Trinitarian ethics: Why are we gendered beings?

Last time we began an examination of Christian ethics from a trinitarian, incarnational perspective. We concluded that from this biblical viewpoint, ethics is fundamentally about sharing, through the Holy Spirit, in Jesus' own loving and living in our world.

This time we look at a related topic - God's good design for humanity. Once again, we begin by asking, Who is Jesus? The answer is that as the second person of the Trinity, he is fully God; and through the Incarnation (which continues), he is fully human. Thus in Jesus we find not only the full reality of God, but also the full and perfect expression of God's design for humanity.

Scripture speaks of this design in many ways, including telling us that God created humanity to be his image-bearer (Gen. 1:27). But in what way? For the answer, we look not to ourselves (for we are fallen), but to Jesus, who, in his humanity, perfectly and fully bears the image of the triune God. [Click here and here for related Surprising God posts on this topic.]

As we look to Jesus, we note that in his humanity, he is male. Does that then mean that the image of God is born exclusively by men? No, what it means is that our identity as humans includes being gendered beings. But why? And what does being gendered have to do with expressing the image of God? And what does that have to do with Christian ethics (and sexual ethics in particular)?

In finding biblically faithful answers to these questions, I have been helped by a paper from Dr. Gary Deddo, titled Why We're Gendered Beings... Theological Reflections on Sexual Identity. To read it, click here. In the paper, Gary makes this key statement:
The discernment of the right use of sexual relations only becomes clear when formed within the context of a comprehensive understanding of God's purposes for our being gendered persons. Interpreting the commands of God outside of a grasp of God's purposes constitutes interpreting them out of context.
Of course, the Bible has many commands concerning sexual ethics. But as Gary implies, these commands are often taken out of context. That context involves more than a few verses before and after each command. Rather it involves the whole counsel of God in Scripture, including an understanding of God's purpose for creating humanity.

Concerning that purpose, we are told that God created us male and female (gendered beings) and declared that, together, man and woman would bear his image (Gen 1:27) - a creation that God declared to be "very good" (Gen 1:31).
But how is it that our being gendered reflects God's image? After all, God is neither male nor female. An important clue is found in God's statement that "it is not good for the man to be alone..." (Gen 2:18). God created humanity to image his essential relationality - his nature as a communion (fellowship) of love, in which there is both oneness (one God) and differentiation (three distinct persons in God's case). And so humanity was given one humanity that includes two distinct genders. This oneness with differentiation God declared to be "very good" and intrinsic to how humanity bears his image. Note Gary's comment here:
True human togetherness requires persons who are the same...yet who are decidedly different...gendered. If woman were other but not human, man would remain alone.... The otherness would be too great. If she was not the opposite gender, but human, then she (it?) would not be a true other. She would have been too identical. Gender, then is the good differentiation within humanity which provides the basis for a true fellowship: a unity and togetherness of those who are differentiated and other.  
Unity with differentiation - true fellowship - this is the nature of our triune God and the nature of true humanity created by God to bear his image and thus share in his love and life. This is an essential point, and reminds us that our gender (i.e. our sexual identity) is not incidental, nor is it God's after-thought for us. Rather, it is part of God's "very good" design for humanity, giving us a gendered fellowship and communion that reflects God's own relationality and thus his goodness and glory.

Comments

  1. Hi Ted,

    Thank you for this post. But I do need to make a point. It is that well defined sexuality may only be definable in terms of events prior to "the fall." When that fall came, everything fell, and a world came into being that reflects that. So, to define our sexuality in terms of male/female is to not notice that we did fall. Jesus' comments in regard to the male/female and thus marriage situation we are in are quite profound. Please note:

    Matthew 19:3-12
    3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
    4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’
    5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?
    6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
    7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
    8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.
    9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
    10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
    11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.
    12 For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (NIV)

    I wish that the male/female gender issue was a simple one. But Jesus' words and experiences in my own ministry show me that this issue is not a simple one.

    All the best!

    J. Richard Parker

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  2. Thanks for the comment Richard. It seems to me that what we find in the humanity of Jesus is not merely a return to the pre-fall humanity found in Adam and Eve, but an even fuller humanity accomplished through the incarnation of the Son of God, who takes on our humanity and unites it fully to God, thus giving us an image of God in our humanity that is a new creation. That this new humanity, in Jesus, is gendered as in the original, pre-fall humanity is, I think consequential - an issue I'll delve more into more as we proceed with this thread. That, in Christ, "there is neither male or female" (Gal 3:28) is not a denial of our gender distinctions, but a declaration that any distinctions based on gender, that would divide the human family are, in Jesus, done away.

