Why is God expressed principally as masculine in the Bible? (godly sexuality)

god male

In our previous post we saw that male and female image God’s masculine and feminine polar characteristics transcendence and immanence in 10 ways. Hence, the man is focused “outward” towards the physical world whereas the woman is focussed “inward” towards relationships .

Since this teaching follows on from that post you would be wise to check it out first.

To say which gender is more important is like saying which part of God is more important. If you take away a part you lose the full image of God – so in order to fully glorify God (that is to declare His nature fully) it is essential that both genders are expressed in marriages, parenting and society.

Masculine not feminine

If we denigrate the feminine characteristic of immanence, we end up with a distant God; one who sets the world running but is far removed from it and its day to day running. He initiates but doesn’t sustain/nurture us – we’re all on our own. Alternatively, this distant God enacts His will without regard to us or our needs. He is a God who is holy and unapproachable. We can offer our sacrifices and prayers but He’s unlikely to notice.

This is the Greek view that came as a consequence of the separation of the spirit and the physical worlds that infected the early church still holds sway now. This was strengthened by the Enlightenment’s focus on the masculine discursive reason/rational thinking that devalued the feminine intuitive way of thinking and rejected mystery. It led to an increase in those who declared themselves deists. It is the view of fundamentalist Christians, Muslims and, to a certain extent, conservative Christians.

Feminine not masculine

If we denigrate the masculine characteristic of transcendence, we end up with a God who is present everywhere, who is mothering – sustaining us and giving us life. Who is relational but is not holy or separate from us. Therefore since this God so “loving” we can do whatever we want as it doesn’t matter.

This is the view held by New Age religions, pantheists, fertility cults, liberal churches and in many ways Hindus also hold this view.

Neither masculine nor feminine

Since God’s nature contains both masculine and feminine qualities then surely to refer to God as “Him” is incorrect. Perhaps we should refer to God as “it” or, as some theological colleges suggest, “the One who is the Creator”, and thus avoid the tricky gender issue altogether ?

Whilst on the surface this appears to try and capture the fullness of God’s nature – it does so by contradicting Scripture (eg Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father”) and by eliminating the meaning behind God expressing Himself predominantly in the masculine.

So why is God referred to principally in masculine terms?

There are two main reasons. Firstly, much of the Old Testament (especially the Creation story and the deliverance from Egypt) was a proclamation of the transcendence of YHWH against the gods and goddesses of the surrounding nations. Hence, since transcendence is a masculine characteristic, God would express Himself principally as masculine.

The surrounding nations had both gods and goddesses. For example, Baal and His consort Ashtoreth, the Queen of Heaven (whose asherah fertility poles were used to ensure fertility of the land and of women). Hence, as a consequence, their creation myths were linked to the fertility of the goddess and so creation was formed out of their own bodies (eg Enuma Elish).

“Where gods are feminine, they are linked with fertility and the earth. The feminine is the fertile. It is inextricably linked with creation.” Gavin Ashenden

Whereas YHWH is utterly distinct from creation (hence “I am who I am”). Creation was made (bara) by Him from nothing.

The second reason is the God relates to us in a principally masculine way.

“God is so masculine that we all (male and female) are feminine in relation to Him.”
CS Lewis

God takes creates the world, we are tasked with stewarding it and give back only what we have been given and nurtured. God takes risks by imbuing us with free will. God initiates and we respond. God actively goes out and pursues us and woos us and we respond. He sought out Abraham, Moses and then a people for Himself. Hence, we love because he first loved us. God gives us the gift of life from without and we receive it. God gives us talents and we invest/nurture them. God powerfully delivers us from our enemies. God gives grace to the undeserving and we choose to receive this gift. God calls out our true nature. God gives His seed to Mary who nurtures it. Finally, God appears in Jesus in a male body showing that He gives Himself for us and we respond as His Bride.

