Are you cursing God’s gift to you and your children?

Blessing or cursing

Would you curse a gift from God?

“Of course not!” I hear you say, “After all, every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

Would you curse a gift that God has given your children?

Again I’m sure you would say no.

But the truth is, we often do.

Our bodies are gifts from God.

“Ah yes John, but sin has entered the world and brought sickness”

True, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the correct functioning of our bodies as designed by God. Specifically I’m talking about periods and nocturnal emissions.

How often do ladies complain about their periods and say to their daughters: “You’re so lucky you haven’t got them yet!”

That is cursing our daughters. We are giving them a fear of becoming women. We are also telling them that God has made something horrible. That God is not good.

How often do us men say nothing to our sons about nocturnal emissions? How often do we leave them confused and feeling ashamed of this natural function?

We are cursing our sons. We are letting them think bad of something good. We are letting shame infect their sexuality – which causing them to either embrace shame as an identity or to reject their sexuality as horrible. Neither is blessing God’s gift to them.

We need to celebrate our children becoming women and men. We need to help them embrace God’s calling (which includes their bodies) for their lives.

But how can we do this?

As I have mentioned before the first principle* is to affirm the goodness of our bodies.
For my daughters I would have a conversation something like this:

“Would you put a new baby in a cot with dirty old sheets?”

To which my daughters would reply “Of course not!”

“Absolutely. We always give a new baby fresh clean sheets. In the same way, every month your body changes the sheets of your womb to get ready for a new baby. It throws away the old ones which come out of your ‘gina (our abbreviation for vagina) as a period.”

In addition, I want to mark their first period as a special moment in their life. And so we talk about when they have their first period daddy will take them out to a restaurant of their choice to celebrate. We often talk about this and discuss where they might go and what they might choose to eat. It creates such an anticipation in them and last week I had the pleasure of talking the second of my daughters out for her meal. She had such a blast and I have never seen anyone eat quite so much.

For my sons I would have a conversation something like this:

“Suppose you’ve got a brand new phone with GPS tracking to use on a mountain climb. Would you check that it works before you start your journey or would you just turn up and try it on the day?”

To which my son would (hopefully) reply “I’d check it.”

“Absolutely, checking it works is a good strategy to ensure that we don’t have problems on the day. In the same way, God has designed your body to check that your willy works for when you are married. When you’re sleeping it tests it out by making sperm and shooting it out. This means that you’ll wake up with sticky stuff in your pants but it’s a sign that your body is working well.”

In addition, I want to mark what could be a source of shame as a special moment in their life on their journey to becoming a man. However, my eldest son who likes food says he’d much prefer to go to a skate park to celebrate. So be it.

But as Christians we can go further than just celebrating our bodies as good. For we are made in God’s image and so our bodies are also holy.  And this was the second principle.

You see everything was made to glorify God and so that means that our bodies tell us something about the nature of our God. The aspect I want to focus on here is how our bodies reflect the redemption story.

Jesus death has brought cleansing for our sins. Specifically it is His blood that cleanses us for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).

This is the first part of our new birth as Christians – we are forgiven and made holy so that we are a fit dwelling for the Holy Spirit.

This is the meaning of a woman’s period. The shedding of blood symbolises Christ’s blood being shed to bring forgiveness of our sins. In fact, the Hebrew word for female (nĕqebah H5347) comes from the root word meaning pierced (naqab H5344) and we know that Christ was pierced for our transgressions (Is 53:5).

Every month women are given a physical reminder of the cost of our redemption – which is easy to lose sight of in our sanitised world far removed from animal sacrifice or killing animals for food.

After the period is complete a Jewish woman would have their mikveh, a ritual bath as the rite of purification. This is our baptism by water symbolising our repentance and death to sin and our old way of life.

The second part of our new birth as Christians is that we are born again of the Spirit (Jn 3:3). Just like God breathed his breath = Spirit into Adam to give life to his mortal body, so too Christ’s Spirit is given to us to give us new life. We receive Christ’s imperishable seed† (1 Pet 1:23) we become Children of God (Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:1,9) and ultimately receive new imperishable bodies from that seed (1 Cor 15:38, 42,44).

