November 20, 2018 § 2 Comments
Our Creator gets to tell us exactly who we are. On the first page of the Bible, Genesis 1:27 declares two truths about who we are.
“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
“The image of God” tells us how we are all the same. All human beings are of equal value. “Male and female” tells us how we are different. Half of us are gendered male and the other half female. We need both truths in order to think rightly, and act rightly, about gender today.
BEING EQUAL YET DIFFERENT
Gender and sex used to mean basically the same thing, and some languages still only have one word for both. Ontologically, as most dictionaries will affirm, there is no critical difference between gender and sex (“the state of being male and female”) except as posited by those whose obsession with autonomy mandates a critical difference. The immutable and binary truth on this topic hasn’t been seriously challenged until recent history in an effort to separate gender (social and cultural roles and self-identity with respect to the state of being male and female) and sex (objective physical traits with respect to the state of being male and female). One of the contemporary challengers, representing a sexual libertarian worldview, is the New York Times, calling gender a “creative playing field.”(1) A biblical worldview says that gender/sex was God’s creative playing field, and His work in the department is complete. If we understand this, we honor God, stay true to ourselves, and do a lot less harm to our neighbor.
Suppose a teacher asks her 4th grade class, “Aside from anatomy, what’s the difference between boys and girls?” (I saw this in a YouTube video meant to challenge gender stereotypes, but for the life of me I can’t find it now). The students, too young to have had a comprehensive biology course, give the teacher the answer she’s looking for by shrugging: “I guess nothing, really.” The conclusion: Anatomy doesn’t really matter. Maybe there’s really no significant difference between males and females after all.
But there’s glaring problem with the original question. Anatomy is too big of a thing to set aside. If we asked, “Aside from oceans, where do whales live?” we would come to find that without oceans there would be no whales, except for a handful at SeaWorld and the dead ones on beaches. Likewise, without anatomy, we don’t actually have a human being. Anatomy encompasses all that we are physically, and even those who consider human beings more than physical entities have to admit that we are not human without our bodies. In our anatomy, we see obvious differences beyond the basic reproductive differences we learn about in sex ed.
The human anatomy includes about 37 trillion cells, each encoded with information that denotes male or female. Female DNA have one pair of identical X chromosomes, whereas males have an X and a Y chromosome. You could say our anatomy declares what sex we are 37 trillion times.
Even our brains are binary. According to Stanford Medicine, we find “distinct anatomical differences in neural structures and accompanying physiological differences in function” in the brains of men and women(2).
Maybe the most obvious physical difference is overall size and strength. I will concede that there are women out there who can arm-wrestle me to ruin or completely lose me running the mile. But the exceptions prove the rule that the strongest man in the Olympics is stronger than the strongest female, and the fastest man at the Drake Relays will best the fastest woman.
So clearly, anatomy does matter in determining what is a boy and what is a girl. But what are the reasons for these physical differences between the sexes?
According to the Bible, male and female humans are designed to fulfill certain God-given roles. These roles are numerous, but I’ve chosen a handful that Jill Nelson explores in her “Your Word Is Truth” curriculum published by Truth:78(3). Men are uniquely designed to be servant-leaders, providers, and protectors. Women are uniquely designed to be helpers, submissive (yikes!) and nurturers.
BEING A MAN
In reading Genesis 2, we find that man was created first (vs. 5-7), that Adam’s first job was a gardener, and that God gave him a warning to not eat the forbidden fruit in order to protect him (vs. 15-17). In verses 19-21, we see that the first woman was not made the exact same way as man (Adam was formed from the dust of the earth, and woman was formed from man), and that the man named the woman (vs. 23).
So far, so what? There is a particular ordering in God’s creation here, but we only begin to see the significance of it after sin comes into the picture in Genesis 3. Eve was deceived by Satan and ate the forbidden fruit first, but then Adam followed. In verse 9, “the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” God didn’t forget about Eve, but God went straight to Adam because the man did not fulfill his God-given roles to lead, protect, and provide for his wife.