“The Jewish revelation was distinctive in its exclusively masculine pronoun because it was distinctive in its theology of the divine transcendence. That seems to be the main point of the masculine imagery. As a man comes into a woman from without to make her pregnant, so God creates the universe from without rather than birthing it from within and impregnates our souls with grace or supernatural life from without. As a woman cannot impregnate herself, so the universe cannot create itself, nor can the soul redeem itself. Surely there is an inherent connection between these two radically distinctive features of the…biblical religions…: their unique view of a transcendent God creating nature out of nothing and their refusal to call God “she” despite the fact that Scripture ascribes to him feminine attributes like compassionate nursing (Is. 49:15), motherly comfort (Is. 66:13) and carrying an infant (Is. 46:3). The masculine pronoun safeguards (1) the transcendence of God against the illusion that nature is born from God as a mother rather than created and (2) the grace of God against the illusion that we can somehow save ourselves—two illusions ubiquitous and inevitable in the history of religion.” Kreeft

Since the shape of salvation is principally masculine– it comes from without and not from our own efforts – this is the reason why, unlike the religions of all the surrounding nations, there were only male priests. Their masculinity demonstrates that grace comes from without. It is not man providing animals that makes the gods pay attention and forgive him. It was the fact that the animals were symbolic of the grace that was going to come to them through the Messiah .

Common objections to God being expressed as masculine

Some suggest that God only revealed Himself as masculine due to the patriarchal culture. Whilst at first glance this seems sensible if there is only one God (instead of many), this view is disingenuous for a number of reasons:

Sociologist Dr Goldberg notes that every society ever known has been patriarchal in that men dominate in three areas – the upper hierarchical positions, whatever roles society deems as high status and in male-female interactions . Since this phenomenon is universal it must have a physiological cause. And hence this is part of their created nature.

And this is the issue with this theory: it’s the wrong way round. It assumes that humans are independent of God and so He seeks to express Himself in ways that we understand. Whereas the reality, as we have seen in previous posts, is that God has made creation, including mankind, to glorify Him by reflecting His nature.

God is the Father from whom all Fatherhood is named (Eph 3:15). He is the source of the image. It is not that we have fathers and then project that image onto God nor that He then expresses Himself as a father so we understand Him.

Marriage was created to reflect the mystery of our union to Christ (Eph 5:31-32). Jesus is the source of the image. It is not that we invented marriage and then He expresses Himself through that concept.

Similarly gender, which permeates all of creation, reflects God’s nature. Male and female are made in His image and therefore embody His masculine and feminine characteristics in both physiological and psychological ways. He is the source of the image. It is not that children are merely blank slates whose behaviour is socially constructed.

This view comes from the women’s liberation movement. Women were made to feel inferior by many men, rather than respected as equal image bearers, and so by saying there is no difference would imply equality. However, by rejecting the differences between genders this view loses the meaning behind why God expresses Himself as masculine. Therefore, this leads them to reject the differences within God and see him as gender neutral and look for another reason as to why He expresses Himself as principally masculine.

But equality doesn’t mean uniformity. If it did then we would only need one gender to fully reflect the image of God. One sex would be redundant – whereas God has designed it so both are needed to reflect His full image and therefore we are designed to be dependent on each other. Our unity expresses God’s glory.

Further, this view naturally postulates that men and their patriarchal culture are to blame and hence can lead to the demonization of masculine traits such as competitiveness and rejection all of that culture. Instead the blame should be seen to be sin which has cut men off from the source of love. Therefore the solution is the blood of Christ.

Working within this paradigm, the fact that the Hebrews have no goddesses can be interpreted to be suppression of the feminine .

We have seen already why God is principally expressed in the masculine, but in addition, ethnologists, such as Wilhelm Schmidt, Andrew Lang and E.O. James note that in all primitive cultures, a monotheistic High God is “a genuine feature of uncontaminated primitive religion” and that “the name ‘father’ is applied to the supreme being in every single area of the primitive culture when he is addressed or appealed to…” Polytheism came about as tribes met and blended or conquered each other. So the Hebrews were actually going back to the original truth.

Finally this paradigm would see that the fact that there were no priestesses as a sign of male oppression of women.

However, all the surrounding patriarchal nations had priestesses. So this would have to mean that the God was not able to stand against the Hebrew society that oppressed women. This is bizarre given that the Law was in total contrast to the surrounding nations. Therefore, we would have to conclude that God gave laws which were complicit in that oppression. Further, this would imply that Jesus was also unable to stand up for what was correct in this matter and was complicit. Which again is bizarre given that He stood up and overturned all the false traditions that did not reflect His Father’s nature and desire.

