The Beauty of Gender
Now some of you may know that there is a Super Bowl game tonight. And don’t worry, I’m not making any predictions. Yes. But what I’m guessing is that there are going to be a lot of new Rams fans. Are there any in the house? Recent Rams fans? Yeah. I’m hearing more response than anything I’ve ever preached on. A little discouraging.
But what I wanted to warn you recent Rams fans tonight in the midst of all the chip dip, you’re probably going to have a moment of reflection. And this moment of reflection should include, “How did I get here? How did I get to this place where I’m cheering for a team from L.A.?” And I know some of you will be quick to remind me. “I’m actually not cheering for L.A. I’m cheering against the Patriots.” But that feeling, I want you to hold that feeling for a moment the recent Rams fans will have this evening, and then let’s go back to a book I mentioned a couple of weeks ago by Nancy Pearcey called Love Thy Body.
Nancy Pearcey is a Christian apologist, professor, tremendous writer. This is a book we are currently in our college class (which actually meets right now, so the only time I ever get to be up there is when I’m not preaching) but we’re working through this book. But when you look at that title, Love Thy Body, you kind of have a feeling of a recent Rams fan. It’s like, Wait! How did we get here? Where Christians are commanding our culture to love their body? I thought Christians were supposed to hate their bodies! I thought Christians were supposed to be on the other side, cheering for the other team.
How did we get to the point where a Christian writer would title her book Love Thy Body and plead with people to stop hating their bodies? What she’s going after is our tendency in our culture to hate our bodies, a kind of body dysmorphia, a hatred of the body. Now you say, “What are you talking about?”
Well, when we use our bodies for things they were not designed to be used for, we are hating our bodies. When we inject them with hormones, chemically castrating them in the name of gender migration, we are hating our bodies. Teen girls right now, there’s tremendous pressure on teen girls to not identify as a girl, to reject who they are in their bodies. When we hook up with our bodies, when we starve our body, all of these are expressions. I could give many more. And Christians are pleading with our culture at large, “Love your body appropriately,” which is another way of saying, “Embrace who you are as an image bearer made in the image of God, to image him as a male or as a female in a real body.”
Today we’re going to step back from last week where we looked at this ten thousand feet from a cultural perspective, and we’re going to still remain pretty high up in the air, but we’re going to look at this from God’s perspective. What did he have in mind? Is there anything beautiful about God’s design for us as male and as female? Let’s ask him for help as we do this.
Father, you know our hearts. You know our culture. You warned us in Romans 1 that when we refuse to give thanks to our Creator, we become futile, empty in our thinking. We exchange your glory for false images, and we dishonor our bodies. But Jesus, you took on a body to save us. You bought our bodies on your cross as you gave up yours. You’re redeeming our bodies as you defeated sin and death and rose from the grave in a new body. Help us to see the beauty of your creative design, to stand in awe. And Lord, if by your power, by your Spirit, each of us today could together, and we collectively could for a moment look away from our experiences and our feelings, the temptations we daily face, the lies we believe, and gaze on the beauty of your creative design. Lord, this would bring you glory and us joy. So, we ask for this, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I don’t know if you noticed as Steve was reading the Scripture, there is a lot of repetition in Genesis 1, and I want us to highlight that repetition because it is in that poetic repetition that you see the big themes of Genesis 1. Now, if you were here five years ago when we went through Genesis, some of this is going to sound familiar, but we’ll quickly move on beyond that. But a couple big awe-inspiring patterns. First of all, when you listen to the story of God in Genesis 1, we hear God’s voice in creation. We hear God’s voice in creation. Ten times it says, “And God said, and God said, and God said.” Verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29. God is not mute. He’s not silent in Genesis 1. D.A. Carson says it this way,
“So, the God of the Bible in the very first chapter is not some abstract ‘unmoved mover,’ some spirit impossible to define, some ground of all beings, some mystical experience. He has personality and dares to disclose himself in words that human beings understand. Right through the whole Bible that picture of God constantly recurs. However great and transcendent he is, he is a talking God.”
We hear God’s voice in creation. Secondly, we see God’s power in creation because each time God opens his mouth and speaks, things come into existence. Repeatedly God speaks, “and it was so.” Verses 7, 9, 11, 15, 24, 30. He speaks and light, sky, water, land, fruit trees, stars come into existence. God’s word is powerful.
