Gender differences the key to understanding God’s nature (Godly Sexuality)

gender differences

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 will be addressed in a future 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.

Please note that I am in the process of moving “godly sexuality” and my other blogs/writings together under one website johnspencerwrites.com

Gender differences: conflict or complement (godly sexuality)

gender-differences

As we saw in our last post, male and female together make up the full image of God and so both are needed if we are to glorify God.  We saw that they are created different to represent the plurality of our Three-in-One God and they were created for unity.  It was the fact that Adam (man and woman together) were created one and then separated that leads to God saying:

For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother, and will be joined to his wife. And they will become one flesh.
(Gen 2:24 NASB)

Adam who has been split into male and female now seeks to reunite and recreate the unity that existed before that reflects the unity of our God who is also One.

Now this all sounds great until you flip it around.  The corollary of “male and female together make up the full image of God” is that individually a man or a woman do not reflect the full image of God*.  People don’t like that.  People don’t like being told that they need someone else.  It’s the sin of pride and of rebellion that goes against popular culture “you can do it all” attitude.

However, unlike Jesus who is the exact image of the Father (Heb 1:3; Col 1:15) God in His wisdom did not create male and female the same.  Otherwise we wouldn’t have blind spots and we wouldn’t need the other.  We would already be complete†.

The Hebrew words used for their creation testify to this difference.  The man was יָצַר  (yatsar) moulded/squeezed from the earth like a potter does to clay, whereas the woman was בָּנָה (banah) built/fashioned from the side of Adam.  It is also interesting to note that the development of a baby mimics the split of Adam into male and female when at 7 weeks boys experience a testosterone surge which literally destroys the corpus callosum that joins the two hemispheres of the brain. The male baby is cut off from part of himself.

The saying opposites attract actually has a lot of truth to it.

However, without unity in Christ opposites may attract but they can also destroy each other.  My early marriage is an example of this.  You see I was attracted to my wife because she was so different to me.  I’m actually quite introverted whereas she is such a people person.  I like everything predictable whereas she likes surprises.  Yet I am fine with mess but she loves the house looking ordered.  I am a hoarder whereas she is a thrower.  I’m a sorter, she’s a tidier.  I like going to the same places again and again whereas she likes going to different places each time.  You get the picture.

However, when we got married I assumed that my way was the “right” way and tried to make her like me and said her way was wrong.  I crushed the spirit out of who she was.  She too assumed that her way was the “normal” way and so didn’t understand why I didn’t see the things that she did.  Why didn’t I see the mess, why didn’t I wrap up presents, why did we always do the same things, buy the same food and not go to parties?  She became frustrated with me.

We both became unhappy as we both wanted the other to be like us and neither of us were.  And my domineering ways meant the she capitulated and did things my way but actually this didn’t please me as my life became dull and monochrome.  This is no surprise as we were no longer reflecting the full image of God – the plurality in unity – we were no longer bringing Him glory.

Even our children became partakers in this battle.  If one of them said “I like doing… with you daddy” I would take it as confirmation that I was the better parent.  If one of them said “Mummy lets us …” I would take it as an offence.

Fast forward some 15+ years and we are in a different place.  We came to the brink of divorce but a marriage course, the transforming work of the Spirit through courses such Celebrate Recovery and Freedom in Christ, together with sozo and other prayer sessions and just the ongoing maturity through the Spirit’s work means that we are unashamedly who we were created to be.  We recognise that we are different.  But we realise that our differences are a gift to the other and we need to honour that gift or we will become diminished as a result.  We each have blind spots and the other is God’s gift to to show us what they are.

Here’s a silly example that illustrates this.  I always used to berate my wife that she never checked the oil or the tyre pressures.  This was something that I felt I “had” to do because she never did.  But the reality is that God has made me different – so that I see this but she doesn’t.  Therefore my gift to our marriage is to check the oil and the tyre pressures.  She blesses me if she honours that difference “Thank you for checking them – it means a lot to me” (or whatever love language works for you).  I don’t need to resent that she never does this – because her gift to me is something different.  An example is that she always remembers to get birthday cards for friends and family.  This is something I never did before I was married.  So I honour this difference by thanking her and signing the card and encouraging her to send gifts too.

We also celebrate the fact that the children enjoy doing different things with each parent.  They are special mummy things (like going to a coffee shop) or daddy things (like going tree climbing).  We stop them when they say “I prefer mummy because…” and we tell them that God gave them both of us as only then will they see all of God. It’s interesting to see that our children are becoming a beautiful unity of the different characteristics.  For example our eldest daughter is incredibly creative like her mother and is taking art at A level.  She is also very analytical like her father and is also taking maths at A level.  The school is bewildered but we see it as the glory of God.

But remember marriage is a shadow of the heavenly reality – our marriage to Christ (Eph 5:31-32).  Realising that we need the other opens our eyes to the greater truth that we need Jesus: without Him we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).  Without Him we are incomplete.  Without Him we will never glorify God.

Father, forgive me that I have resented my spouse’s differences.  Forgive me that I have tried to make them like me or got upset when they didn’t see what I saw.  Help me to honour their differences as their gift to me and let me offer my complementarity as a gift to them.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Further Reading

Culture of Honour by Danny Silk

*A note to single people. Don’t let anyone bash you over the head and say “You need to get married to experience the fullness of God”.  The church community is the body of Christ and is made up of male and female and so you will experience this fullness when living and serving in the church community.

†This is the same in a church.  One person does not make a church.  And Christ deliberately gives different gifts to the members of His Body so that all members are needed to build each other up.  We only mature in community.  Despite our worldly mentality that says there is one person in charge who does it all – this is simply not the case.