Within this paradigm the only logical possibility, if God is not a tyrant, is to say that the Bible is not actually the word of God but only of man. Men hid what God the Father and Jesus actually said and our whole faith is based on a lie.

“Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity…. Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?
But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin; or else that although inspired, is merely arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable; or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses [or a gender neutral God], but against Christianity” CS Lewis

It is my hope that by understanding the meaning behind gender we see the logical outworking of that in how God principally reveals Himself to us and how we relate to Him and why it is important that both genders need to expressed in marriage, parenting, the church and society.

Male and Female: Transcendence and immanence (godly sexuality)

transcendence-and-immanenceWe 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

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).

Immanence

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.

The curse

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.

Summary

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

Marriage: a journey into oneness (godly marriage)

john-spencer-3

Recently, I heard of another celebrity couple breaking up. Whereas once I would have not cared that much or blamed their lifestyle, now I find it breaks my heart and I start praying.

Marriage is a prophetic image of Christ’s covenant with us, a breakup is declaring to the world that He will give up on us – that His love is finite and His devotion limited.

How terrible a statement – how can we as Christians shrug our shoulders and move on? Our weeping joins with heaven that cries “what God has joined together let no man separate” – that something on Earth would reflect this reality and shout it out for all to see.

Now this couple cited the distance apart as the reason for their breakup. As I was mourning this, the phrase “it’s not the distance apart but the distance in your heart” popped in my head.

Marriage is a journey into oneness symbolic of our journey of oneness with Christ. Each day we choose whether we go deeper or whether we hold back.

cs-lewis-4

Daily we choose how much to reveal about our innermost hopes, dreams, worries and anxieties. Daily we choose to become more vulnerable or to hide our true selves from our spouse.

By revealing more we can become closer, by holding back we build a wall.

My wife believed me to be a very confident man when we married. I was outgoing and bubbly and would take her on days out to new places. The truth was anything but. I was confident in situations that were familiar but terrified of the new – the only reason she thought otherwise is that I took her to places that I had been before but she hadn’t.

It’s very hard to hide in marriage from someone who wants to become closer – but I tried. My wife booked holidays to new places and I was frightened – but rather than opening up I hid it behind “not wanting to go out” from our hotel or saying how it was all rubbish or, even worse, blaming her for choosing terrible places. By pushing her away and holding her back from my true self, I was steadily building a wall. This was one of the contributing factors to her packing up the car 7 years later driving to my office and telling me she was leaving me. As I regularly tell my children – that day I made one of the best decisions of my life. I said “I will do what it takes to fix this – I’ll even attend a marriage course”. It was that course that began the process of putting us back together. So many weeks involved me apologising for hurting her which she gracefully forgave and her heart was softened again.

But the issue of hiding was still there. I didn’t even realise I had it. Keeping people out was my survival mechanism – built to cope with a volatile earthly father and the bullying I experienced during the majority of my schooling.

Whenever someone would get too close I would instinctively want to lash out to keep them back. In retrospect, this explains why we always argued on the way home from church and healing courses. The Spirit had become exposed my woundedness and so I felt unsafe and needed to protect myself.

The breakthrough moment was 3 years later on our 10 year wedding anniversary trip. With the help of my friend I had organised a romantic visit to Rome. But I didn’t speak Italian and I had never been there before. To say I was terrified was an understatement.  I wanted to stay in our hotel room rather than go out and just buy food from a supermarket rather than go to restaurants.  But she wanted to explore it all. It was a recipe for disaster or redemption.

One day we were sitting outside the Coliseum – I just wanted to stay there all day hoping my paralysis would pass rather than go somewhere else new.

My wife turned to me and asked, “What are you thinking?”

Normally I would have brushed her off with “nothing” but everything was so exposed that I responded, “Do you really want to know?”

She replied, “Yes” little realising what was about to be revealed.

For the first time in our marriage I truly opened up all my innermost workings to her – I reeled off the fear after fear that were plaguing me.

The funny thing is I don’t remember what she replied I just remember the feeling of release that her acceptance brought and how our holiday became beautiful as her acceptance and love meant I didn’t need to hide anymore.  We became allies against this enemy of fear.

Ultimately our marriage is a shadow of our relationship with Christ and each day we can choose to become closer or to build a wall.  There is no standing still.

