A year-and-a-half ago I decided I was going to sew a dress for my son's wedding. I got an "A" when I sewed an apron in Home Economics class in high school. My mother is a European-trained seamstress. My second cousin is a leading international fashion designer. I have the right pedigree. All you have to do is cut out the pieces, pin them together, line them up at that little five-eighths-inch line and let her rip. How hard can it be? How many of you have messed something up because you thought you knew what you were doing but were too proud, too stubborn to read or follow the directions? I once picked up an easy-to-assemble desk at Wal-Mart. The fact that it came with about 10,000 pieces separated into six cellophane packs did not daunt me. I am a carpenter's daughter. I learned how to swing a hammer, and I can swing it just as well as my five brothers can. I sat at my dad's feet in his workshop. I constructed the walls and did the electrical wiring in my basement. I built a set of willow furniture for our back patio. I've got the right pedigree. It was a desk, precut, from Wal-Mart. All you had to do was slap together the pieces and slide in the drawers. How hard could it be? How many of you have messed something up because you thought you knew what you were doing but were too stubborn to read or follow the directions?
Over the past few decades, we women decided that we needed to put together a new model, a new definition of womanhood. The Leave it to Beaver model was lacking. We didn't like it, so we decided we wanted to be like men. Men and women were the same and should be treated the same. They should do the same things, have the same jobs, have the same career goals, make the same money, act the same, think the same, drink the same, swear the same, party the same, sleep around the same, and self-actualize the same. So we moved marriage and motherhood from the top of our list to the bottom of our list or crossed them off altogether. Reaching the highest rung of the career ladder and becoming tough and powerful like men became our ultimate goal. We decided that men should become more like women, and that women should become more like men; men should tone down their aggression, and we should ramp ours up. We decided that men should metro-sexualize, feminize, emotionalize, reel in their competitiveness, get manicures, pamper their faces, stay home with the kids, learn to clean a toilet, turn off those sports programs, be nice and sweet and agreeable, and do whatever we tell them to do. We decided that women need more power and prestige and control, and that we should become gun-slinging, karate-chopping, hyper-sexed, Wall Street savvy, independent, saucy, sassy, male-bashing heroines. We've got girl power! Take that, guys!
How many of you have messed something up because you thought you knew what you were doing but were too stubborn to read or follow the directions?
Human gender displays God's glory
According to a cover piece in Time magazine last year, women have achieved more of the same as men and yet are more miserable than ever before. We've made a mess of our homes and our families and our relationships. I think that it's time that we swallowed our pride and went back to read and follow the directions, don't you? I want you to turn to the very beginning of your Bible to the first chapter of Genesis. We're going to have a look at the genesis of gender, at God's original design for male and female. We're going to look at the directions this morning. We're going to eat some theological meat. Genesis lays out God's blueprint. It presents the pattern. The first chapter gives us a zoom-out, airplane overview of the big picture of creation. It displays the profound dignity of the human race, and it shows how the creation of humanity fits into the overall creation story.
The first chapter of Genesis reveals that male and female are more like God than anything else in the universe, and that they share this status equally. Genesis 1:26-27: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image.'" Us? Our? Who is God talking to? God is talking to God. Right? The Father is talking to the Son. "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion … over all the earth … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
Now there's something incredibly important I want you to notice here. "Let us make man in our image." There's something about the "us" in God, something about the relationship between the members of the Godhead that provides the blueprint for how he created male and female. God created gender, manhood and womanhood, to image who he is. Gender displays God. That's what gender does. Who we are and how we relate as women and men is an object lesson. It's a parable. It tells a very important story, and the story isn't about us. Scripture says that God created sons and daughters for his glory, to display the jaw-dropping wonder of who he is.
In Romans chapter 1, verse 20, Paul explains that there are two very important truths about God that are displayed in creation for everyone to see. Now, in context, in the first chapter of Romans, the passage specifically deals with issues of gender and sexuality and sexual behavior. Paul says this in Romans 1, verse 20: "Ever since the creation of the world, his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made, so people are without excuse."