Romans 5:12 says that “sin entered the world through one man…” Eve did not escape sin’s consequences, but Adam’s role as the head of his wife meant that he bore a greater responsibility for rebelling against God. We can see how this works in other human relationships where authority is ordered. Young children get into trouble by their parents for stealing something at a store or borrowing the family car, but the law ultimately puts the responsibility for the crime on their parents. Soldiers who violate orders get reprimanded by their sergeant, but the sergeant will also answer to his superiors for the actions of his unit.
What does it mean for a man to be a leader?––Or better yet, a servant-leader? Scripture provides two specific arenas where men are to take the lead, but also be willing to serve. These two contexts are the church and their marriages.
In the church, “an overseer” (or pastor or elder), “manages God’s household.” Titus 1:7-8 requires men who lead in the church “be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” The lead pastor at our church, who also serves as one of the elders, meets these qualifications. He leads, he pastors, and is also at times spotted taking the trash out after potlucks. Such tasks are not menial to a servant-leader.
In marriage, according to Ephesians 5, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The command for men: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (vs. 23-25) The “head of the wife” should also serve his wife and family as Jesus did, willingly making sacrifices of himself.
Neither of these passages describe men who are oppressive, mean bruisers who lord over women. Neither do they describe wimps who live and serve passively. Can women be leaders? Of course, and many are. Can women make independent decisions in a marriage? Yes, please. Men, however, are uniquely gifted by God to fulfill the role of servant-leader.
What does it mean for a man to be a provider? “Deadbeat dads” are fathers who are expected to provide for their family but choose not to. Deadbeat moms also exist, but because there is a greater expectation on men to provide for their families, men are in the spotlight when they don’t.
Many studies exist about depression and anxiety in unemployed men(4), but we really don’t hear about this problem among unemployed women. That’s not to say that women who lose their jobs are thrilled about it, but there is a higher expectation of men, and by men, for men to be able to provide for their families. The inability to fulfill that God-given role can tear a man apart (whether they realize it’s a God-given role or not, because bearing God’s likeness means we can’t help being like Him).
Can women provide for their families by themselves? Yes! Many do as single moms, either because they want to or because they are forced to, and they do it well. But men are uniquely gifted by God to be providers.
What does it mean for a man to be a protector? When there’s a crash downstairs in the middle of the night, who is expected to be the first one to determine if it’s a cat burglar or just the cat knocking around Christmas ornaments? We expect the husband to grab the baseball bat or 9 mil and investigate. When sister is being picked on, should brother stand idly by? The expectation is that he will rise to sister’s defense. Unless the husband is disabled or absent, or the brother is much younger, it’s hard to imagine those roles reversed.
Let’s be clear, women can be protectors too. Poke the mama bear and you’ll see. Women serve in military and police forces, put out fires, and save lives in medical emergencies. But men protecting women as a primary role screams at us in certain situations. Take the recent shooting in Thousand Oaks, CA at Borderline Bar & Grill. Where 12 people were killed by one bad man, this tragedy revealed many good men instinctively being protectors. Men piled on top of women to shield them from bullets, men broke windows to provide a way of escape, and men used their own shirts for tourniquets to save the wounded. One man pulled his son outside and then lamented that he couldn’t go back into the building to help others. As Glen Stanton wrote in The Federalist, “This is the very opposite of misogyny, and dramatically so.”(5) Nobody had time to question the political-correctness of guys using their strength to protect nearby women, and no woman complained about it after the fact. These were men intuitively doing what God designed them to do.
Does any of this mean that men are more important than women? Not at all. Men are generally larger and physically stronger, which helps in fulfilling the above roles. But Genesis 1:27 tells us men and women are spiritual equals because we are all image-bearers and deemed worthy of God’s love and redemption. God, in His infinite wisdom, gave equally-valued males and females different roles. Godly men should embrace their unique roles and lead confidently, provide faithfully, and protect intuitively, with love and respect for women, and without the need to dominate them.