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, by the breath of his mouth all their hosts. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
Who does that? He speaks and things come into existence. He breathed out oceans and oak trees and giraffes with his breath. His word transforms imagination into animation. Nothingness becomes something-ness by his word. We see God’s power in creation.
Third, we know God’s pleasure in creation. We know God’s pleasure in creation. Seven times “and God saw that it was good.” And it was good. It was good! It was very good! Verses 4,10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31. Like an artist, he steps back and beholds the creation he has breathed out, and he sees. Job 38 tells us he enjoyed. As he was breathing out galaxies, the angels were shouting for joy. It’s no wonder. The thing is so big. They couldn’t stop. He breathed out. They shouted for joy! The pleasure of God is seen. And as he beholds, he enjoys, he declares, he defines good.
It is good. His definition of good is not peer reviewed. It is not situational or subjectively derived. God speaks something into existence. He defines what flows from his goodness as good, and he sees it and delights in it because it is good. We know God’s pleasure in creation. Fourthly, we experience God’s order in creation. “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Verses 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31. Evening. Morning. Evening. Morning. This is Darwin’s worst nightmare. Rhythm. Order. Design. The dawn dispelled the darkness as each new day emerged. The timeless One creates time for timely ones to work and play and eat and sleep.
This predictable pattern is not the product of blind, purposeless forces, producing random mutations and expressions. There is a cadence. There is a rhythm. There is a rap to creation. And notice as a part of this design, this order, there is a duality. Notice the pairs in creation. Throughout the chapter, you’ll see a series of them, like heavens – earth, light – darkness, day – night, land – waters, male – female. Verse 27.
“So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
And this is where we want to land today and ask the question, “Why?” Why did God create male and female? He formed one from the other, so in one sense they are the same. But he formed one from the other and made them quite different. Why? Most obvious answer is reproduction, right? Look at verse 28. “Be fruitful and multiply.” If
Adam did not have Eve or Eve did not have Adam, we would not be talking about them right now. The story of creation, from a human perspective, might have been a short story, but there is more here than our bunny-like capacity to reproduce. God could have – maybe this is just my warped brain, but when I asked the question, “Why male and female?” God, you could have made a male, an Adam, and then cloned many Adams – a human 3D machine that reproduces Adams, and they could have turned the Garden of Eden into the ultimate man cave in weeks. Super Bowl Sunday every day.
Or, since we’re told today, that men are only capable of raping and pillaging and warring and leaving the toilet seat up, maybe he could have created a woman, an Eve, and cloned Eves. And you could have had an eternal island of Themyscira, you know, Wonder Woman’s island paradise without men to ruin it. Hold off on the amens, ladies, but God didn’t create one gender to clone them or to reproduce through mitosis; he created male and female. Why?
Well, it’s always a dangerous question because, in one sense, we don’t want to plunge into the hypotheticals, but I do think there is a time to step back, and for me personally to resist the temptation to run through a series of arguments and to step back and to say,
“Lord, is there something beautiful about your design for male and female that we might be blind to because of the broken expressions of male and female?”
So, to answer that question, I’m going to ask a question. Why did God create male and female? Why did God create day and night? Why not just day? Or night? Why did God create light and darkness? Why not just dark? Or light? There’s a hint there. Try defining darkness without reference to light. It’s really hard. In a similar way, we might find it impossible to describe or define maleness or femaleness apart from the other. Mike Mason touches on this.
“Maleness and femaleness are themselves interdependent. There can be no maleness without femaleness, and femaleness without maleness would likewise be at a total loss as to how to define itself.”
It is not good for maleness to be alone or for femaleness to define itself by itself. Now Mason, in that quote there, is talking about it in the context of marriage, but it is much broader than marriage. We’re talking about a kind of complementarity where maleness is understood and completed when it is seen in the light of femaleness, and femaleness is understood and completed when it is seen in the light of maleness.
Do you smell any smoke? In our culture, this is burn-you-at-the-stake stuff. Social heresy. And maybe, it’s so offensive because whenever we hear these kinds of things, we interpret that as some egotistical guy that has to have his trophy wife on his arm in order to be secure or some codependent woman who is lost in her narcissistic husband. But if we can step away from those broken expressions and see deeper than that, is it possible that our culture has absolutely flipped everything? We assume that people invented maleness and femaleness, it’s a social construct. And therefore, we can easily list the expressions of perversions and deconstruct and reconstruct it. However, what if we have it backwards? What if we didn’t invent maleness and femaleness any more than we invented gravity? By the way, gravity has hurt a lot of people, but safety is not found in denial, but in understanding. So with gender.
