Men and Women are Humans
(Originally published 3/23/15)
In Genesis 1:27 we read one of the most substantial sentences in all of Scripture.
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them…”
Here is the blueprint for humankind. We were created to bear witness to the God who we replicate. God created many beings, but human beings are the only ones with God’s very visage stamped upon us. Like coins imprinted with the image of the potentate, we are not divine, but we bear a divine resemblance.
This sentence gives us dignity, value, purpose, authority, responsibility.
The rest of the verse says,
“…male and female he created them.”
Maleness and femaleness both reflect God’s image. One not better than the other. One not lording over another. One not subservient to another. Both, in harmony and equality, reflecting the image of the divine Creator.
And then the fall of mankind happened, and from that point on, men and women have been locked in gender wars, struggling for control, fighting for equality, arguing about superiority – forgetting that both genders bear the image of our Maker.
In the past twenty years or so, Christians have, in response to radical feminism, spent much time and ink focusing on the differences between men and women. The terms “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood” have been coined and defined (ironically with extra-biblical support, or by stretching Bible texts to fit their agenda). A machismo version of masculinity, and a meek version of femininity has been celebrated in the church, and anyone who doesn’t fit into these neat boxes is labeled and marginalized. Books like Love and Respect pigeonholed men as needing respect, and women as needing love, as if you could really show love without respecting the other person. The Eldredge’s books Wild at Heart for men and Captivating for women summed up every man’s basic question as, “Do I have what it takes?” and every woman’s basic question as, “Will I be loved?” as if there couldn’t possibly be a man who doesn’t ask the woman’s question, or a woman who asks the man’s question.
I get why we felt the need to draw distinctions between the sexes. Back then, distinctions were being erased by modern culture. Remember when “unisex” was all the rage? And men, especially, felt devalued and judged by the feminist agenda. Remember when every TV show depicted a doofus dad? Movements like Promise Keepers were a reaction to this feminization of culture, and I can’t say it was a bad thing when it first started. Men needed to be affirmed as vital to the spiritual health of the church and community.
But this emphasis on manhood went too far when exalting the masculine began to mean diminishing the feminine. Books about biblical manhood didn’t set out to diminish women, just distinguish men from women. But, think about it, when men try so hard to establish, “I am not a woman!” what they end up saying is, “The worst thing you could say to me is that I’m acting like a girl.” And how does that make the girls feel? Don’t get me wrong. I agree that boys need to pull away from and see themselves as distinct from the feminine, but is there a way to do this that doesn’t make women feel lesser than?
And the Christian focus on masculinity went too far in its definitions. I read the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a compilation of essays by authors I respect. At the time I read it, ten years ago, it was considered the gold standard on biblical gender issues, and I used it in much of my teaching on this subject. Looking back now, though, I see that the definitions were too confining, inferred too much from Scripture, and bordered on being misogynistic. Here they are. You can decide for yourself:
“At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.”
“At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.”
What if a man is not a natural leader? What if a woman is? Why is the feminine only valuable in “propping up” the masculine? Is a disabled or unemployed man less masculine because he can’t provide? Why is a man only a man in relation to a woman and vice versa? What do single men and women do? Where are they getting the Scripture to support these definitions?
Some pastors felt the need to define masculinity and femininity even further by making statements such as, “Real men don’t play video games. Real men watch or play sports.” They made policies for the male leaders of their churches which required their wives to stay home and not work. They said they were elevating motherhood by doing this, but the message they were sending was, “Real women find joy and satisfaction in the domestic realm.” And if you don’t?
As you can see, the attempts to define manhood and womanhood have left thousands of men and women, myself included, feeling defeated, shamed, inept and miserable.
We are Not so Different
I believe it is time for evangelicals to correct these two-dimensional cardboard-cut-out stereotypes, and begin seeing each other as fellow humans rather than merely as male and female. The fact is, we are much more alike, as image-bearers of God, than we are different. We may exhibit our fears and aspirations in unique ways, but at the core, we are the same. How so?
We all want to be seen. There is not a single man, woman or child on this planet who does not long to be understood. Even the most bashful among us need at least one person in his/her life to probe the depths of their heart and really “get” them. We humans want to be noticed, acknowledged, and accepted.
We all want to be loved. Some of us show this desire by striving for honor, respect and prestige. And some of us show this desire by investing in relational closeness with friends or a spouse. I know men and women who equate respect with love, and I know men and women who equate intimate closeness with love. But at the bottom line, we, as humans have a longing to be loved.
We all want to have purpose. We want to know that our short time on earth is valuable, that we are making a difference, that we matter. We find significance in parenthood, work, creativity, charity, self improvement. We want our lives to mean something. We want to contribute, to leave a mark.
When we remember our similarities, it is easier for us to relate to each other. I may not fit the “feminine mold” because respect is my love language, but I still just want to be loved like you. You may not fit the “masculine mold” because you find significance in family over work, but you are still seeking significance like everyone else on the planet.
When we remember our similarities, it is also easier for us not to judge each other. I no longer judge my husband when he doesn’t live up to the masculine “ideal” because I recognize in him the same human frailties that I have. He no longer judges me when I can’t conform to the feminine “ideal” because he recognizes in me the same desire for significance that he has. I admire him for the character traits that I am lacking, and he admires me for the character traits he is lacking. We are humans, created in God’s image with unique gifts and abilities, and the more we can focus on flat-out strengths and weaknesses and quit focusing on whether or not we measure up to a man-made definition of male and female, the better off we will be.