Yes, He knows everything about us already, even the number of hairs on our heads, but it is only by us voluntarily opening up ourselves to Him that intimacy is deepened and His light floods in.

Unlike a human spouse who might reject us, He will in no wise cast us out, He is gentle and humble in heart and the perfect love that we let in will drive out our fears that we had previously kept hidden.

He is gentle but He will put us through testing, through desert times to expose what is in our hearts so that a deeper intimacy is developed than could ever be achieved from comfortable living.

Just like my trip to Rome, as uncomfortable as it was, was an opportunity for a depth in our marriage more than I could have ever have achieved if I just did all the same things every day and stayed in my comfort zone.

May you continue to open up each door to your heart that He is knocking on and not harden your heart.  May you see every difficulty as an opportunity for becoming more intimate, more full of His light and  more “filled with the full measure of His love”.  Inn Jesus’ precious name.  Amen.

CEO or Father (godly children)

john-spencer-2

My eldest daughter had her first day at primary school and was distraught to discover that there was another girl in the class with the same name.

“But daddy, how will you know which one of us to pick up at the end of the day?”

I replied, “Because only one of them is my daughter.”

This might seem silly to us grown-ups but maybe my daughter’s question is actually something we say to (or think about) our Father in Heaven.  And maybe my response is a shadow of a truth that we adults need to hear from our Heavenly Father

How often in our lives do we honestly think that God won’t notice us?

I mean there are a lot of other Christians doing the same things as us….

When I heard God’s call clearly to start helping parents teach their children about godly sexuality I was so excited about the revelation He was showing me.  I felt so special that He would call me to this task.

But then I discovered that God had called others to the same task.  I was devastated.  What’s the point in so many of us doing the same thing?

And the enemy whispered that I wasn’t unique, I wasn’t special, that I can’t have heard the call right. Anyway why would God call me to such an important task and besides who would listen anyway.

I confess that I fluctuated between giving up or doing the task but covering my insecurity with a false bravado claiming how great I was.  I was fearful of those others who were doing the same thing so I didn’t want to reference their resources and I even resorted to visiting “competing” ministries’ websites to try and steal their visitors for my own site.

I was just like my daughter:

Wondering whether my Father truly notices me and knows who I am, whether he values what I’m doing.

I didn’t realise my uniqueness to my Father.

But what if their gifting is greater or their ministry bigger?

What’s the point of me doing the same thing when others are clearly more qualified.

Let me giving another example with my daughter:

On a parents’ evening at school when I go into to look at the children’s work displayed on the walls – is my daughter worried I’m going to only look at the pictures which are drawn the best?

By no means!  She knows that I’m looking for her work.  It doesn’t matter to me whether another child has drawn a particular picture better than her as I’ve only got eyes for her work as that is the one that is most precious to me.

So it is with our Heavenly Father:

God is not a CEO of a company with a limited number of positions that we all have to compete for.  He is a Father that delights in the uniqueness of each of His children.

Suppose my daughter compared her work to others and saw that they were better and give up writing or drawing.  I would be heartbroken.  There would be a hole in my world.

So too with us.

If we could compare our ministry or gifting to others and give up because someone else is better we would break our Father’s heart.  He values what we are doing.

There is always room for another child in the Father’s family as every child is unique and brings a distinctive flavour to the family even if they do the same things/hobbies as each other.  And only when they’re all present is the whole family complete.

There is room for you.  Never fear.

Father, open my eyes to see you as the perfect father who delights in me, knows who I am and delights in the work I do for Him.  Let me realise that there is a special place for me in the family and help me to bring my contribution to it no matter what others around me may be doing.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

This is my second post on godly children – looking at how our children behave to open our eyes to how we behave as children of God.  My first was a guest post on this blog.

An absolutely excellent article on this subject was written by Matt Stinton on the Bethel Music blog here.  You won’t regret reading it.

PS If you own one of those sites that I spammed during my insecure days – please forgive me.  Know that I now honour you by recommending your sites and resources to my followers and I create memes that honour the revelation you have received.

Top 10 posts of 2016

best-blog-posts-2016-v2

When I started this blog I sought to share the revelation that God had been giving me on my journey to sexual wholeness and I wanted to help others on the journey and help parents communicate a godly view of sexuality to their children.  I am so grateful for the many messages from readers who have benefited from my writings and my vulnerability.  Thank you so much and I hope I can continue to bless you in 2017.