In other words, ever since the creation of the world, his eternal power and divine nature have been understood and seen through male and female, who are the focal point of everything he made. The verse implies this: That when you look in the mirror and see that you are a woman, when you get dressed and see a female body, when you go about your daily business and see men and women who live in male or female bodies, when you observe the fact that God created the male body and the female body with corresponding pieces that fit together and heterosexually unite, when you see a man and a woman joining together in marriage, all these things tell a story. From the time of creation until now, gender and sex, manhood and womanhood constantly display truths about God. God wrote his story on our flesh, who he created me to be as a woman and in who he created you to be as a woman, and in who he created a man to be as a man. All of these things tell a story, and Paul says that people are without excuse because gender and sex scream out the truth about God.
And what truth is that? Romans 1:20 says it's his power and his divine nature, his Godhead. So it's his persons—s, persons plural—who God is. His nature and character, how God interacts with God is displayed in his creation of male and female. His plan, his eternal power, what God does, and how he interacts with us is displayed in his creation of male and female. According to Paul, God created things the way that he did in order to teach people something. He wants us to see it and to get it. He wants us to know who God is and what God does, and he imprinted that on us, on his creation.
Ephesians chapter 5 connects all the dots and indicates that manhood and womanhood, marriage and sex, all point to the story of the Bridegroom, the Son of God, who loved and gave his life to redeem his bride, the church. Gender exists to tell the love story of the gospel, and that is why God created male and female.
God had the story of Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, and his bride, the church, in mind before the foundation of the earth, and it's that story that he had in mind—the love story of God—that he was thinking about when he set his hand to create male and female, when he said, "Let us make man in our image" and created man, male and female. So with this larger cosmic context in mind, we're going to go back to Genesis and we're going to observe twelve points of difference between male and female that are evidenced in the creation story.
The truth that God wanted to display through male and female was really, really important. So it stands to reason that he was very careful in the way that he did it, and every step and every action and everything that God did in his creation of male and female was significant. That's why Genesis chapter 2 is so careful to zoom in, to rewind the tape and zoom in on the creation story of male and female. Chapter 1 gives the big picture, chapter 2 zooms in on the creation of male and female. Male and female are the players that God created to tell the story. Ultimately the story is not about us. It's about God. We'll never get our womanhood right until we understand that very basic fact.
So let's have a look at the twelve differences in Genesis chapter 2, starting with what makes the male uniquely male.
The uniqueness of manhood
The first point of difference that we need to notice is that the male was firstborn. "Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature," Genesis chapter 2, verse 7. So the first thing you need to note about the creation of the sexes is that God created the male first. You might think this is trivial or inconsequential, but the Bible teaches otherwise. The firstborn son held a very unique role and position in the Hebrew family. He ranked highest after his father, and he carried the weight of the father's authority on his shoulders. He was the one who was responsible to carry out Dad's instructions and act on his dad's behalf. He was responsible for the oversight and the well-being of all of his siblings. He also served as their representative. What happened in the family was his responsibility. The buck stopped with him. If a younger brother or a sister got into trouble, dad would corner the oldest brother, hold him up to the wall and say, "Why did your sibling get into trouble?" This wasn't just a cultural quirk that the Hebrew people dreamed up; God gave them the directions of the role of the firstborn, and their family structure followed the pattern that he gave.
When Pharaoh refused to release the Hebrews from bondage, the Lord sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn sons. Why? Why the firstborn sons? Well, because those oldest brothers were the family representatives. So they had to pay for the sins of Egypt. Adam was the firstborn of the human race. He was responsible for the oversight and well-being of the human family. God held Adam accountable for the fall even though Eve sinned first. The New Testament clearly states, "In Adam, all die." Eve was personally responsible for her sin, but because of Adam's position of firstborn, he was responsible for smearing the entire family.
The authority and responsibility that Adam has as the firstborn human son pointed to whom? It pointed to the position of Jesus Christ, the firstborn, the only begotten Son of God who became flesh and took Adam's place. He bore the authority of the firstborn, Jesus, the firstborn of God. So he was able to properly represent us when he died on the cross. He became the last Adam, the representative of all of us who put faith in him.
