This is part four of a series called “The Backstory.” Backstory is a reference to the sequence of events which form the backdrop to “The call of Abram” and the unfolding of God’s mysterious plan of redemption.
Adam’s path of self-discovery
“Oh, how cute, Adam named all the animals.” At first blush, this section of scripture is confusing and we’re not exactly sure what to do with it. Instead of addressing it at face value and searching for the theological significance, we assign it to the realm of fairy tale or a nursery story. I believe something profound is taking shape in this story and it’s not about giving names to all the animals.
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.
Notice this naming ceremony is couched inside of God’s concern for Adam being alone, needing a helper or life partner. It begins and ends with the crisis of Adam’s aloneness. The naming activity, meant to solve the aloneness crisis, did nothing of the sort. He was still alone, without a helpmeet, and perhaps feeling worse than before. What was God after? If Adam needed a mate, why send him on a rabbit trail?
Part of the verse above says, “Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird.” Who else was formed out of the ground? Adam, of course! If we think about Adam, he was both a spiritual being and a human being. As a spiritual being he bore the “image” of his maker, but as a human being he bore the image of the earth like the animal kingdom. But he was different because he carried something they did not have. Adam had to learn that amongst all of God’s wonderful creation, he was unique. And it was important to understand this truth before he was provided a mate, for she would share this same reality.
In Genesis chapter one, God created all life after its kind, plants, trees, sea creatures, animals, and birds. If we think in terms of biological taxonomy, God created all assorted life according to species but does not give them names. When he comes to the creation of man in 1:26-27, he makes him/them after his image and likeness. All other life was made according to its own species, but we are made according to his likeness, not our own. A great contrast is set up between man and other life. Other life is in accord with its own species or kind, but we are in accord with our Creator’s likeness.
God led Adam through this discovery process instead of just telling him who he was. Adam, in the laboratory of Eden discovered, “I am unique amongst all the creatures. I am not like them. Who am I like? Oh, I’m like God.” Adam comes to understand whose likeness he is created in and the image he bears. Although he is human (of the earth), he carries the image and likeness of the eternal one, a truly remarkable discovery.
In preparation for a life partner, God is accomplishing several things in the life of Adam. A need is identified and recognized – the need for a mate. Second, he discovers his uniqueness in this new world. Third, he discovers that his role is to nurture and care for the creation, namely the animal kingdom. And finally, he finds that God is his partner as he fulfills this calling. Certainly, God could have done the naming himself, but that would have robbed Adam of the opportunity for discovery and self-awareness. It’s wonderful how the Creator used the natural world to facilitate a deeply significant learning process for Adam.
What does it mean to name something? If you have children, what was the process like of naming them? Did you consider your responsibility to nurture and care for your children, provide for them, and teach them correctly? Was it important for their names to reflect your aspirations for their lives?
Maybe to some degree, this is what Adam did for the animals. To name something is to know it, to make it relatable on its own terms, giving it an identity. It also implies that you will care for and nurture it until it can care for itself. This is the mandate given to Adam when charged with naming the animals.
From these few verses we can glean some important truths about life. Man’s role (as image bearers) is one of partnering together with God, working together in his garden. Second, as we give ourselves to that partnership, we discover our own identity with respect to his calling. And finally, knowing him as a kind father, we reflect that kindness to those under our care.
Now Adam is ready for his mate!