In previous posts we have seen that male and female together make up the full image of God and so both are needed if we are to glorify God. We also saw that they are created different and yet designed to become one to represent the tri-unity of our Three-in-One God.
We also saw that God in His wisdom did not create male and female the same so that we are dependent on each other to see our blind spots and so we need to honour the differences.
In this post we look at how God also separated Adam into male and female to embody the polarity of His character.
A God of opposites
Have you ever struggled to understand God? Have you ever struggled to assimilate the seeming contradictions/polarity in His nature? For example:
- How can He both far above all creation (transcendant) and yet live within us (immanent)?
- How can He be a terrifying consuming fire and yet beautiful?
- How can He be a mighty warrior and yet the Prince of Peace?
- How can He be both judge and the source of grace?
- How can He be both working and resting?
- How can He be outside of time (the initiator) yet responsive to our free will?
This is so hard to understand that we can find ourselves just focussing on one of the aspects (eg His grace) to the exclusion of the other (eg His judgement). But this then means that we are not seeing his fullness and we have to ignore or “explain away” passages that don’t fit our view (eg we only recite Ex34:6-7a “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” and omit the rest of verse 7: “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”).
The names we use to describe these opposing/polar characteristics of God are masculinity (transcendant, consuming fire, warrior, judge, doing, initiator) and femininity (immanence, beauty, peace, grace, being, responsive).
Sex: A Creation of opposites
Now since Creation makes God’s divine nature known (Rom 1:20), we would expect this polarity to be reflected throughout Creation and this is evident in the two sexes of (nearly) all creatures; male and female.
Since mankind is made in the image of God we would expect to see this polarity most especially prominent here:
…God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:27 NKJV)
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable (neged) for him.” (Gen 2:18 emphasis mine)
The difference between male and female is expressed most clearly through the Hebrew word translated “suitable” (NIV, NASB) or “comparable” (NKJV) or “fit” (ESV). The word neged נֶגֶד means “part opposite; specifically a counterpart”, “what is in front of, corresponding to” or “opposite to each other are set things to be compared” . The root of this word is nagad נָגַד which means “to be conspicuous, tell, make known” , “to bring to the light” “to stand boldly out opposite” .
“Masculine and feminine can be understood only in terms of each other; basically they are opposite and complementary qualities. They are like darkness and light. It is very hard to understand darkness except in terms of light, and light except in terms of darkness. They are two extremes on a continuum.” Robert Siegel
Since our physical bodies make visible our invisible God, then the transcendent masculine and feminine aspects of God (who is Spirit) are expressed through the physical separation of Adam into the male and female sexes.
“The masculine can only be understood in relation to the feminine…One gives meaning to the other.” Alan Medinger
It was only after this separation that Adam recognised his true counterpart “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” (Gen 2:23a) it is only then after naming (which in the Hebrew culture means understanding their nature) all the animals, that he finally understands who he is and can name his split self “she shall be called woman (‘ishshah),for she was taken out of man (‘iysh)” (Gen 2:23b). He exists now in two complementary parts that require each other to make sense and we created two but belong together as one:
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”(Gen 2:24 emphasis mine)
Only when a man and woman come together in unity can we truly see the full image of God. Only when the masculine and feminine are both expressed and honoured in the marriage relationship or in the body of Christ or in society will we see God.
If we suppress the feminine then we have a God who initiates but is far off, holy, judgemental and we get a religion of works. If we suppress the masculine then we have a God who is peaceful, one with nature, all about relationship and accepting of everyone without requiring any change. Clearly neither is better than the other as neither represents the full nature of God:
“[The devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.” (CS Lewis)
But if God is both masculine and feminine why is He principally described in masculine terms?
This is a good question and is addressed in this post. Suffice to say, because of the meaning of gender that we have just begun to unpack, God is so masculine that we all are feminine in relation to Him.” (CS Lewis) This is why the Church is described as the Bride of Christ.
War on gender is a war on the nature of God
There is an enemy who seeks to distort the nature of God. He started back in the Garden of Eden with “did God really say?” (Gen 3:1) and hasn’t stopped since. He is the anti-Christ who seeks to destroy anything that glorifies Jesus and this will include mankind who is made in the image of God. In particular, since the marriage of male and female is a prophetic declaration about the nature of a our Three-in-One God then there is war on marriage.
I want to take time to quickly look at three worldviews which seek to destroy the image of God:
The first is that the physiological and psychological differences in men and women are simply a consequence of evolution and therefore merely a by-product of survival. For example, men were hunters so are strong and have focussed vision and so on, whereas women were gatherers and hence notice colour hues and have a wider field of vision.
Such reductionist thinking not only removes the glory of the differences but leads us to think that the differences are dispensable in the modern age where we have moved beyond such struggles. We cannot agree with a view that says their purpose is merely to survive (ie be independent of God) as we believe their principle purpose as image-bearers is to glorify God.
The second worldview advocated by the women’s liberation movement is that all differences (other than reproduction) between the sexes are merely socially constructed. This is understandable view – after being made to feel inferior rather than being respected as equal and valuable image bearers – saying that there is no difference would therefore imply equality.
But such a view not only ignores the evidence from neuroscience and the commonality of gender behaviours and roles common to all civilisations throughout history, it also rejects the expression of differences that glorify God. Worse since it postulates that men created these roles to denigrate women, it demonises the masculine traits (such as competitiveness) and falls into the equal and opposite error trap quoted above.
“Contrary to the world’s view, however, the ‘battle of the sexes’ is not between the man and the woman, one trying to dominate the other – but rather between God and the self-centred desires of the ‘flesh’ in both man and woman.” Gordon Dalbey
Equality does not require uniformity nor is it desirable. For example as a parent I desire to love all of my children equally – but I wouldn’t want to remove their differences to ensure that were the case. To do so would destroy something that is integral to their very being. So too with gender. Yes men and women are equal but God has made them different to reflect the polarity of His nature and His purposes for us. Let us celebrate those differences and by doing so celebrate the full nature of our glorious God.
The third and final worldview is dualism espoused by Plato: the body and thought/spirit are separate, with the thought/spirit being the true self and the body a hindrance. This was then refined in Descartes’ phrase “I think therefore I am.” This view says that my existence, my true identity is what I think about myself. Hence my material sexed body is immaterial and gender is merely a state of mind.
This anti-Christ spirit was refuted in the letter of John. The godly Hebraic worldview is holistic – we are embodied spirits or spiritualised bodies. Our bodies express our true nature – they make visible the invisible. Being male expresses the transcendent quality of masculinity and being female expresses femininity. This is how we can understand God through what has been physically created as the physical realm is a shadow of the heavenly reality. The physical world reflects spiritual truths.
In future posts on this topic we will take time to explore the richness of masculinity and femininity and seek to honour both parts equally in our marriages, the body of Christ and the world. It is my hope and prayer that this will provide a plumbline for those like me who struggle with their sexuality, that it would lead to a deeper respect for the opposite sex as an equal image bearer of God and that it will help us to see God more fully.