So what does all this have to do with male and female roles? Well, it has a great deal to do with them. The New Testament teaches that Adam's position as firstborn has ongoing implications for the responsibility of all human males. The responsibility that God put on Adam's shoulder extends, in one way or another, to all of them, to all men. Paul tells Timothy that the reason that males bear the responsibility for spiritual oversight of God's family, the church, is that Adam was formed first. That's in 1 Timothy 2:13. Because God gave the male responsibility of oversight of the human family at creation, that means that men need to step up and be responsible for oversight of the church family. That was Paul's reasoning.
The Bible also teaches that every male bears responsibility for the oversight of his own individual family unit. That's in Ephesians chapter 5. The buck stops with the guy. He's responsible for what goes on in his household. And what's more, this responsibility for looking after your own household seems to extend to a general responsibility of all men to take initiative and to look out for the welfare of those around them. Exercising godly initiative and oversight is a big part of what manhood is all about. It's what we mean intuitively when we say to a guy, "Be a man!" As men they have a unique responsibility to step up to the plate, be men, and go to bat for others. God will hold them accountable for how well they fulfilled that firstborn responsibility.
Second point of difference: The male was put in the garden. Genesis 2:15: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden." So the second observation we can make about Genesis 2 is that God took the man from where he was created and put him in the garden. I don't know if you ever noticed this, but God created the male out in the wild, from the dust of the open desert. Then he took his firstborn male, led him away from the place of creation, and put him in the Garden of Eden. Notice the wording: "God put him in the garden." Now a garden is a plot of ground that is protected by a wall or a hedge. It's an area with specified boundaries. "The garden" was a specified place in the land of Eden. It wasn't the entire land of Eden. It was more like a designated homestead, a specific plot of land. Why is this significant? Because later in the chapter we see that when a man gets married, he leaves the place where he was created in order to establish a new family unit: "A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife." In our family, we call that "pod theology." "You're part of our pod until you get married and start your own pod." That's what we tell our sons. It's as though God puts the man in this new position of responsibility. And what's more, this image seems to foreshadow the whole picture of Christ leaving the home of his Father in heaven in order to pursue his bride, the church. The Lord set the male up in his own place—the garden, his garden—to be head of a new family unit, but before the Father presented him with a wife. He took some time to teach this firstborn male some more about the specific roles and responsibilities of a man.
Point number three: The male was commissioned to work. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it." Genesis chapter 2, verse 15. The word translated work here is the common word for tilling the soil or other labor, and it contains the idea of serving somebody other than yourself. You are working, but you are working on behalf of. You're not just working to advance yourself, you're working for the sake of others. What's more, it frequently describes the duties of priests in worship. So the man's life in the garden wasn't supposed to be one of idleness. He wasn't supposed to be sitting on the couch watching TV. God's plan from the very start was that the man would work to provide for his family's needs. God created men to be the providers, physically as well as spiritually. Now that doesn't mean that women don't contribute, but it does indicate that the primary responsibility for the family rests on the man's shoulders. God wired them that way. God wired them with the drive to look after their families. Have you ever wondered why it just rags on a guy to be unemployed? It's because it's in their makeup, in their wiring.
Point number four: The male was commissioned to protect. "The Lord God put him in the garden to work it and to keep it" (Genesis 2:15). God wanted the man to keep the garden, and keep translates a verb meaning "to be in charge of." It means "to guard and to protect and to look after; to provide oversight." It involves being attentive to someone's needs and protecting the people and the property under one's charge, physically and spiritually. God created men to be the protectors. He created their bodies to be physically stronger and more suited for a fight. Again, this doesn't exclude women from contributing. It simply indicates that if a robber crawls in the window, the man is the primary protector. He's the first one to jump up and take care of the bullets. It's not the woman who says gruffly, "Step aside, honey."
I think of the time I got up to attend to one of my babies, way back in the days of home delivery, in the deep dark of Alberta's winter's night. As I was rocking my feverish babe in my arms, I heard someone fumbling at our front door, trying to break into our house. Panicked, I ran upstairs to get my husband. I shook him out of his deep sleep. I said, "Brent! Brent! There's someone breaking into our house!" Dazed, he bolted out of bed. He took a split second to grab the baseball bat that he stores underneath his side of the bed. He didn't put on clothes, he didn't put on his glasses. He just raced down the stairs to protect us.