This is the meaning of the man’s sperm. The Greek word Paul and Peter use for seed is sperma (G4690). The ejaculation is symbolising the new life that Christ gives us. And in the same way that children grow up in the image of their parents (Gen 5:3) by genetics and can’t do anything to change that, we grow up into the likeness of God through the fruit of this same spirit (Gal 5:22-23) – it is a fruit – a natural consequence of being his children. In fact, the Hebrew word for male (zakar H2145) comes from the root word meaning remember (zakar H2142). It can mean “to mark (so as to be recognised)” which would reflect the fact that the Spirit marks us out as Christians, but it can also mean “a call to remembrance” which isn’t just a mental ascent but a call to action – which is why it is used when referring to circumcision as well as man or God taking action when they remember something. This speaks of how faith without deeds is dead – we are called to live out our new life. We are called to like our true Heavenly Father‡.

In the same way that only together do male and female make up the complete image of God (Gen 1:27), only together do they symbolise the full story of our salvation.

Father, forgive us for the ways we have disparaged our bodies because we have lost sight of the true meaning. We renounce and break off any curse that we have put on our bodies or our children’s bodies. We bless our bodies in Jesus’ name and receive them as a good and holy gift from you. Help us to celebrate the gift of our bodies, let us cry out to you in praise for how they speak to us of the forgiveness and new life you offer us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

*Click here to be taken to the overview of how to teach your children godly sexuality.

†If you want to dive deeper into this aspect, I recommend Steve Bremner’s book “The Imperishable Seed of Christ: Understanding The Believer’s Spiritual DNA”

‡I am aware that there are many other nuances in these Hebrew words but I hope this gives a glimpse into the richness of the meaning of periods and sperm.

How to stop looking at women lustfully part 2 (godly desire)

sisters and daughters

In our previous post on this topic we looked at three steps to dealing with lust:

  • Acknowledge it, but realise that the woman is a shadow of who our hearts are really looking for.
  • Realise we have a higher calling: we men are made to love women sacrificially like Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25), we are called to give (love) not take (lust).
  • Act according to our calling by praying blessing on the woman we see.  For example “Father, I thank you for this beautiful woman.  I thank you that you have made her to be loved and cherished.  I ask that you would pour out your blessing on her, that she would become aware of your presence, that she would find her value in your love and not how she looks….” 

In this second post on this topic we look at how to prevent lust entering into our relationships with women in our Church.

For three years I led an organic church which ministered to those broken by traditional church.  I had the honour of serving a number of young beautiful women.  With one woman in particular she needed much prayer, counselling and support on her journey to wholeness and I soon realised that an attraction was growing within me.

This was not surprising due to the amount of time I was spending with her and the prayer counselling process which forms a bond between spirits.  It was becoming distracting and was starting to interfere with my ability to serve her.  But yet I was praying for her like I mentioned above.  So what was I to do?

There’s this great passage in 1 Timothy that holds the key:

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” 
1 Tim 5:1-2 (emphasis mine)

We were family!  As someone much younger and in my care, she was my spiritual daughter and I was her father.  Once I saw this truth it started to change how I related to her.  I started relating as a father loving his daughter rather than a man relating to an attractive woman.  I started calling her my “daughter-in-Christ” to help outwork this view into our relationship and my mind.

The desire that I had felt inside me began to be transformed now I knew where it was to be focussed.  The sexual energy that God had given me as a man was now channelled to the correct godly destination.  No longer was it being hijacked by the worldly view that it must always result in physical gratification.

It was such a delight to love her as a father and seek her mature into a woman of God and the delight and pride I felt at her wedding to a godly man was overwhelming.

The phrase “brothers and sisters” occurs more than 100 times in the New Testament which speaks of the reality of our new relationships in Christ.  In addition, Paul called Timothy his son (1 Cor 4:17, 1 Tim 1:2a; 1:18, 2 Tim 1:2a; 2:1, Tit 1:4, Phile 1:10) as did Peter call Mark (1 Pet 5:13).  Paul also treated the Thessalonians as his children (1 Thess 2:11).

So may you start calling the women in your church your sisters (or if you’re much older like I was, your daughters) and see your relationships transformed as your sexual desires find their true purpose in Christ.  In Jesus’ precious name.  Amen.

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

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

Destination sickness (godly desire)

***CONTENT WARNING***
This is a vulnerable post about my journey to sexual wholeness and may not be appropriate for minors nor for those of a sensitive nature

I think one of the biggest lies about the Christian life is that Christians think it is a destination rather than a journey.

destination-sickness-2

We see this view presented by Christians through books written by those who have overcome their struggles and have “made it”.  If you follow their steps then you too can be free of <fill in the blank>.

