A recent post on masculine spirituality generated a firestorm of comments and opened a lively dialogue on issues of masculinity and femininity. Though some comments seemed to focus on tangential issues, the debate itself does beg for a more thorough articulation of matters related to God and gender. This post is an attempt at setting a foundation for further discussion.
Here, then are some “bullet point” summaries of biblical truths related to God and gender.
1. God is Spirit; therefore he is not contained within a human body and is neither male nor female (John 1:18, 4:24, 6:46; Num 23:19).
2. Humanity is created in God’s image and therefore maleness and femaleness both reflect the image of God in different and unique ways. Men bear the image of God in a distinctly masculine way, and women bear the image of God in a distinctly feminine way. Genesis 1:26-27: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
3. Men and women are equal as image-bearers of God. But they play different roles in the working out of God’s purposes on earth. The charge given to the first man and woman was multiplication and dominion – “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). The man’s role seems to fall more heavily on the dominion side of the mandate – subduing the earth by the sweat of his brow (Genesis 1:28, 2:15-25; 3:17-20). The woman’s role seems to fall more heavily on the multiplication side of the mandate – the bearing and raising of children (Genesis 1:28, 3:16). Obviously neither role is possible without the other; they are complimentary, which is why the union of man and woman in marriage provides the clearest picture of God’s image in humanity (Genesis 2:24).
4. God uses masculine pronouns to refer to himself throughout Scripture. This is obviously not because God is anatomically male (see point 1). Rather, it seems to be because God wants to emphasize his headship and authority over all creation; as the man is the head of a marriage, so God is the head of everything in creation (1 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:12-13). John Frame writes: “Scripture wants us to think of God as Lord… Since in the Biblical view women are subject to male authority in the home and the church, there is some awkwardness in speaking of God in female terms.”
5. When the second person of the Trinity stepped into human history in the Incarnation, he took on human form as a man – Jesus of Nazareth. Again, this is not because manhood is superior in some way to womanhood. It is presumably because the role Jesus was to play in redemption – the role of rescuing humanity from ruin and faithfully executing the demands of covenant headship, reversing the failure of Adam – is a distinctly masculine role. It was a man’s abdication of headship that got us into this mess in the first place (Genesis 3:1-7; Romans 5:12). It is Jesus’ faithfulness as our covenant head that puts things right (Romans 5:17; 1 Cor 15:45-49).
In answer, then, to the question, “How should we think of God?” a number of points may be adduced:
a) It is appropriate to worship God for both his masculine qualities such as protector (Psalm 121:7), provider (Genesis 22:14), fighter (Psalm 3:7), defender (Isaiah 38:6), and Savior (2 Samuel 22:3), as well as his feminine qualities such as comforting (Psalm 23:4), helping (Psalm 54:4), and being tender (Isaiah 40:11) and compassionate (Psalm 25:6). [This is not to say that women never fight or defend, or that men are never tender and compassionate. I will assume some measure of common sense from the reader here to allow me to speak about what are generally considered masculine or feminine traits across time and culture – traits which are rooted, of course, in our divine design.]
b) However, it would be inappropriate to think of God as female, because this is contrary to God’s self-revelation in Scripture.
c) The opposite, however, is not true. Because God came to earth as a man, it is appropriate for us to think of Jesus as male and to worship him for his faithful masculine covenant headship which is the ground of our salvation.
d) Jesus is the consummate masculine leader – the perfect Man – and therefore our view of true masculinity should start with him. All godly men should seek to emulate Jesus.
e) Because Jesus was not just the perfect man, but the perfect human, he also sets the bar for godly women. Jesus’ submission to the Father models what a woman’s submission to male headship should look like. Godly women should seek to emulate the spirit and example of Jesus.
f) Furthermore, Scripture gives us both male and female role models to emulate. The virtues of courage (Joshua 1:1-9), sacrifice (Ephesians 5:25), and hard work/provision (1 Tim 5:8; 2 Thess 3:7-12) are held up as some of the marks of godly masculinity. Peter specifically mentions the virtue of submission as a mark of godly femininity (1 Peter 3:1-7). While our definitions of masculinity and femininity will certainly be influenced by our cultural presuppositions, it does seem that God has given us a relatively clear outline of masculinity and femininity, rooted in his own creation order which ordained that men and women should bear his image in distinct yet complimentary ways.