We know that creation glorifies God by making His divine nature known (Rom 1:20) and in this series we are examining how gender reveals to us the nature of our God.
In a previous post we have seen that only together do male and female represent the full image of God and one of those ways was to reveal the fullness of God’s character.
In this post we look at ten ways how God’s opposing characteristics of masculine transcendence and feminine immanence are embodied in the man and the woman.
Transcendence is that is “God is far ‘above’ the creation in the sense that He is greater than the creation and He is independent of it.” God creates the world from without – it is separate/external to Him. He is the creator we are His creation (Gen 1:1, 14:19b, 22). That is why the Hebrew word for God creating, bara, is reserved solely for Him (Strong’s H1254). God in this sense is holy – that is He is separate/distinct from His creation. He is Yahweh – “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14) – not defined or linked to this world. ’adam only became a living being after he received the gift of God’s breath from without (Gen 2:7). Similarly, God’s grace is also from without – it’s a gift independent of us or our ability to earn it (Eph 2:8-9). He is the one who initiates a relationship with us, who pursues us and we only love because He first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).
The complementary feminine characteristic of God is His immanence. God is intimately involved in creation, “for it is continually dependent on him for its existence and its functioning”. In Christ all things hold together (Col 1:17) and he is continually “upholding the universe by his word of power” (Heb 1:3) and “in his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10) and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:25, 28). He is our nurturer, our sustainer. The spirit that God breathed into ’adam continues to give life to His body until it departs. God is Immanuel (Isa 7:14) – God with us, the God who dwells among His people seen by the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night (Ex 13:21-22). His presence filling the temple (Ex 25:8; 40:34-35; 1 Kgs 8:10-11); and ultimately His presence with us in Jesus (Mt 1:23-25) and His Spirit (Mt 28:20b; Jn 14:16-17). He is the one who responds to us in our distress (Ps 18:6), who reveals His plans to His prophets (Jn 15:15; Amos 3:7) and responds to their desires (Ps 37:4).
Note that it is the Spirit that broods over the waters (Gen 1:2). It is the Spirit that represents God’s shekinah glory filling the temple, His presence with them in the pillar of cloud and fire. It is also the Spirit that gives new birth (Jn 3:5) and sustains all life. Hence, it is no surprise that the Hebrew word, ruach, for spirit/wind/breath is feminine. Interestingly it has masculine pronouns/adjectives applied to it when it refers to God’s Spirit.
Male embodies the masculine characteristic of transcendence and female embodies the feminine characteristic of immanence
Since transcendence and immanence are opposing/polar characteristics it is hard to keep them in balance – which is why God embodied these masculine and feminine attributes of Himself in male and female creatures and in particular humans who are made in His image (Gen 1:27). Together their oneness reveals the glory of the unified nature of God’s attributes.
“One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God.” CS Lewis
Now Greek thought separates the spirit/mind from the body/physical world (the so called Platonic divide) and this thought permeates our Western culture. However, the Hebraic/Biblical worldview is holistic. There is no separation between the spirit/mind and the body – we are integrated beings – spiritualised bodies or embodied spirits. Therefore the body is an expression of the soul/spirit of the individual – it makes visible the invisible. Hence we would, under this worldview, expect the masculine and feminine spiritual qualities to be reflected in the psychology and physiology of the man and the woman.
Below I outline ten ways that we observe this reality. There may be others but this is all that have been revealed to me so far. By all means feel free to add more in the comments below.
Firstly, the most obvious feature is the difference between the male and female bodies so that the male causes procreation from without, whereas the female incubates this life in her womb and then nurtures it at her breast. This reflects how God creates the universe separate to Him and yet sustains it by His Spirit.
This is why ‘adam who, although he contained male and female, had a male body which reflected the glory of godly masculine understood that there was no suitable companion . He saw that his body was designed to give life to another who would nurture it but there was no other like him.
“The essence of masculinity is initiation and the essence of femininity is response” Elisabeth Elliot
Secondly, this means that the male body initiates whereas the female responds. This is also seen in the courtship display of all species – the male initiates and the female responds (whether that be by reciprocating or flying/walking/crawling off). Likewise, despite it not being politically correct, this has been the case in all cultures around the world. On a physiological level we might ascribe this behaviour to testosterone but on a spiritual level this reflects the fact that God initiates the creation of the universe and also initiates relationship with us and we respond to Him.
Is this the reason why the man is always attracted to “the chase” (the initiation) whereas the woman is attracted to the “happy ever after” (the incubation)?
Thirdly, we see this in how the baby is made. The Hebraic understanding was that the man planted a seed in the fertile soil of the woman’s womb . Now we have a greater understanding of biology we can see this on a deeper level. The male sperm is designed to go out to find the egg, whereas the egg awaits and receives the sperm to form a new life.
Fourthly we see this in the hormones. Men have much more testosterone than women and this makes them assertive and gives them energy and motivation to act and take risks. Whereas women have much more oestrogen which makes them more sensitive to emotion and feelings of others. I saw this with my children: even though they played with the same toys, the boys were propelling them and moving them whereas my girls arranged them to talk to each other. I also saw it in a male friend that needed to take oestrogen for medical reasons who then experienced so much more emotion than before.
Fifthly, we see this in the differences in muscle and fat. The male body has more muscle and bone growth which enables it to take action in the physical world whereas the female body is soft, with more fat to protect the womb and feed an infant during pregnancy and afterwards through milk.