The criminal was still making small noises at the door, so Brent, dazed and half blind and stark naked, raised his bat and threw open the door to confront the milk man, which is probably why home milk delivery in Alberta is no more. Brent acted on pure instinct that morning, that male instinct to guard and protect and put himself in danger's way for the sake of others.
When I think about this aspect of manhood, I am also reminded of a picture that my youngest son, Jonathan, drew when he was five years old. In the picture there was a terrible storm out at Garner Lake, out at the family cabin. The clouds are dark; the sky is dark; it's raining. The rains are falling, and the waves are about to overcome Jonathan, his two older brothers, and me. Jon's older brother Clark is on the far right, and he's swallowing water. The words in his speech bubble indicate, "Urgh! Urgh! Gurgle!" He's got a very unhappy smile on his face. Matt on the far left is screaming, "Aaah!" I'm the tall stick figure second from the right in the middle calling out, "Help!" My legs are cut off. He couldn't quite fit me into the picture. I'm calling out, "Help!" Jonathan is beside me. He's also calling out for help, but unlike the rest of us who are drowning, Jonathan has got a big smile on his face because daddy and the cat are on the pier. And daddy is calling out, "Here I come, Jon!" When Jonathan explained the picture to me, he said, "Daddy will come save us because that's what dads are for." It didn't even dawn on him that I'm the swimmer, and I'm right beside him. Brent can barely dog paddle. "Daddy will come save us because that's what dads are for." My five-year-old knew intuitively, intuitively that dads are supposed to guard and to protect and to self-sacrifice and be there for their families. That's what dads are for. We all sense it to be true. Do we not? And if we don't have it, we yearn for it. That's the way it's supposed to be. That's the way God created us to be.
Point number five: The male receives spiritual instruction. "And the Lord God commanded the man saying, 'You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat it, you will surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). You see, before the woman arrived on the scene, God explained the rules of the garden to the man, and it was up to him to pass on the spiritual instruction to his wife. That's not to say that the man interacted with God on her behalf. No. She had a personal relationship with the Lord, but it does indicate that as the leader of his newly minted family unit, he had a special responsibility to learn and understand the ways of the Lord. That was so that he could fulfill his job. He could do his job. He had to know God's commands.
Point number six: The male learned to exercise authority. "Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name" (Genesis 2:18-19). Can you imagine what it must have looked like for that to be going on, for God to be bringing the animals to man to name them? I smile when I think of it. "Ewww, that one looks interesting, the buck teeth and the wrinkly face and the big cheeks. Hmmm, what to call it? What to call it? Hippopotamus. Yes."
I think that besides serving the purpose of making the male yearn for a suitable mate, this was a type of training exercise, because to name something is to exercise authority over it. God wanted his firstborn male to learn how to exercise authority in a godly manner. He was going to mentor him in how to do that. His firstborn had a unique responsibility to govern, and the Lord wanted him to govern well. That's why the Lord closely supervised the naming process. He wanted him to learn how to exercise his delegated authority with gentleness and wisdom, kindness and much care.
Genesis chapter 1 clearly indicates that dominion over the earth was given to women as well as to men. God gave both dominion. So the reason God excluded the female from this process of naming doesn't indicate that she lacks God's authority to govern, but it does indicate that the Lord does not view our responsibility to govern as interchangeable with that of his firstborn male.
So here we have the setup. The man was firstborn, but he had no kin. He was the head of a new household, but his were the only feet that tread within his garden. God had commissioned him to work, but there was no one for whom to provide. The man knew it was his mission to guard and protect, but there was no one to look after. He had all these new ideas and thoughts, things the Lord had told him, but he had no one to discuss it with. He was bursting at the capacity with this desire to love and to serve, but as the day wore on, and he named animal after animal, it became painfully obvious to him that there was no creature that had anywhere near the capacity to receive what he so deeply wanted to give. There was nowhere for Adam to put all of his manhood, nowhere to place it.
