a vision of what could be: a garden worked and kept, an earth filled and subdued (Genesis 1:28; 2:15–17). A husband’s leadership, likewise, often begins with a dream. He looks out upon home, children, church, neighborhood, imagining what they might look like under the total lordship of Christ — and what he and his wife might do about it. How might they disciple the kids better? How might neighborhood hospitality become more routine? How might the family join the church for corporate prayer more often?
Unlike the sluggard, who “does not plow in autumn,” and therefore “will seek at harvest and have nothing” (Proverbs 20:4), he takes thought for the future long before it comes — anticipating needs, discerning opportunities, noticing possible threats, and learning to plant and plow more faithfully in autumn. And as the seasons of family life change — as new children are born, as the kids grow, and as normal years run their course through spring, summer, fall, and winter — he keeps dreaming, developing fresh vision for the family’s various spheres.
Any godly wife, of course, will do her fair share of dreaming too. She will feel a holy discontent and imagine better ways the family might fulfill their callings. A godly husband will cherish such dreams. As head of the home, however, he also will feel his special responsibility to take the family forward, rather than waiting for his wife to lead the charge. And so, he dreams — and as he dreams, he labors to draw her.
If the responsibility to dream counteracts the passivity in a man, the calling to draw undermines any tendency he may have toward domineering leadership. As with Adam and Eve, God intends a couple’s mission to be theirs and not just his. So, with patience and tenderness, with wisdom and humility, a man draws his wife in and out.
“God intends a couple’s mission to be theirs and not just his.”
In drawing her in, he welcomes his wife into his dreaming — gathering her impressions, asking for her feedback, hearing her counsel. He knows his dreams are often incomplete and immature without her complementary perspective. He knows, too, that her dreams may often surpass his own in sound judgment. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, “she opens her mouth with wisdom” (Proverbs 31:26) — and he is not too insecure to hear it.
In drawing his wife out, he imagines how their mission together might make full use of her abilities. How might he draw out her strengths rather than diminish them, unleash her potential rather than cage it, see her bloom and flourish rather than wither? Or as Herman Bavinck writes, how might he help her assist him “in the fullest and broadest sense, physically and spiritually, with her wisdom and love, with her head and her heart” (The Christian Family, 6)?
Finally, having dreamed for his family and drawn his wife, a husband does — he acts — taking the first steps toward the garden’s uncultivated edge. Practically, as John Piper has said, he seeks to be the one who says “let’s” most often: “Let’s gather the kids for family devotions.” “Let’s plan a block party for our neighbors.” “Let’s get away just the two of us.” “Let’s go early to serve at church this Sunday.”
Some of us may find dreaming and drawing easier than actually doing. Adam seems to have: though he knew his mission and drew Eve into it, he failed to actually do it in the face of opposition (Genesis 3:6). Doing lays a burden on a man in the most inconvenient hours, attacking his laziness and selfish use of time, calling for energy after long workdays, bidding him rise and step when he would rather sit. I need help remembering that family leadership is not a one-time vision, a momentary inspiration, but a day-in, day-out pursuit, a fashioning of dreams from difficult moments.
“What a gift to a home — and what a reflection of Christ, when a man acts as the first mover most of the time.”
Can a wife take initiative in similar ways? Yes, she can — and sometimes should. Just because her husband says “let’s” most doesn’t mean she never does. But what a gift to a home, and what a reflection of Christ, when a man acts as the first mover most of the time.
The mission of marriage calls for all of a man. And therefore, it calls for a man to give all of his heart to God, and submit all of his life to Christ, and yield all of his will to the Spirit. Such an all-in, all-out man will embrace his wife as woman: his perfect match, his lily of the valley, his home on earth, his heart’s best song. And he also will embrace her as helper: his lover on mission, his indispensable partner, his queen with crown and scepter. And so he will love her, and so he will lead her.