So in order from least to most views here are the top ten posts of the year:

10. Discipline vs punishment vs education (godly parenting)

This post spoke of how the word discipline comes from the word disciple and is about training.  It was a calling of parents back to the Hebrew way of showing not telling. (56 views)

9. Destination sickness (godly desire)

The Christian life is a journey not a destination.  This vulnerable post spoke about how our obsession with getting “there” leads us to work harder or give up and not to grace. (57 views)

8. Wired for intimacy part 1 (godly sexuality)

This post looks at how, even from birth, babies are wired to seek faces.  This reflects how we are wired to seek God’s face. (59 views)

7. Redeeming Christmas (Godly Parenting)

A post that helps parents make the Christmas celebration more Christ-centred for their children and themselves. (64 views)

6. Calling out your child’s true identity (godly parenting)

The story of Gideon shows us how God calls out his true identity and this serves as a model for us as parents to call our children into maturity. (78 views)

5.   How to stop looking at women lustfully (godly desire)

Another vulnerable post where I share the difference between worldly solutions to lust with a godly approach which has helped me. (86 views)

4. Trump, Clinton or Christ?

A topical post that sought to counter the political spirit that was/is seeking to break the church’s unity and therefore it’s prophetic voice to the world. (142 views)

3. Nothing is impossible (teach your children godly sexuality part 15)

As parents it’s easy to despair and think all is lost. This post spoke on the reality of our God who is able to redeem all things – not just so we are healed/fixed but so that the mistakes become sources of grace to others. (169 views)

2. An alternative ending to the Orlando shooting

A topical and vulnerable post about the similarities between my life and Omar Mateen’s.  His life ended in tragedy, mine in redemption through expressing my same sex desires to Jesus. (328 views)

1. Immature giftings (Godly Parenting)

This post was aimed at parents to help see that sometimes bad behaviour is actually an immature gifting that needs to be directed to its true purpose.  However, many people found this post as a source of grace for them on the journey to maturity – whereas before they had berated themselves – they actually saw they were stamping on their giftings/callings. (1846 views)

Redeeming Christmas (Godly Parenting)

 king-size-bed

The God of festivals

God loves celebrations, festivals and feasts.  In the Old Testament God proscribes seven annual feasts for the Israelites:
  1. Passover
  2. unleavened bread
  3. firstfruits
  4. weeks (pentacost)
  5. trumpets
  6. Day of Atonement
  7. Tabernacles.

This is in addition to the New Moon feasts, Sabbath year feasts and Jubilee feasts.  Indeed part of their tithe was a saving to celebrate these occasions (funny how Pastors don’t mention that part!).  God loves celebrations as it’s a reminder of His goodness and faithfulness to us in the past and it’s a taster of the heavenly wedding banquet to come.

As Christians who are like our perfect Father, we should also be a people of celebration.  However, Christmas has been taken by society and changed into a consumerist beast.
As a parent I want my children to experience a godly celebration but I don’t want them to get sucked into a selfish mindset and miss the grace that’s available to them.
Here are some ideas which I hope will bless you and your family and enable you to redeem this celebration and put Christ back into Christmas.

St Nicholas

We never wanted to lie to our children about Santa as they may then think we were lying about other aspects of Christmas or Christianity.  However, we also didn’t want them to miss out on this aspect.  So how do we redeem this?

On Christmas Eve we read them the story about St Nicholas about how he gave his money to help the poor (here’s the Amazon link to the book we use but it’s out of print and the prices quoted are just silly).  After reading about it we then do the same as St Nicholas.  We put some money in envelopes†, one for each child and then ask the children to ask the Father to tell us which house number to deliver to and what message he would like to say.  We then go out together and post them and run away giggling.

In addition, we still do stockings at home.  Our children also get to pretend to be St Nicholas to us.  So I give them the presents for my wife’s stocking and they get to wear a beard and put them in her stocking.  She then goes into her room feigning surprise – “who has put presents in my stocking?” and the children giggle.  We then repeat this but this time she gives them presents to put in my stocking.

We then tell them that we will return the favour when they are sleeping.  “Will you wear the beard, daddy?” “Of course” I reply winking.