BEING A WOMAN
Eight times throughout the creation account in Genesis 1, God makes a point to call what He had made “good” or “very good.” Then in Genesis 2:18 we learn it was “not good for the man to be alone.” And God said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” Enter Eve, the suitable “helper.”
What does it mean for a woman to be a helper? Eve helped Adam garden, but the scope of her help to him was no doubt life-size. In this intentionally complimentary relationship between the first man and woman, Eve helped Adam become complete. Men need women.
But the term “helper” in our day-to-day seems like an inferior or subservient position in relation to the one being helped. This is not a biblical position, however. The Hebrew term for “helper” (`ezer) is used in scripture some twenty times referring to God Himself (i.e. Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help (`ezer) come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”) God is not inferior or subservient to us, so we shouldn’t think that woman is considered, biblically, to be inferior or subservient to man(6).
What does it mean for a woman to be submissive to man? This is a contentious issue today to say the least. “To be subject to their husbands” (Titus 2:5) is not a role that every woman is completely at ease with. Why is this so?
I will suggest that the reason we don’t like the idea of submission is not due to a problem with the idea of submission, but, we have a problem with the idea of submitting to men who are jerks. Would there be any reason a woman would not willingly yield to another’s authority or leadership if those charged to lead did so justly, honorably, courageously, respectfully, and in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7)—the way men are called to lead? Husbands can be less than perfect in this regard and wives are still called to submit, but it’s harder to do. Men should demonstrate to women everywhere that they can be trusted. Men, stop being jerks.
What does it mean for a women to be a nurturer? To nurture means to nourish, care for, encourage, comfort, teach and train. Seventy-six percent of teachers are female(7), perhaps because the best teachers are ones particularly gifted to nurture students into knowledge rather than simply presenting information. In a family, nobody nurtures like mom. In and out of the home, men can also nourish, care for, encourage, comfort, teach and train, but women are uniquely designed for this. The role of nurturer lines up and compliments man’s role as protector in the family. Children do best with a mother and father, in part because children do best when they are both nurtured and protected.
BEING JERKS (AND WHY WE HAVE FEMINISM)
Even as a conservative Christian, I’ve often thought that there are some redeeming qualities to feminism, at least in its origins. I think the reason some women became feminists was because there was a legitimate problem in society. We have feminism largely because we have misogyny and sexism. Historically, and today, too many men have abused, sexually harassed, unfairly discriminated and oppressed women. Instead of being faithful to their God-given roles as servant-leaders, providers, and protectors, men in positions of power over women have abused that authority. Men who are physically stronger than women have over-powered them and treated them as objects of conquest, and this is despicable. As previously noted, we have been jerks.
For all its good intentions to address the problem, however, postmodern feminism in general is an over-correction. It’s me, whenever I’m playing a video game where I’m racing a car; I hit one wall, then oversteer to the other side of the track and hit the other wall. I can’t keep the car on the road. Feminism sees men nefariously taking advantage of differences between men and women and then jerks the wheel to the other extreme, pretending there are no significant differences between men and women. That’s not right either.
Gender has been in crisis for some time. Getting back on the road means getting back to the blueprint of God’s word. I see the bulk of responsibility resting on men to take the lead in fixing things. If men lived out their roles as servant-leaders, providers and protectors, we would not have misogyny and sexism, and we would not need feminism, which would make it a lot easier for women to commit to their roles as submissive helpers and nurturers.
God is our designer and definer, and His plan is always the best. As human beings who bear God’s image, we are all equal in value and as recipients of His salvation through Christ Jesus, joint heirs in the gracious gift of life(8). As for our wonderful and God-honoring distinctions, women being feminine (instead of feminists) and men being masculine (instead of jerks) means living according to our God-given roles together. Clearly, we need each other, and we need God’s word to know who we are.