The Lord knew it. He could read it on Adam's face. It was the only thing in creation that was not good, but for the time being it was necessary. It was part of the training process. It was part of the preparation. God wanted his male to catch a glimpse of the full import of God's final and most magnificent work. He wanted the male to feel the longing intensely, to love and want a soul mate so badly, with such passion, that he was willing to pay the ultimate price to win his bride. You see, God knew that he would have to wound his firstborn to create woman. It would draw blood. Having a bride would cost the man dearly.
So when the male named that last animal and turned to his Maker with questioning, tear-filled eyes, the Lord knew it was time—time to make her, the one who would captivate the man's heart as completely as the vision of the Lord's coming heavenly bride had captivated him.
"Sleep," God told the man. And the man sunk down on that soft carpet of moss as dead, and then the Lord extended his hand and pierced the side of his firstborn to extract a bloody mass of bone and flesh. I wonder if a lump formed in his throat as he saw the future to which this image pointed. I wonder what thoughts flew through the mind of our Creator as he began to shape and form and carefully sculpted each soft curve. You see, this final masterpiece tipped the scales and set it all in motion, and when God was finished he stepped back to look. I think that the creation of Eve caused God to look into eternity future, to his bride, the church, and that it caught his breath. "Wow! Wow!" Do you see the imagery here? Do you feel the power of the love story going on? Do you see it? Do you feel it? Who we are as male and female tells the story, God's love story. That's what it's about. It's not about us.
The uniqueness of womanhood
Seventh point—and we're going to turn now and look at the creation of the female. The first six points were the creation of the male; the next six are the creation of the female. The female was created from the male. "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on the man … He took one of his ribs and closed up that place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman" (Genesis 2:21-22).
You see, in our culture, remembering where you came from is a common admonition not to look down on our beginnings. I tell my son, who is a professional hockey player and about yay tall, "Remember where you came from." Right? "Remember it, boy. Don't let your head get big and swelled. You need to avoid pride and an over-inflated sense of self-importance." We intuitively know that it's inappropriate to regard that from which we were made as lesser than us. We know that we're obliged to honor and respect our origins, and the same sort of idea is present in the creation of the female. Because woman was drawn from man's side, it was appropriate for her to have an attitude of respect towards him. He was the firstborn. In the New Testament, we see that the fact that she was created from him and not the other way around is the basis of a wife honoring the authority of her husband.
Point number eight: The female was made for the male. Genesis chapter 2 tells us that the female was created for him, that's on account of the male. 1 Corinthians 11:9 reinforces that it was not the man who was created for the woman; it was the woman who was created for the man. Now for most of us, the idea of woman being created for man sounds somewhat negative, because it appears he has a license to use and abuse her at will. But that's not at all how the Hebrew reads. The Hebrew preposition simply denotes direction. She was created for …. That means "towards" or "with reference to"—towards him. She was created because of him. His existence led to hers. It didn't happen the other way around. Our adverse reaction to the idea that we were created for man serves to underline just how very far we've fallen from the original created order.
When the first bride was presented to her husband, she was undoubtedly bursting with joy for being created for him. I think of the expression on my daughter-in-law's face when she entered the church to wed my son. "I was created for this guy, and it was amazing—for this moment."
There's another critically important point here: Being created for someone indicates that God created the female to be a highly relational creature. Her identity isn't based on work nearly as much as on how well she connects in her relationships. Woman is the relater-responder. She has a soft, open space in her heart that she longs for someone to fill.
Ninth difference: The female was created to help the male, a helper fit for him. Now helper is another word that begs explanation, and I think that we need to keep in mind, "What is it that woman was created to help man do?" It wasn't to fulfill his own selfish needs or agenda. What it means for her to help him becomes clear when we think about what the Lord wanted them to do. There's a clue in the qualifier "fit for him." She's a helper fit for him, and this literally means "like opposite to him." It's like an image in the mirror. The word is complementary. She's not exactly like him. She's like opposite him. She's the helper that helps him fulfill his purpose. And what is his purpose? To glorify God. Woman helps man glorify God in a way that he could not glorify God if woman was not around. Glorifying God, imaging God, is what woman helps man do.