    All of these things have profound implications for our understanding of Christian ethics - issues related to marriage, the role of women in society, the church and family, etc.

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  3. Ted, have you read Phillip E. Hughes', "The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ"? Hughes argues that humanity (Adam and Eve) was not created as the image of God, but in the image of God; specifically in the image of Christ who is the only true image of God (verses). If you agree with this, then how does this affect your understanding of the male/female (gendered) aspect of humanity as image-bearers? Christ is eternally the "son", not male/female, in relation to the Father, so I'm not sure of the importance you're placing on the male/female aspect.

    Thanks.

    Jason

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  4. Good question. Though I've not read Hughes, other authors make a similar point. For a different perspective, I encourage you to read Gary Deddo's paper and see what you think.

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  5. Jason, regarding your question, also see an earlier Surprising God post at http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/2011/06/male-and-female-as-image-of-god.html. I've updated the current post to make this cross-reference and some other clarifications that relate to your question. Thanks, as always, for your participation.

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  6. Thanks Ted, I will check out Deddo's paper and the link you provided. And I really appreciate your work with me through my paradigm shift. You (and others) have been very helpful.

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  7. Ted, the link to your earlier post does not seem to be working for me. It says the page does not exist. Do you have this somewhere else?

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  8. That link is working for me - but here it is: http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/2012/07/trinitarian-ethics-how-then-shall-we.html

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  9. Anonymous9/17/2012

    I really like the concept that our genders show us how fellowship works. Baxter Kruger's concept of the Godhead makes so much sense to me. All three have the same goal, are completely committed to each other, but are not three different sides of the same being. Relationality is the reason for love, and cannot function without it.

    Also, have you noticed that God allowed Adam to experience life without his partner for some time, the reason for this being obvious. Could this explain why we have been introduced to "life" without God? There may have been a fall, but I doubt if it was not intended to happen.

    Lee

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  10. Thanks Anonymous (Lee) for your comment. Indeed, relationality is the basis of love, for it is the essence (being) of God, who is love.

    It is interesting to note that God gave Adam some time to experience being alone, and in that way to see the deficit it created for him before creating Eve. That complementary relationality was, as you intimate, distorted in the fall. I'm not sure we can say that God "intended" for us to fall, but certainly he was prepared for it and had in mind the means to restore us to full fellowship with himself and with other humans. This restoration of full fellowship is the essence of salvation.

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  11. Anonymous9/21/2012

    I have begun to think that nothing happens, at least on the larger scale, without his pulling the strings.

    I know that everything he does is good, but sometimes it may not look that way. Consider this: "The Lord has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts--so that their eyes cannot see, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and have me heal them." John 12

    And yet there is this: I have sworn by my own name; I have spoken the truth, and I will never go back on my word: Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess allegiance to me." Isaiah 45

    Lee

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  12. Indeed, God's action in our world are often hidden to us--and in that sense, a mystery. However, we have the revelation of both his being and his will in the person of Jesus Christ--in Jesus we see God as he truly is with us. And in that we trust and rest, even when we don't understand exactly what God is doing in any particular situation.

    With regard to the passages you cite in John 12 and Isaiah 45, we are reminded that God has, in Christ, reconciled the whole of humanity to himself in Christ. However, some do not know this. Why? Principally because God has not yet given all, through the Spirit, eyes to see. Indeed this ministry of illumination is a distinctive ministry of the Holy Spirit in the world. Why does he grant illumination to some now, but not to all? That too is a mystery, though we understand that his understanding of our need, our "readiness" and other factors are perfect. And so, even in this, we trust in him--and we also seek to share with him in this work of illumination--the mission of living and sharing the gospel.

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  13. Mas como é que nosso ser gênero reflete a imagem de Deus? Afinal, Deus não é nem homem nem mulher. Um indício importante é encontrado na declaração de Deus que "não é bom para o homem estar sozinho ..." ( Gênesis 2:18 ). Deus criou a humanidade à imagem sua essencial relacionalidade.

    A relação amorosa do homem com homem ou mulher com mulher, não reflete à imagem de Deus, já que o essencial é a relacionalidade? Um abração!

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    Replies
    1. Translation:

      How does our being gendered reflect the image of God? After all, God is neither man nor woman. An important clue is found in God's statement that "it is not good for a man to be alone ..." (Genesis 2:18). God created mankind in the image of its essential relationality.

      Does not the love relationship of man with man or woman with woman reflect God's image, since what is essential is relationality? A hug!

      Delete

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