C.S. Lewis in his second book in The Space Trilogy, PereIandra, suggests this,
“Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is,” (that is, the idea of male or female) “Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meets us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male,” (Attenuated is weakened or lessened male) “nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity.”
Whoa. What Lewis is saying, and I know this is decades ago and before gender theory dominated the schools that he taught at, he is arguing that gender, there’s a depth to gender that goes far deeper than even their biological expressions, that our bodies are blurred reflections of a reality that is much deeper. Now many of us, especially if you’re a skeptic here, you’re going to just write off Lewis as a Christian writer. What’s interesting, though, is even some non-Christian writers in their moments of honesty acknowledge this.
Let me give you one example. Camille Paglia, in her new book (so this is recent) Free Women, Free Men, argues something similar. Now Camille would describe herself as a lesbian, identify at times as transgender, believes that gender is merely a social construct, yet she acknowledges this.
“The frequency with which gender roles return to a polarized norm,” (polarized, think North Pole, South Pole, opposites) “as well as the startling similarity of gender roles in society separated by vast distances of time and space, does suggest that there’s something (here it is, a passing acknowledgment) There is something fundamentally constant in gender that is grounded in concrete facts. The majority of earthlings (She’s putting us in that category. You are an earthling.) do seem to find clear gender roles helpful compass points in the often-conflicted formation of identity.”
Now, she’s making a rather weak reference to it, but she does seem to acknowledge here that there is something beneath these socially-manifested gender roles. So, if there is something beneath, perhaps that’s why God created us in his image as male and female. Another way to ask that question, why would God create us male and female – why did God create land and sea? Why not just land? Or just sea? Land historically has been a picture of masculinity. Think “rock.” Sea historically has been a picture of femininity. Peter Kreeft describes this as a “fundamental polarity.” Similar words as Camille.
And he invites us to go to the beach, to grasp the meaning of maleness and femaleness.
“[Land and sea] are deeply satisfying together, and we can’t quite analyze why we find that satisfaction and that peace and that sense of rightness…. The shore is the most popular place on earth. Waterfront property is the most expensive property anywhere in the world. Because that’s where the sea and the land meet. That’s where man and woman meet. The land without the sea it’s kind of boring, desert. The sea without the land is kind of boring. When are we going to land the ship? But the place where they meet, that’s where all the action is. And that’s where we want to be.”
When the earth meets the water, there is a stunning beauty, and life emerges. Brett McCracken, whom I’m deeply indebted to for this understanding, summarizes it well.
“Male and female are our more potent symbols, wired into creation, of the life-giving, mutually edifying nature of differentiation.”
Differentiation is the act of distinguishing polarity. So, let’s think about that for a while. Is there anything more stunning than a sunset at the edge of the ocean? What’s happening here? You’re seeing, especially you’re seeing, night mingle with day, land merge with sea, and that striking contrast of dark and light, new and old, land and sea produce some of our most stunning images. Is there anything more peaceful than a sunrise viewed from the shore of the lake? Breathtaking. When day and night mingle, when land and sea merge, the intersection of light and darkness, there is breathtaking beauty.
Yes, we need to talk about the dark side of gender after sin entered the world when gender differences can become abusive or oppressive or invasive or stereotypically imperative. If you’re a woman, you have to be this, or if you’re a man, you have to be this. These stories are legion and, at times, lethal. And they are why some may be running from the beach. The beach can be a beautiful intersection of rock and waves, but if you add a little wind can also be a place of hurricanes.
Perhaps that’s why some of us are heterophobic, fearful of understanding the other. This danger of being fearful of understanding the other is not merely a horizontal problem, it is also vertical. If our bodies are made male and female in the image of God, then there are parts of being male or female that both reflect and reveal the character of God that cannot be seen, experienced, or understood in isolation.
That’s what we mean by complementarity, that male and female resemble and relate to God in a way that male or female alone cannot. Now this is most vividly seen in marriage, but it is also seen in other relationships, other healthy relationships. Watch a brother and sister relate to one another. A mom and her son. A dad and his daughter. A team of men and women synergized, working together at work. Pure friendships. Because when we begin to see ourselves more clearly with and in the other (gender), we begin to see ourselves more clearly in and with the Other, (God). I’ll let you chew on that.