You know I’ve yet to see a book, let alone a best-seller, where the author mentions that they still struggle with anything of consequence, that they’re still on the journey.  That just wouldn’t sell because people would say that their method can’t be any good as they’re not perfect yet. They clearly can’t be an expert.  Can you see a publisher wanting to sell a book from someone who is not a “success”?

We buy into this lie.  It’s so appealing because God has set eternity in the human heart (Eccl 3:11) and our desire is to be in that place of perfection.  Hence we buy these books, follow the steps, learn the methods but yet struggle.

Maybe when this happens you are an optimist and simply think that this isn’t the right method as it doesn’t “work” for you and so continue on your journey searching for the “right” method/approach/teaching that does work.

Or maybe you’re like me and start believing that since you’re not “there” that maybe you’re not a Christian or maybe you are a “bad” Christian, that you are a sinner, that you are a failure. This is what happens to me when I believe the destination distortion.

This lie causes us to conceal our imperfections from others as otherwise the Church will know that we are not perfect, that we’re not at the destination.  They might even question if we are really saved – as Christians don’t do that sort of thing.

Where does this lie take us?

The only way I can do this is to be extremely vulnerable with you so you can see it clearly.

This week I messed up.  I looked at porn on the internet.  I masturbated.  I then felt rubbish.

I was so ashamed I didn’t tell my wife because I didn’t want to break her heart.  My brother-in-Christ who I can be honest with has gone AWOL which of course left me alone with my thoughts and exposed to the lies of Satan who loves picking off those isolated Christians.
 
“Look at what you’ve done!  How can you claim to know anything about godly sexuality?  How can you help other people to get free when you yourself are not free?  You’re a hypocrite.”

When prayer requests come in I hear “How can you pray for them after what you’ve done?”

So I stop ministering to others.

My focus changes from serving others and looking outward to looking at my sin and wallowing.
I’m no longer pressing onward on my Christian journey.  I have stopped journeying because I’m clearly not at the destination.

This is where this lie takes us.  It causes us to stop.  And Satan wins.

The cure for destination sickness: living in the light

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12-14

Paul sees this.  Even the great Christian Paul has not arrived but is pressing on to take hold of all that Christ has for us.  We’re all on a journey.  We’re not at a destination.

Yes we have a new nature and are no longer slaves to sin but we still mess up.

..let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)

How do we throw off the sin that entangled me and stopped me from running and caused me to look down at my sin and not on Jesus calling us by name?

We start by confessing what we have done to others.  No excuses.  No justification.  Just truth.  

You know how hard it was for me to tell you the truth earlier?  I wanted to use euphemisms.  I definitely wanted to miss our the bit about masturbation.  But the Father challenged me to be more vulnerable so that more freedom will be released to those who are reading and struggle:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another [your false steps, your offenses], and pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. (Jas 5:16a AMP)

Bringing sin into the light destroys its power over us.  There’s no competition between light and darkness.  When you turn on the light switch it’s all over for darkness.  If we pretend that we’re OK we prevent ourselves from receiving God’s forgiveness and grace.  How can we be forgiven if we’re saying we’ve done nothing wrong?

When I eventually confessed what I had done to my wife.  She looked me in the eye and said “that explains everything!”  She saw that I had stopped pressing forward and was no longer ministering grace to our family.  She knew I wasn’t living in the identity of who I actually am.  A cuddle, a kiss and her subsequent words of love over me bring healing and restoration and release me from my introspection.

So I get up and I start moving forward again.  I’m already closer than I was when I had stopped.  And by His glorious grace I will reach the goal:

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:6)

Can I pray for others?  Yes because my prayers are answered by a powerful and perfect God and not by my own efforts?  Can I help others?  Yes, because I’m not there but I am further down the road of maturity.  By sharing my struggles I can help them to avoid or overcome obstacles that tripped me up.  I can help them go faster and further than me.

Together we will obtain the goal for which we were called if we journey together in the light.
 
Father, I pray for those who are reading this.  That they would find fellow brothers and sisters who would journey with them.  They would find those who would be open and honest about their struggles so that together they can experience your healing grace and be transformed into the likeness of your glorious Son.  In Jesus’ precious name.  The author and perfecter of our faith.  The one who calls us onward in love.  Amen

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.