In His Image: Restoring
Words by Leslie Bustard
This is Part Four of the series "In His Image." Read Part One: The Ezer, Part Two: Creating, and Part Three: Cultivating.
I imagine it was a blue-sky-beautiful kind of day in the Garden of Eden. Maybe a slight breeze blew as the sun played among the branches with the birds. Perhaps Adam’s hand rested on a gazelle’s neck, as the first man and woman strolled through a grove, conferring over their next gardening project. Possibly a cheetah was padding behind them, purring. I can picture the serpent begin to speak to Eve as they passed by, its smooth voice a distraction from her conversation with the man. I can conjure the whole scene in my mind’s eye, but I can’t imagine what led her to continue listening. What kept the women from questioning the serpent’s suggestion to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?
The day, which must have started with hope and promise, ended with a different kind of hope and promise, but not before shame, blame shifting, and denial were introduced into the world. At the woman’s offering, Adam ate the fruit God had commanded them not to eat. She had acted contrary to her image-bearing distinctiveness of being an ezer—that is, a necessary ally. In one decisive moment, the world’s first necessary ally disregarded God’s words and instead used her own to encourage her husband to disobey God. Sin entered into the world because of the first Adam, and restoration would be possible only through the promised Second Adam (Gen. 3).
How did the fall affect our calling of being an ezer? Although the word ezer is used often for God in the Old Testament, after the Creation account in Genesis we do not see it used specifically in regards to women. As his people’s ezer, God fought for the helpless and needy, and he made it possible for the Israelites to get into the Promised Land. Many women mirrored this work of God—such as the Hebrew midwives, Miriam, Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Abigail, Esther, and Huldah. Others acted as anti-ezers—such as when Sarai offered Hagar to Abram, Rebekah lied to Isaac and encouraged her son to do the same, and when Queen Jezebel wickedly manipulated her husband. We follow in Eve’s footsteps in how we image God or don’t image God as necessary allies for our people and in our places.
However, it is Jesus who shows us the intrinsic worth of women and their ezer design. As Jesus enters the biblical narrative, we see his work of renewal and restoration of Creation—what he called “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 4:17)—unfold as he turns the effects of the fall upside down by his touch, his word, and his command. Jesus showed what it meant to truly bear God’s image into the world, restoring and renewing Creation.
As I wrote in Part One, at Creation women were made in the image of God—equal in dignity and value to men, and equally called by God to create, care, and cultivate. At the fall, separation and blame shifting came from the first Adam. With Jesus, the Second Adam, women were once again treated as real persons; they were welcomed and their ezer work was received and relied on. Counter-culture to ancient Jewish and Roman ways of life, Jesus enfolded women into his work, teachings, and community. Studying his life-giving interactions with Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, and the woman at the well reveals how Jesus walked as the perfect Second Adam with women. Luke 8:1–3 is one example of how Jesus relied on the ezer work of women. Women whom Jesus had healed of evil spirits and other sicknesses “ . . . provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:3), making it possible for the Teacher and his students to survive a three-year traveling ministry around Galilee. They were the necessary allies Jesus needed in his Kingdom work.
We are surrounded by brokenness—broken unity with God and broken unity with people; broken bodies, minds, and hearts; and brokenness in nature. This side of Christ’s return is a time when we are to work with God to bring healing and restoration to that brokenness. Like Jesus, we are to move into the places of hurt, weakness, disunity, and scarcity using both spiritual and physical hands to bring faith, hope, love, and wholeness to our people and our places.
Restoration work can happen in ordinary ways, when we offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name (Matt. 10:42). It happens in sacrificial ways, as when my friend’s middle school daughter chose to not sit with her regular group of friends and instead ate her lunch with a rejected classmate every day of the school year. It happens when we pay attention to the needs around us, as when a friend used her time and abilities to offer English-as-a-Second Language classes in her home, and later in her church, to refugee neighbors. It can happen in sorrow, as when my mom mirrored Jesus as he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do . . . ”
My mother has lived her life as a necessary ally, serving and helping in ordinary ways as a wife, mother, and friend. But by God’s grace, she was able to follow the Jesus-way in the work of restoration when the worst kind of tragedy struck. My parents had come to visit us on a blue-sky-beautiful kind of day in late October. We had spent the afternoon sitting around the kitchen table decorating leaf-shaped cookies and chatting about the girls’ school year; for supper, we walked up to the new corner café to enjoy its tomato bisque. As my parents pulled away from our place, I stood on our porch step, waving and yelling, “I love you.” On their way home, their car was struck by an oversized piece of farm equipment that was being illegally towed at night. Hours after the crash, at the local hospital, my father died.
The next year was a blur, as my mom took the needed steps of putting her life back together. The following summer after the accident, our family was called into court, as the driver was to be sentenced for the death he had caused. During the proceedings my brother took the stand to represent our family. At my mom’s request he asked that the driver not receive the full punishment of the law (which included a prison sentence) but instead receive a lighter sentence of house arrest. We had forgiven him and believed his own remorse and suffering would be his own worse punishment. The judge was stunned, but he followed our request.
Upon leaving the courtroom, we saw the driver and his lawyer in the hallway. It was at this point that deeper restoration work took place. Mom walked up to the man, put out her arms, and hugged him. She looked into his face and said, “I will never understand why you made the decisions you did that led to my husband’s death, but I forgive you. I want you to go home to your family and live your life with them.” With tears in our eyes, my brother and I followed her lead, embraced him, and also spoke words of forgiveness.
God calls us to walk in Jesus’ footsteps with hearts and actions desirous of God’s restoration and renewal. We will give it through our words that build up instead of tear down; we will give it when we pay attention to those hurting and needy around us; we will give it when we use our resources and time to help our neighbors and cities. We give it when we offer real forgiveness. We give it when, arm-in-arm with our fellow church members, we aid our congregations in their work. As ezers and necessary allies, we create, cultivate, and restore for the life of the people God has given us and in the places he has put us. This looks back to God’s good creation in the garden. This looks forward to Christ’s return. This is God’s Kingdom work.