In my recent posts concerning releasing and restoring the woman, particularly in the church (which you can find by clicking the category “healing wounds” in the right-hand column of this blog)…I’ve pretty much stayed away from in-depth theological discussions about gender roles. I’ve done this firstly because theological arguments have been (over)done on both sides of the debate, and don’t seem to make much headway. (People that deep into theology aren’t usually looking to be convinced of another viewpoint.) Secondly–because I figured I wasn’t going to sway complementarians to become egalitarians, I also figured most of the folks I was talking to already believed (at least somewhat) that women should have an equal footing among men in the church…so the focus ought to be on how we are being inconsistent in carrying out that belief. (This is what moved me to stand in support of Jonathan Brink when he raised some questions. )
Thus, I’ve kept my Bible references pretty general most of the time, simply admitting that we have based the suppression of women on the misinterpretation of Scripture, and focused more on dealing with the passivity and latent sexism that still floats around our minds–the practical application.
But today I’m chucking that approach, and talking theology. 🙂 (Sorry, Jim.)
Actually, I guess a better way to put it is that I’m musing over the Scriptures and how we apply (and mis-apply) them on gender issues…and where the disconnect began with all this. And IMHO…I think it began at (or near) the beginning. So let’s start there–Genesis 1:27:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
This verse, written poetically, says to me that both male and female are created in the image of God. The Hebrew word for man (adam) is basically “human”, and different Hebrew words are used for male and female. Point: male and female are both adam. “Man” is the species here, not the sex. Thus, both genders are created in God’s image.
Now, I’m not going into the debate about God’s gender here. Scripture makes it clear that God carries both male and female qualities (and since woman was taken from man, it can be assumed that Adam had both qualities initially). But since the Bible always uses male pronouns in reference to God (without God correcting it), I’m true to that without getting hung up about it. God is who He is (Ex. 3:14). The problem seems to lie in our understanding of humanity and gender in relation to God, so that’s where my attention is; and it’s important that we start with the baseline understanding that men and women are both reflections of God equally, because this is how the Bible describes us. Woman is not a “reflection of a reflection” because she was taken from Adam. Different, but equal–the same species, the same image of God. This is how we began.
The other thing I find intriguing is that the word “God” here in Genesis 1 is Elohim, which is God plural…which coincides with God saying, “Let Us make man in our image.” I love how Timothy Keller discusses the Trinity in his book The Reason for God; he paints a word picture of a symbiotic triune collective Being in a circle of love, in constant motion, like a dance–each part confirming and making way for the other two in every way conceivable. How God can be Three and yet One always seems to boggle the human mind; but suffice it to say there isn’t any evidence that Father, Son, and Spirit are a hierarchy. None outranks the others, but each lifts up the others. Each person of the Trinity is GOD–just as male and female are both MAN.
Now as to why God is Three-in-One, and would make adam into two-in-one–that’s just too much math for me. 🙂 But I think the foundational idea of the relationship is much the same. If we are created in the image of God, both male and female, then it stands to reason that the relationships between the two genders should reflect the mutual love relationship of the Trinity. In fact, one thing God seems to enjoy doing consistently through Scripture is to separate entities into parts, with the intent that they rejoin as one. This is the case with man and woman (specifically husbands and wives); and it is also the case with the Body of Christ (many members, many gifts–one body).
All this sums up to tell me that male and female, being both the image of God, were also created to carry the same sense of mutual equality that exists in Elohim. If we understand that this is how it was meant to be, then we will also understand that it is within God’s redemptive plan to restore this relationship to what it was meant to be. God does not change; if this was in His heart from the beginning, it is in His heart now.
So how did we get so messed up? When we messed up. Genesis 3:16, spoken by God after Adam and Eve sinned:
“To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.'” (NIV, emphasis mine)
I think this verse gets gravely misinterpreted when it comes to gender issues in the church and the place of woman, because it gets interpreted as God’s will for the woman to be under the man. But this was not how God created it to be; this was the consequence of their sin–part of the curse! I see the ruling thing not as a command for Adam to rule Eve, but a prediction of what was going to happen between man and woman. When sin entered, it broke the symbiotic relationship between male and female, causing a rift between the two parts of God’s image, and one began to dominate the other. It interrupted the dance. And it has been a struggle for us ever since to find the beat again.
So if we understand that the woman’s suppression by man is part of the curse of sin…where does this now fit in God’s plan of redemption? Does the cross of Christ speak to this issue?
I believe it does, for this reason. The Bible makes it clear that God’s purpose in redeeming us was not simply to give us a ticket to heaven when we die. It is His purpose to redeem all things to Himself–to eventually right every wrong brought upon us by the sin of man. Not just to forgive us our sins, but to redeem us from the curse of sin itself. And in my opinion, that includes the full restoration of the two-fold image of God, the restoration of how God initially intended it to be between men and women.
Jesus set a standard of respect for women that far exceeded the attitudes of His day; and the New Testament (despite misinterpretations of a few verses) actually upholds this standard. There is much evidence that women operated with authority and respect in the early church, right alongside their brothers. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts–the verses in the New Testament that we have historically used to affirm female subjection in the church, we have interpreted in the light of our own male-dominant culture over the centuries. But when you start from the beginning premise that God created both male and female in His image, that it was not His initial intent that one rule the other (but that both serve each other)…it causes you to see those verses in a different light, to re-evaluate the conclusions we have drawn about them.
And when we begin to recognize that the restoration of woman runs much deeper than the human efforts of the modern feminist movement–that the true restoration of woman is ultimately part of God’s redemption for us all–we begin to approach things differently. For men of faith, it carries a holy conviction that as we have historically been perpetrators in the oppression of our female counterparts, we must now become partakers in the healing. And more and more men are getting the message. This is part of the restoration God desires, and it affects not only husbands and wives, but brothers and sisters, and indeed all relationships between the genders.
Because we are male and female, both the image of God…when we partake in this healing, we aren’t just healing the wounds of the woman–we are healing ourselves. We are finding the beat again, as God brings us back into the divine dance that the Trinity has enjoyed all along. This is how it once was, and how it must be again…male and female functioning together on equal footing, with mutual admiration and respect, and in the love of Christ. A two-fold reflection of a Triune God.