1) Hoffman, Jan (2009, Nov. 6). Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/fashion/08cross.html
2) Goldman, Bruce (Spring 2017). Two Minds: The Cognitive Differences Between Men and Women. Retrieved from https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html
3) Nelson, Jill (2010). Your Word is Truth: A Study for Youth Seeing All of Life Through the Truth of Scripture. Retrieved from http://www.childrendesiringgod.org/curriculum/curricula.php?id=23&curriculaId=8
4) Eales, MJ (1988, Nov.). Depression and Anxiety in Unemployed Men. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3270836
5) Stanton, Glenn T. (2018, No. 12). In Thousand Oaks, Scores Of Heroic Men Rescued Others From One Evil Man. Retrieved from https://thefederalist.com/2018/11/12/thousand-oaks-scores-heroic-men-rescued-others-one-evil-man
6) Eldredge, Stasi (2017, Dec. 19). God is Our Ezer. Retrieved from https://www.ransomedheart.com/daily-reading/god-our-ezer
7) National Center for Education Statistics (2018) NCES Fast Facts: Teacher Trends. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=28
8) 1 Peter 3:7 NIV
March 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
Perhaps the most effective offense against a fortress is a long-term series of smaller, quieter assaults that covertly destroy one brick at a time. That must be Satan’s strategy against humanity’s most fundamental unit, the institution of marriage. The gay marriage debate has our attention now, but that’s really one piece of crumbling structure that’s been under attack for many decades, and actually much longer. Marriage was given by God and designed to be a permanent, covenantal relationship between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24). Here’s a historical look at what has laid siege against marriage as it was originally designed.
1ST OFFENSIVE: DIVORCE
Divorce dates back to the days of Moses, when certificates of divorce were granted to the Israelites. In Matthew 19, we find out that God permitted divorce as a concession, but “it was not this way from the beginning” (19:8). Numerous times in Scripture, God gave people over to their own sinful desires and allowed certain conditions to exist, and this was one of those. Despite hating divorce (Malachi 2:16), God, knowing the persistent nature of man’s hardened and sinful heart, regulated it by adding grounds for and a process to divorce to keep a bad situation from getting worse (Deuteronomy 24).
2ND OFFENSIVE: BIRTH PREVENTION
Various methods of birth control existed from ancient times, the first being coitus interruptus, found in Genesis 38. Following various birth control experiments throughout the 1800s in the US, the early 20th century brought the coining of the term “birth control” by activist Margaret Sanger. Sanger was later instrumental in the development of the first birth control pill approved for contraceptive use in 1960, which was legalized in all US states within 5 years and available to all women regardless of reason for use by 1972.
Birth control that is non-abortive and exercised with wise motives is not sinful. But the same goes with alcohol or any other drug—it’s sinful when it’s abused. What’s abuse? There’s a distinction between birth control and birth prevention because often married couples use the pill or some other method to delay pregnancy, sometimes indefinitely, and for selfish reasons. The desire for becoming well-established in a career or enjoying personal freedom can become an idol. I fell into this trap myself, and birth control made it a lot easier for my wife and I to push parenthood back. There are justifiable reasons to delay having children related to illness, economics and other life circumstances. Today’s trends show that married couples are in better health and financial situations now than in previous decades, yet the average age for child-bearing has moved from early to the late twenties. In fact, the majority of first children are now born outside of the stability of marriage.(1)
How does delaying children impact marriage? Considering one of the chief purposes of marriage is procreation, by delaying kids or in some case deciding never to “be fruitful and multiply” means a load-bearing beam has been knocked out of the structure. Part of marriage should be family planning, rather than planning to not have a family.