Who’s birthday is it?

It’s so easy in the excitement of giving and receiving presents that we forget whose birthday it actually is!  So two things that we do to help.  The first is that just like at any other birthday we have a cake and we sing happy birthday to Jesus.

The second is an idea that I read in the excellent testimony from Floyd McClung “Living on the Devil’s Doorstep”:

 As is normal on a birthday, we give presents and tell the recipient how much we love and appreciate him.  But this time it is Christ’s birthday, so we “give gifts to the Lord!”  After a time of prayer and praise, we take turns to bring our presents to Jesus.  It may be a new song, a newly written poem, a personal Scripture, a drawing, painting, or performance of a new drama.  One time a group got together and bought a table-tennis table for the rest of the community.  They figured God would delight in seeing the enjoyment their brothers and sisters got from it!  All of us choose the most personal way we can of expressing our great love for Jesus and our joy at being able to celebrate His birthday.

So typically the children make some craft or put on a show.  I often write a song or poem and my wife creates something beautiful.  It’s a great opportunity to ensure Jesus takes centre stage.

Advent

Personally I love the advent candle that has the names of Jesus on – that we burn at dinner and talk about.  However I saw this picture and thought it was fab:
reverse-advent-calendar

Christmas hampers

Alternatively, we just prepare a Christmas hamper for a local needy family and deliver it to the recipients.  We have an excellent local charity called Besom, who allow us to actually deliver the hampers.  This is so important as I want the children to experience the joy of giving and meeting people whom something we take for granted means so much.

I want to ensure that my children aren’t insulated from the world around them – they need to experience first hand those who have less to balance out media which shows those who have more and fuels the spirit of covetous. To quote one of them after a visit, “why don’t they have any carpet in their house daddy?” – such a precious question to talk about how much we have.

Waifs and strays

Usually we pick up those who are on their own and invite them to stay over Christmas Eve and share Christmas with us.  Jesus’ birth brought in all sorts (shepherd’s renowned for their lies and Pagan astrologers) and Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt.  God is the friend of the widow, orphan and the foreigner (eg Dt 10:18) and so our celebrations should, just like in the OT, welcome those:
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Lk 14:12-14)

Giving starts young

It’s easy to think that our children need to be older until they can give gifts – or that we buy it for them to give to their siblings.  But to quote King David “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam 24:24).
We want our children to experience to cost and joy of giving.  So they might make something or, a common idea in our family, is to give a token that says something they might do for the other.  Such as one of their chores around the home (eg laying the table or washing up) or a game or treat that might do (eg take them to the park to play soccer or play a board game with them for 30 minutes).

Budgets

We have a budget that we won’t exceed (if you’re interested it’s £10 for all of their stocking and £30 for all of their other gifts).  For many years we spent a silly amount of money on stuff that didn’t really bring happiness.  Once we brought in the budget it not only simplified this Festival and removed the covetousness, it also forced us to be creative and thoughtful with our budget (See the tokens idea above).  We let our children know this budget – so when they ask for outrageous things we can simply say that it’s outside our budget but we can give you the £30 cash towards it and you can save up.  This instils the concept of saving and working for reward.  Though often the children realise that just having cash won’t be as much fun.

No lists

This last idea we’ve just started.  Often our children would compile lists of what they want.  But we have found that these are driven by fads, ads and wants.  So we experimented with asking them not to make lists.  This does two things.  First it forces us to think and listen and ask ourselves what would bless them.  It’s so easy to just throw money but not thought.  Secondly, we get to help our children experience a taste of our heavenly Father who knows us intimately and gives us good gifts.  They learn to trust that we love them and know them well enough to choose things that will match the way God has made them (eg one year I bought my eldest son some wood and nails as God has given him such a practical gifting – he then used this to make a skateboard ramp).
I hope that these ideas help you out – if you have any more ideas then please do share them in the comments below to bless other parents.  May you experience God’s love during this season.

† We go for £50 in each envelope as we want people to experience a taster of the lavishness and the overwhelming grace available to us through Jesus and also so the children see that we give away to others more than we spend on each of them.

*Please note that I am an Amazon affiliate which means I receive a small commission if you buy a book after using my link.  This helps me offset the costs of publishing.  It doesn’t influence my recommendations of the books I recommend though.

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