Point number ten: The female deferred to the male. The Lord God brought her to the man. Man said, "She shall be called woman; she was taken out of man" (Genesis 2:23). I think that the first male and female intuitively knew how to behave. He knew how to behave as a man. She knew how to behave as a woman. So when the Lord presented her to him, he named her, and she didn't say, "Wait a minute here, guy. You're not naming me. I'm going to name myself. Or maybe I'll come up with a name for you." She didn't do that. That's not what happened. Adam and Eve acted according to their God-given bents. He initiated, she responded. She was so happy to respond to him, and that was the pattern of their relationship.
Point eleven: The female was the male's perfect counter-part. When Adam laid his eyes on the woman, he broke into an exuberant and spontaneous poem: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman [ishsha] because she was taken out of man [ish]" (Genesis 2:23). The first man called himself ish and the woman ishsha, and this appears to be a very clever and very profound play on words. The sound of these two Hebrew words is nearly identical—the woman's name just adds a feminine ending to it—but the two words have a complementary meaning. Ish comes from the root meaning "strength." So the man said, "I am strength." Ishsha comes from the root meaning "soft." "I am strength, she is soft. Wow! Wow! She is able to receive; I was meant what I was created to give."
The implication becomes clear when we observe the biblical meaning of a man's strength. The Hebrew root word is commonly associated with the wisdom and strength and vitality of a successful warrior. It carries the idea of a champion valiantly serving his people by protectively fighting on their behalf. Strength can also refer to a man's manhood, to his virility. Woman's corresponding trait is her fertility, her unique capacity to nurture and bring forth life. He is strong, directed by inner softness; she is soft, directed by inner strength.
The bodies of male and female reflect this idea of complementary distinction. A man's body moves out and toward, and a woman's body is built to receive. The pattern goes beyond the mere physical difference to encompass the totality of who we are. Man was created to actively and joyfully initiate and give, and the woman was created to actively and joyfully respond and receive and relate. She's the beautiful soft one. Each is a perfect counterpart to the other. Although culture portrays the ideal of woman as tough and aggressive, both physically and sexually, this is a far cry from what woman was created to be. According to Scripture, it's a woman's ability to care, nurture, connect, and open up that is her greatest strength.
Point number twelve: The female was created in the garden. A final but highly significant observation is that the female, the softer one, the more vulnerable one, was created in the garden in a place of safety. She was created to be in a place that was already under the protective authority of her husband. The male leaves the protective sphere of his household to become the protector of a new household, Genesis 2:24. The woman doesn't leave. She's the constant beneficiary of protection from the authorities that God has put in her life. You see, the Lord wanted to insure that the woman—the soft, delicate, masterpiece of creation—would always be loved and cherished and kept safe. The fact that woman was created within the boundaries of a household also implies that women have a unique responsibility in the home, a concept that is reinforced in the New Testament. For the woman, the work of nurturing her relationships and keeping her family in order and her household in order takes priority over other types of work.
God's design for manhood and womanhood is truly spectacular. Men are to reflect the character and strength, love and self-sacrifice of Christ. Women are to reflect the character, responsiveness, grace, and beauty of the bride he redeemed. The sexes complement each other in terms of which part of the story they tell and display. Both exalt the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and the beauty of the gospel to the praise of God the Father. Ultimately, that's what manhood and womanhood were created to do.
The beauty of God's design
It's breathtaking to think what the relationship between the first couple, unmarred by sin, living in a world unmarred by sin, must have been like. I don't know if we can even begin to imagine the love and indivisibility, intimacy, satisfaction, and delight of that first marital union. It's even more staggering to think that the best romance on earth is merely a shadow of the cosmic romance to which it points, and that God wants all of us to be part of that greater story line. Whether you are young or old, whether you are single, happily married, unhappily married, divorced, struggling with questions of personal identity, whether you've been confused by womanhood, whether you've been hurt by men, whatever your situation, God invites you to say, "Yes" to him and to begin to experience the reality to which these symbols point.