Unity not uniformity

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There’s some fantastic laws in Leviticus (no really!) that contain immense truth:

Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals.  Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.  Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. (Lev 19:19)

And in Deuteronomy:

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this… Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled…Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.  (Dt 22:5, 9, 11)

Why on earth are these important?

God is Three

Well remember that creation was made to glorify God.  It does this by making known God’s divine nature (Rom 1:20) and since our God is three the different genders, species and materials reflect the plurality of the Godhead.

So anything that seeks to remove these differences actually seeks to destroy how creation glorifies God.  That is why crossbreeding, cross-dressing and the intermixing of seeds and material were prohibited.  Each of these actions ultimately causes the loss of the distinctive characteristics and qualities of the different species, genders or materials.

These differences are especially important in marriage as only male and female together make up the full image of God:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. (Gen 1:27; 5:2 KJV)

And in the church, the Body of Christ:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor 12:12)

The members of the church are different and have been given different gifts and all are needed to express the full image of Christ and all are needed to build up each other (see also Eph 4).

God is love

Intuitively we know that honouring the differences shows love and this reflects our God who is three and whose nature is love.  For example I wouldn’t be loving all my children if I gave them all the same gift of a stunt bike for their birthdays.  My eldest son would be delighted but my three other children would be upset and feel unloved.

We see this in how God deals with the different individuals in the Bible in different ways.  He even heals the same condition (such as blindness) in different ways.  So too the Spirit of love gives different gifts to the members of Christ’s Body, and God created male and female different to each other.  These differences glorify the full nature of the Godhead.

God is one

However our God is also one (eg Jn 10:30).  There is unity in the Godhead hence we use “Trinity” which comes from tri-unity.  And so God is glorified when there in unity amongst the differences.  Jesus prayed that the church would be one like he and the Father are one (Jn 17).  Hence we speak of communion which comes from common-union.  And one flesh (Gen 2:24) comes from the unity of male and female.

Unity is a beautiful and godly thing (Ps 133:1) but the counterfeit to unity is uniformity.  This has been seen throughout history, such as in the Hellenisation of different cultures.  It is more prevalent than ever in our common age under the guise of technological advances or equality.  The world speaks of diversity but to think different is to be classified as sexist or a bigot.  To say anything different is now classified as “hate speech”.  Love has been confused with agreement.

This lie has permeated the church:

  • There must be one “right” way of ministering healing – all methods must be wrong.
  • There must be one “right” way of worshipping – other methods are clearly inferior/not spirit led or unscriptural.
  • There is one “right” way of doing church – all other denominations are wrong/unbiblical.

And so we end up not with unity but competing ministries/churches where each contain cookie-cutter Christians who look the same, think the same and act the same.

It’s easy to understand why.  Because uniformity requires no grace/love for those who are different.  It requires no sacrifice/change in one’s own life.  It’s convenient Christianity.  It’s not taking up your cross and denying self (Mk 8:34).

How can we have unity of differences?

If we return back to those laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy there was actually times when the forbidden mixture of wool and linen was allowed – in the prayer tassels and the clothes worn by priests.  Only priests were allowed to mix the aromatic spices to make the anointing oil (Ex 30:33) and for the mixing of seeds in Dt 22:9 the Hebrew word (bizarrely translated as “defiled”) is qadash (H6942) which means consecrated/holy.

You see the holy unity of differences can only occur through our great High Priest Jesus (Heb 4:14).

Jesus is glorified if there is unity amongst believers (Jn 17:20-23) but it’s impossible to have unity between a zealot and a tax-collector without Christ’s spirit of love.  And so this could only be realised after the Spirit came at Pentecost:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.
(Acts 4:32 see also Acts 2:42-47).

It is this unity between differences that glorifies/speaks of God.  That’s why Jesus said “everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (Jn 13:35).  A sign of a church that reflects Christ’s love is one that crosses social, racial, political and denominational barriers – people who are different – that’s what the world will see as astonishing.

That’s why when Paul speaks of the differing gifts of the spirit in 1 Cor 12 and 14 he speaks of God’s Spirit of love in 1 Cor 13.  And again when Paul talks of the different gifts and ministries in Eph 4 he speaks of unity in love through the Spirit.

Jesus is glorified when there is unity between the man and women in marriage.  And this is only possible through the Spirit of love.  Hence God breathed his breath, his spirit into them (Gen 2:7) and the man, woman and Spirit makes a cord of three strands that is not easily broken (Ecc 4:12).

Only in Christ is there unity in churches and marriages.  But greater than all of these is the truth that only in Christ can there be unity between God and man.  Things so different that could never be together on their own.

Making it reality

So when you become frustrated with someone who is so different to you, whether that be in church or in your marriage, and you find yourself crying out “I just can’t love ” then look to Jesus who cried “it is finished” and through his death broke down the dividing walls (Eph 2:14), ripped the curtain of the temple (Mt 27:51) and brought unity between God and sinful man, Jew and Gentile, slave and free and male and female (Gal 3:28).

Father, forgive me that I want to take the easy route of uniformity.  I want everyone to be like me so I can have a convenient life.  Father, I can’t love them on my own, I need your Spirit.  Help me to honour their differences and to sacrificially love them like your Son sacrificed himself for us when we were your enemies so that we can be one.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

In case you’re wondering about the picture.  It’s all the components of a camera.  Only if all those individual parts are become one do we get the whole camera.  Only together do they give the full picture (pun intended).  So too may it be in our marriages and churches.

Further Reading

  • I am indebted to this Jewish article that first opened my eyes to the significance of Leviticus and its application to sexuality.
  • To read more about oneness in sexuality you can read my earlier post here.
  • I also highly recommend “The Culture of Honour” by Danny Silk that gives some great tips of loving and honouring the differences in the church.
  • And finally I thought this article from relevant magazine on sub-cultures of uniformity in the church rather than unity in love was worth reading.