You wouldn’t believe how much I ponder the gender issue theology in my daily life. I turn it over and over, trying to get some of the pieces and then trying to find out how they fit. When first working on this in earnest some few years ago in this post which when published at Intellectuelle in a beginning of a series of thoughts, an idea began to form. One which is still an unwritten post (because it was discovered to be such a huge topic). That idea is how “Freedom” is as much a thread running through the scriptures as “Salvation”. Salvation is called the red thread that runs throughout the scriptures, so perhaps Freedom is blue,…. and Hope is white, Glory is golden, Authority is purple, Holiness is transparent crystal, and Mercy is green. I don’t know, maybe the idea of God weaving a tapestry is more on target than I ever realized; but whatever the colors, certain concepts recur because they are important to God in His message to us. I find that “Freedom” is a very, very high priority for God.
That might surprise some people. I know the scope of it surprised me as I started to study it in respect to questions concerning what place a woman has in the Church, and in life. ( Because for those of us who believe in Christ Jesus, the whole idea of “Church” is our life lived for Christ).
I was in such a state of pondering when traveling to last Sunday evening’s service at my Church. Specifically, I was considering the Creation portion, opinions set forth on how women reflect God’s image and just what it meant for man to be made in the image of God. It seemed like a light bulb went on in my head and hope I relate it clearly to you, here.
In what way does man reflect the person of God, that is, how is man different from everything else in creation, but like God? There are more answers than just one if one answers carefully, but the thing that I saw was that man was given the ability to have the true capability (freedom) to make a choice and create through that choice. That is probably the whole reason man has a sense of eternity, of time and existence far beyond his actual daily life. God wanted someone who could answer to Him, reflect Him, with free moral agency, in fellowship and understanding. The deepest ideals we have as humans defining our humanness revolves around this relationship which understands the other, not through sameness but from appreciation and respect of this freedom which chooses to be with the other in a synchronization of natures.
What sets man apart is that he can morally choose, and that is what he uses his reasoning powers for.
In understanding women I think we have to understand the creation story. God did not make man creation number one and then woman creation number two. God made a single creation,
In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;2 Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created
“male and female made He them” . The wording is strange to us, but the story explains how the woman was taken from the man’s own body. And immediately the idea of oneness makes an appearance. There is one creature which was made in the image of God… the human. Being in the image of God the man would have the same desire to relate to someone like himself, which also reiterates God’s desire to express His overriding characteristic of love. “One-ness” is a difficult abstract concept, yet it is resident within the Trinity, the nature of the Being of God, and within man’s relationship to God, as well as in a man and woman’s relationship in marriage. The full individuality is retained while the connection merges into one being. Very abstract, that, don’t you think? Not Eastern thought, not Western thought, but Transcendent thought.
Now here is where I saw that any ideas of “eternal submission” could not possibly work in God’s plan: God’s characteristic of love wants wholeness, or full completion of potential in man. For a human man to be “godly” or reflecting God’s nature, he too would need to want a woman to reach her full potential as a person… to be fully exercised in being able to choose morally, to create, to cultivate her mind, to express her talents, to be as independent as possible while remaining connected by the free choice embodied in “love”. That is how God’s nature is described.You can’t really express “godlikeness” fully without being free. And although you don’t have to have physical freedom in order to be free, and mankind has proven this over and over, yet physical freedom is the byproduct of this understanding. Living out the teaching of God will tend towards freedom in all aspects. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”.
In Christ , the whole state of man has been elevated, would it make sense that women would not be a part of that? Where does it say women are always in a lower position in God’s plan or that there is a “second tier” to Salvation? Why does this get taught under the cover of tradition and hierarchy? The highlight that I saw was the searchlight being turned onto men in the church with questions of “Are you exhibiting godliness?” not on women while inspecting whether they be “submissive enough”. When did a domineering spirit, in either gender, ever articulate God the Father, Christ the Son, Or God the Holy Spirit? Yet, this is what men are being taught in the name of “manliness” or “Biblical manhood”. I think there is a distinction in the connotations of “submission” and “subservience”, even when conditions call for lines of authority to activate. I thought Letitia pointed that up very well in comparing complementarian and (neo)patriarchal teaching and practice.
The importance of distinguishing the importance of relative obedience is overlooked as well. Just as a man has a higher allegiance to God over his allegiance to king, a woman has a higher allegiance to God over any man. The same respect is given in each case to a position. A husband has special responsibilities to his wife and family, and a woman’s respect and honor of her husbands need to carry that out properly demands her cooperation. That cooperation also goes under the name of submission. In fact, if it didn’t weaken the meaning so much, I might be tempted to replace the word “submission” with “cooperation”, but the first term underlines the greater necessity to order and function in human relationships. There are times you submit for the good of the group- and the submission of a wife in the Biblical context carries that principle in the family unit. That is why the husband is also called to a type submission. If you look closely, those verses which call for submission are defining how the relationships work while maintaining the structures that keep the unit cohesive and healthy. Much of what is paraded out as “submission and authority” is just plain unhealthy, and that is why there has to be so much debate. The definitions have to be made clear… because, otherwise, selfish human beings exploit each other. And that is not Christ-like, godly; in other words, Christians should not behave that way let alone rationalize it with scripture.
When I saw how much God wanted for man to show the same ability to fully choose what is of God’s nature and willingly come into agreement, I finally understood how free moral agency is of bedrock importance to God. I could sense it, but never knew why, and now I think I do. God made mankind to be like Him, by choice, and to be in relationship together. Themselves, but like Him in direction, in sympathy, in appreciation and enjoyment. And that is what people desire in healthy relationships, also: allowing the other to fully be individual, yet having a bond of love and understanding. The more intimate the relationship the more intense the desire for these deep ties along with maintenance of respect for the uniqueness of the other.
Can you see how this would affect our view of gender? In one verse that describes gender and order it says that we should [Ephesians 5:21] “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
. This is a general admonition to all Christians and gives no exemptions for treating other Christians in any lesser way… including for reasons of gender, while it qualifies the type of submission: the type that would arise from “reverence for Christ”.
If we didn’t layer on our fears, both personal and cultural, it wouldn’t be so complicated or difficult to understand.