God created manhood, womanhood, marriage, and sex because he wanted us to have symbols and images and language powerful enough to convey the idea of who he is and what a relationship with him is all about. Without manhood and womanhood, marriage and sex, we'd have a tough time understanding concepts like desire and love, commitment, fidelity, infidelity, loyalty, jealousy, unity, intimacy, marriage, oneness, covenant, and family. We would have a tough time understanding God and the gospel. The visible symbols display and testify of what is unseen, and that is why the symbols are so very important. Given the powerful symbolism of marriage and gender and sex and family, is it any wonder that Satan tries to destroy this image? Is it any wonder that these things are at the heart of so much brokenness and dysfunction and pain? It's where we hurt the most, is it not?
This overview of the genesis of gender has likely raised as many questions for you as it has answered. What do we do with it? How do we apply it? How do we begin to live out his design in a world broken by sin? "What do we do when our life does not look that way, and we just hurt?
I want to emphasize just three thoughts. The first thought is this: God has a spectacular design for your manhood or your womanhood. The Genesis of gender indicates that he has a pattern for who he created you to be, and his pattern and his plan for you is very beautiful. It is very good. It's very profound, very significant, and very, very precious to his heart.
Number two: God wants you to say "Yes" to his design. He wants you to recognize the ways in which you've messed up your life because you thought you knew what you were doing and were too stubborn to read or follow his directions. Saying "Yes" to true manhood and to true womanhood isn't about accepting a cookie-cutter pattern or list. I, for one, am not interested in promoting another false cultural ideal of what will make women happy. True womanhood says "Yes" to God and his right to be God. I am a true woman when I acknowledge that it is not me but my Creator who has the best insight into who I am and how I should live.
Point number three: God will do an amazing work of restoration. Last year, after a lengthy intensive restoration project, one of the greatest masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance was restored to its original splendor and returned to its home at the world renowned gallery in Florence. The Madonna del Cardellino was painted by Raphael in 1505 for the wedding of his friend, a wealthy Florence merchant. It portrays Jesus Christ's mother, Mary, with two children who are playing with a bird. The children symbolized John the Baptist and his young cousin Jesus, and the gold finch bird which feeds among thorns is interpreted as representing Christ's future suffering. But something happened to this painting. It was painted in 1505. Forty years after it was created, there was an earthquake in the house in which this painting was kept, and the painting was shattered into 17 different pieces. The wood was all smashed up into bits. So another artist took long iron nails and tried to patch the pieces together. And then he tried to paint over it to conceal the breaks and make it look whole again. But over the years, there were so many layers of paint added and so much dust and grime over this painting that the original colors, the original art, was completely obscured.
The contemporary restoration project fixed the shattered areas, removed layers of paint and dirt to get the colors back. It was a team effort. It took fifty people ten years of working on this painting, and the result is stunning. The cracks are gone. Centuries of brown film and grime are gone. The dulling veneers and patches have been stripped away, and the finished product glows with all of the deep colors: the reds, and blues, and golds of the original work of art. Given how badly it was damaged, the restoration of Raphael's painting is arguably even more amazing than the painting itself. The original was splendid, but the miracle of restoration compounds the beauty. Knowing the drama of the whole story, you can only gawk at it in wonder.
The spiritual parallels are profound, are they not? They are profound. They speak to a far greater masterpiece of restoration, the one that the Lord wants to do in your life and in mine. Tragically, the beautiful design of who God created us to be has been marred by sin; and layers of grime and dirt have collected. Maybe you've felt them and sensed them in your life. You thought you could paint over the damage, but it didn't work, and the patches, the veneers that you applied just made things worse, and the cracks are showing. Maybe you've experienced earthquakes that have shattered you, but the good news, the good news of the gospel is that Jesus has the power to make all things new. So are you ready to say, "Yes?" Are you ready to say, "Yes" to him? Maybe this has dredged up some painful stuff for you—manhood and womanhood has not been a good experience for you. To you, it's been painful, but God wants you to say, "Yes." He has a spectacular design for your manhood or your womanhood. He wants you to say, "Yes" to his design, and he wants to do an amazing project of restoration in your life.
Mary Kassian is the Distinguished Professor of Women's Studies at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.