I went to boarding school in high school. I lived in the dorms nine years, through high school, college, and grad school. I had a lot of roommates, hallmates. I could tell you a lot of stories from lumberjacks who would just as soon break you in half, to musicians. One of my roommate’s father was on the most wanted list of the FBI. Fascinating guy. And what was interesting is I got along with all of them. I got along with all of them.
And then the day, the morning I graduated from grad school, my wife graduated from undergrad, we marched in the morning and that night we got married. No wasted time. But we began a journey, which has been a joyful journey, and I don’t know how to describe this without potentially getting in trouble, but it doesn’t matter how many dorms you’ve lived in, it doesn’t matter how many roommates you’ve had. There is something about marriage, when a man and a woman merge their lives, that is unlike anything else. It’s like the beach. It’s the most beautiful, but sometimes there are hurricanes. So, button down the hatches.
There are parts of yourself that you have not seen, even though you lived with, I lived with so many different kinds of guys, but there were parts of me that I had never seen. Some of them were very, very ugly and I would rather not see. And there were parts of myself that were brought out, that needed to be brought out, good and bad. Fortunately, the blood of Jesus cleanses us, transforms us. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but that picture of male and female, and I know I’m just giving one example in marriage, a very general example, but God created us male and female, and God reveals parts of ourselves and then turns our gaze on him in a way through our complementarity that we will not see apart from that in all of our beauty and brokenness. When Paul was in the midst of a church etiquette discussion in 1 Corinthians 11, in verse 11, he kind of stepped back and said, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; (he comes at it both ways)
for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman (let’s get this right). And all things are from God.” Paul is warning us. A lot of us have parts of this and feel passionate about parts of it, but we don’t take it all the way to the end. So, let’s answer this straightforwardly.
Why did God create male and female in his image? Because apparently, male alone or female alone could not reveal, reflect, relate to God adequately. So, the question that is before us before we (Next week will plunge into what maleness really mean, the following week, female. I know we’re still up here), but before we can even do that the question we need to answer is, “Will we see God’s beauty in gender? God’s beautiful design in gender?”
Are we open, willing, humble, responsive to say,
“God, you are an unrivalled artist, whether you are painting a sunrise or knitting a little girl together in her mother’s womb, you are an artist unlike any other artist, and your artistry is breathtaking! And we stand in awe of you and your beautiful design, while at the very same time acknowledging that we are tempted to judge your artistry by its brokenness, the form that has been broken by the fall, sin entering and therefore, our vision is skewed.”
And so, even a look at gender and standing in awe of God’s creative design leads us to Jesus Christ, who took on a body, lived a life on our behalf, bore our sin, loved and healed children, women, was a man, modeled what real masculinity is, and gave his life on the cross to redeem broken gender, among other things.
So, will we see? And I know to see God’s beauty in gender, we have to look at the whole story. If we’re merely looking at a selected, isolated piece, of feeling a struggle, an experience, no matter how significant, we’re going to miss it. Will we look at the beauty of God’s creative design? Let’s pray.
Father, right now I pray that there are hundreds of worshipers who are saying, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you.” You know what you’re doing. Your artistry is spectacular. You have made me in your image as a male or as a female. And, Father, we want by the power of Jesus, our faith is in him, we want to learn what that looks like, not the crushed, broken, twisted version, but through the grace of Jesus to humble our hearts and to see you redeem gender.
We give our beautiful, broken bodies back to you. Jesus, you bought them. You have to help us. We can’t do this on our own. The forces within us and around us are way too powerful. We acknowledge our weakness. Some of us have experienced horrific, horrific experiences from men or women, and we need your healing. But you made us, and you are remaking us. So now, we just want to give you all the glory. We want to lift up our eyes, and we want to give thanks to the One who makes all things new.
And if that means me humbling my thoughts, casting out lies, clinging to your word, if that means me going for help from a Christian counselor to process the dysphoria, the distress I feel about my body, the many kinds of brokenness the enemy seeks to define us by, Lord, let us take action so that we can worship you, whether we eat or drink or whatever we do in our bodies. We want to be able to do them to your glory and to see your beauty because you are worthy, and we pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.