3RD OFFENSIVE: ABORTION
The intentional termination of a pregnancy dates back to ancient times as well, and has been historically banned or restricted in countries around the world. While having the same effect as deciding not to have children, abortion is not preventing a child, but murdering a child. In the mid- to late-20th century, many countries passed laws legalizing abortion on various levels, beginning here in the US with the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.(2)
In addition to reducing births (approximately 42 million children are aborted annually, worldwide), abortion philosophy diminishes the value of human life, and the guilt and regret following an abortion can devastate a marriage. One wife’s take, from the Elliot Institute’s Post-Abortion Review: “Marriage vows are based on the idea of loving, honoring, cherishing and respecting each other. After an abortion, love can turn to hate, honor to dishonor, respect to disrespect, and cherishing to yesterdays newspaper.”(3) The body of evidence that conditions such as Post-Abortion Syndrome have a negative effect on marriages is vast. Effects include the resentment of spousal pressure to abort, reinforcement of defective problem solving, disillusionment and emotional disengagement, questions about identity—all of which can strike at the core of a marriage.(4)
4TH OFFENSIVE: FEMINISM
Protofeminist (precursors to feminism) movements began to surface in a few ancient cultures, but began to really move in the US in the 19th to early 20th centuries, mainly in the context of suffrage, working conditions and educational rights for women and girls. It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that Feminism moved from the realm of fighting moral injustice in a sinful society to sinfully redefining the God-given role of women in marriage. Feminism is rooted in arrogance and has an agenda to destroy any distinctions between men and women. Christians understand that men and women have equal access to blessings in Christ (Galatians 3:28) and are created to fulfill different roles in the world, and women are not inferior in virtue or importance. Feminist Gloria Steinem popularized the phrase “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”—although she eventually married a man. Feminist attitudes undermine marriage, which require both men and women to fulfill God-given gender-specific roles that don’t function well under such an oppressive ideology.
5TH OFFENSIVE: SEXUAL REVOLUTION
It’s hard to know how to briefly summarize the 60s and the explosion of “free love,” when marriage began to show up as the cumbersome alternative to cohabitation. From communes to condos, the lifestyle caught on, and it’s pretty easy to see that legalized abortion, the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, the advent of the pill were linked to a false hope of freedom and even fueled each other. The rise of sexual liberation outside the arena of marriage has devastated marriage over the last half century probably more than any other “progressive” movement.
6TH OFFENSIVE: NO-FAULT DIVORCE
Along with the sexual revolution’s degraded view of marriage came the need for an easier way to get out of marriage. No-fault divorce laws(5) began sweeping across the US in 1970 with the state of California. Since 1985, all 50 states and D.C. allowed married couples to divorce without any accusations of adultery, abandonment, felony, or any other legal or moral cause. From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate more than doubled in the US.(6) No-fault divorce was already law in Russia in 1918, and other countries adopted similar laws more recently, including Canada, Sweden and Australia.
7TH OFFENSIVE: GAY MARRIAGE
One of the most compelling very recent essays I’ve seen on the case against gay marriage was written by a gay man. Doug Mainwaring writes in The Public Discourse (I’m Gay and I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, March 8, 2013) that he opposes gay marriage not on grounds of religion or tradition, but logic and experience. His own story tells of his discovery of purpose and deep fulfillment as a father and a husband to one wife, while deriding the marriage liberalism’s preoccupation with superficial eros sexuality and it’s obvious inadequacies to give children what they desparately need, a dad and a mom. “Genderless marriage is not marriage at all. It is something else entirely. … denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both.” Not a professing Christian, Doug probably doesn’t realize that he finds fulfillment in heterosexual marriage and fatherhood because he was made to do this, despite his confusion over his basic sexuality. And although he believes he was born gay, Doug resisted sex with other men, and “denial didn’t diminish or impoverish my life. It made my life experience richer.”(7)
A side note on the importance of stable marriages for the sake of children: Most of the kids we minister to in our youth group are from broken families. Not all children of divorced families carry such burdens, but the kids we give rides to rarely want to go home Wednesday nights after our youth meetings. Each one asks to be dropped off last, and they would all prefer to run an errand to get milk with me, something I’d normally do after taking them home. Drugs, sex, violence and theft are often coping mechanisms for normal life for them at home. My experience is that kids truly suffer from families that are not balanced with an involved father and mother in their lives.
As Ryan T. Anderson outlines in The Leadership Foundation’s backgrounder, Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It, reveals that gay marriage would undermine the benefits that marriage brings on society in ways no other relationship does, and further distance marriage from the needs of children. Men and women are complimentary, and simple biology shows that the survival of the human race depends on heterosexual unions.(8)
In recent days, former president Bill Clinton, who signed the bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act into law just 7 years ago, now says it’s unconstitutional. Republican Senator of Ohio Rob Portman recently came out in support of gay marriage after his son came out as gay, and Portman attempted to use the Bible to justify his support for homosexuality.
