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.