Sixthly, we see this in the physiological differences in the brain. The male mind tends to excel in visuospatial tasks whereas the female mind tends to excel in verbal fluency and perceptual speed tasks. Again the male brain is geared to outward tasks whereas the female brain is geared to inward tasks. Hence, boys tend to learn kinaesthetically whereas women tend to learn verbally.
Seventhly, as a consequence there are two ways of gaining knowledge. The masculine discursive reason and the feminine intuitive mind. The male requires external empirical facts before he will accept something whereas the female internally directly ‘knows’ something is true. It is also the difference between learning about something as external to oneself verses experiencing or being in it.
Eighthly, we see this in how men and women respond to stimuli (sexual and otherwise). Men react more to external/physical stimuli whereas women react more to internal/mental stimuli. This is evident in the vast disparity in the sales of pornographic images/videos to men and the sales of romantic novels to women.
Ninthly, we see this in the way men and women relate to others. Men naturally relate to others whilst doing something – their focus is external – whereas women naturally relate without doing something but simply by being together. This is reflected in the statement that “men relate to each other side by side facing the same direction whereas women relate face to face”. This is why the original way of raising sons was them learning the family trade alongside the father.
Lastly, we see this in the roles the mother and father play in the development of children. The mother nurtures the young children and keeps them safe and secure, whereas the father helps them separate themselves psychologically from the mother and be called out into their separate identity .
“It is the father (or father substitute) who affirms son and daughters in their sexual identity and therefore as persons….at puberty and adolescence we are listening for the masculine voice…that convinces us that we are truly and finally separate from our mothers.” Leanne Payne
Children raised without a father lack this calling out and tend to be more aimless or seek their value in things – such as careers. Whereas children raised without a mother tend to be unable to develop close relationships.
By now it should be no surprise that this is reflected in the physiology as well. It is the man’s Y chromosome that causes the testosterone flood in week 7 to call out the male development from the ‘female’ baby.
Creation of male and female
We can see these themes reflected in the different ways male and female bodies were created.
Then the LORD God formed (yatsar) a man (‘adam) from the dust of the ground (‘adamah) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man (‘adam) became a living being. (Gen 2:7)
‘adam was formed physically from the ground. The Hebrew word used for formed, yatsar, means to form or fashion like a potter squeezes and moulds clay into shape (indeed the word is translated as “potter” in 17 places such as Jer 18:2- or Isa 29:16b).
So the LORD God caused the man (‘adam) to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs (tsela’) and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made (banah) a woman (‘ishshah) from the rib (tsela’) he had taken out of the man (‘adam), and he brought her to the man (‘adam). (Gen 2:21-22)
Whereas the woman, ‘ishshah, is made from the side of ‘adam. The Hebrew word used for made, banah, means to construct or build – it is used of a house. The Hebrew understanding is that the man builds the physical home but the woman was understood to fill it – so ‘adam provided the frame from which the woman expanded . Banah can also mean to establish or cause to continue. The Hebrew connection is that to build a house implies that one establishes a family .
The man (‘adam) said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ (‘ishshah) for she was taken out of man (‘iysh)” (Gen 2:23)
But then when Adam meets the woman, ‘ishshah (woman or wife), he then give himself another name ‘iysh (man or husband) which recognises his additional nature which is in relationship to the woman. So man’s primary nature is the physical world (hence the name Adam which is related to the ground, ‘adamah is also used hereafter) but now he is also now relational (so the name ‘iysh is used whenever it is in relation to the woman).
Whereas the woman’s, ‘ishshah, primary nature is relational. But since ‘iysh was created from the ground she also has a secondary nature that is in relation to the world.
Finally we can see this principle reflected in the curse. Now since we know that it is God’s desire to bless and he sends the rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45), then the curse must simply be a consequence of no longer being in harmony with one’s nature as well as no longer receiving the life and love of the Father.
The man, Adam, is still related to the ground, ‘adamah, but he is no longer in harmony with it – so he is no longer a gardener but a farmer having to work the ground (Gen 3:17b-19a). There is brokenness in his outward focus. We can see this in how men can pursue careers and ministries outside of the home and neglect the home. Men have a bent for building empires at the expense of others – roles are more important than relationship hence they always ask “what do you do?”
Whereas the woman, ‘ishshah, is still related to the man, ‘iysh, but is now no longer in harmony with him and there is sorrow in the nurturing and giving birth. There is now brokenness in her inward focus. We can see this in the nurturing of low self-esteem. Women have a bent for intimacy at the expense of their own worth.
So we have seen that everything about the male is outward focussed – doing, taking action, risk taking, creating, initiating, giving, concerned with form (roles) – and reflects the transcendent nature of God. Whereas everything about the female is inner directed/immanent – being, sustaining, safety, nurturing, responding, receiving, concerned with relationship – and reflects the immanent nature of God.
“The masculine faces the world: It is oriented to things; it explores; it climbs. Its energy is directed toward the physical: measuring, moving, building, conquering. The feminine looks inward toward feeling, sensing, knowing in the deepest sense. Its energy is directed toward relationships, coming together, nurturing, helping. Both the masculine and feminine are relational, but the masculine relational drive is toward the physical, toward working and playing together the feminine drive is toward being together. In fact, another way to describe the same contrast is masculine doing and feminine being”. Alan Medinger