Gay marriage is indeed a fresh new idea, but the arguments used to advance it can be also used to advance really any type of imaginable union. Since the beginning of history, marriage has always been between a man and a woman, until the year 2000, when gay marriage laws began to enter civil societies around the world.
But this type of assault on marriage is anything but new, and in fact those embroiled in the debate over gay marriage can be myopic in their view of history. It is incredibly short-sighted to think that we have just recently discovered the truth that the right for gays to marry is a basic human right. Clearly it isn’t. It’s also short-sighted for the rest of us to think that this is the biggest brick in the foundation of marriage. Clearly it isn’t.
What an incredible and incredibly sneaky arsenal that has been launched. The assault that has chipped away at marriage over the millennia has come in waves, but each wave of attack has amassed slowly, almost unnoticed, until it’s powerful enough to take out another block from the foundation.
8TH OFFENSIVE: THE SLOW FADE
There is another threat to marriage that is perhaps the most well-camouflaged of all, and it typically comes from within. A friend recently preached about a dangerous “slow fade” that happens in marriages, and is a pretty accurate picture of what’s happened to marriage as a whole. Slow Fade is also the title of a song by Casting Crowns,(9) written about a typical fall from grace. Lead vocalist Mark Hall describes this: “Nobody falls, it’s just a slow fade. It’s a series of minor compromises until you’re in a place you never thought you’d be, doing things you never thought you’d do and rationalizing all of it.” In the context of individual marriages, the slow fade invades in the course of life, slowly driving couples apart. Divorce may result, or a couple may resign to a life of misery together, feeling stuck, ineffective as “what God has joined together” to raise Godly children and serve His purposes in the kingdom. People don’t crumble in a day. This is a slow fade.
Destroying marriage would be an enormous victory for Satan. What’s the best defense against the slow fade, or any other incoming attack? I think we need to recognize how small the offenses are once they start to advance. We may be looking for giants on the horizon and overlooking the trolls digging under the wall. Guarding our marriage means guarding our hearts against not just the obvious external dangers, but the small compromises we make inside the walls.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
I’ve become aware of some of the little assaults that may be creeping into my own marriage, and the possibilities are many: laziness, complacency, bitterness, laziness, sexual temptation, idolatry, shadows from the past. Any number of seemingly small compromises will grow if undetected.
Man’s will substituted for God’s will is still the secret of the world’s unrest. When we are not anchored in God’s Word and a church community, we are trading God’s will for our own and are left without the the clear vision and discernment to detect a camouflaged enemy. God’s Word provides us with an unwavering, uncompromising stronghold of truth that defines marriage (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:18, 24, Matthew 19:6). When we deviate from the divine plan, anything goes. We have no real plan of defense against the Father of Lies, who is waiting to deceive and accuse and kill us slowly. The body—and bride (Ephesians 5:22-23)—of Christ known as the church is an incredible force in supporting and strengthening our marriages, IF we let it be that. It’s encouraging to see sermon series at my church dedicated to that, and couples young and old seeking counsel and prayer to keep their marriages alive and strong.
Stopping the offensive and rebuilding the damage begins with an awareness of the problem and a broad view of history that shows us how the enemy has made its attack all along—a quiet, concentrated, brick-by-brick assault on a slowly fading marriage institution. “It was not this way from the beginning.” At the beginning of that history is the Creator’s foundation of marriage. That’s what we must protect and our blueprint for rebuilding what’s been destroyed. Seeing the big picture of marriage history shows us the assault it has endured, but keeping a watchful eye on the big picture of the purpose of marriage reminds us that it is a sacred covenant. The love and commitment of God with His chosen people, of Christ and His church, of the relationship His creation was made to have with the Creator comes into view. That is so much bigger and more important than any idea of marriage as a human social convention, and this view can save marriage. It starts with your own.