Though it has little to do with interpreting the Bible, I am excited to announce that I am now engaged to Kanon Raulerson. If you are interested, I am going to record a brief history of our relationship.Kanon and Nathaniel

August 24, 2007
August 24, 2007

I met Kanon several years ago when she came up here to Raleigh to visit her sister, Kara, who was going to the seminary at the time. Kanon decided to come up to here for seminary too and moved up around August of 2007.  Kara had just started hanging out with Tanner (my roommate), which meant we all hung several times during her first few weeks in North Carolina.

My first impression of Kanon was that she was incredibly pretty, but also incredibly quiet. Even though she came over to our house several times, I am not sure that she ever said more than 5 words. It wasn’t until October that I saw her personality start coming out.

October 20, 2007
October 20, 2007

Kanon and Kara were planning a trip to DC. It just so happened that I was going up there for a wedding so we all carpooled. The three of us stayed at a friend’s house and when I wasn’t on official wedding business we hung out in Washington, DC. Perhaps it was Kanon’s love for our nation’s capital or perhaps it was listening to her sing “Fancy,” but this was the first time I began to realize how much fun Kanon is.

October 27, 2007
October 27, 2007

When we got back to Raleigh I decided I needed to spend a little more time with her. I called her up on the last week of October (the 27th to be exact) to ask her to go bowling. I bowled a particularly good game (at least for me), and beat her by 100. I must have been bragging a little too much because as we were leaving she told me that she could never like someone who was a good bowler. Then, perhaps as a response to my wounded expression, she assured me that I was not a good bowler. To this day I still don’t know exactly how I should have interpreted that statement.

Over the next couple of months we hung out quite a lot. We would often go out with Kara and Tanner, but since they were officially dating by this point, we had plenty of opportunities for just the two of us to hang out. I took her to her favorite restaurant (Waffle House) and we took several trips to Barnes and Noble to study. All the while, the more time we spent together, the more I liked Kanon. By the beginning of 2008 I felt like I needed to tell her how I was feeling. After several attempts, in which I couldn’t find the courage to broach the subject, I decided to bring it up on our way to Barnes and Noble one Sunday after church.

As I began my speech, which I had rehearsed several times in my mind, I noticed Kanon’s expression turn to horror. To my dismay, she didn’t see this coming at all. She never really thought of any of the the things we were doing as dates (in hindsight, I can understand why a trip to Waffle House doesn’t strike someone as a date). She just assumed that since my friend, Tanner, was hanging out with her sister all the time that I might need a friend. And since her sister was always hanging out with Tanner, she needed a friend too. So, by March of 2008 our relationship was very well defined, we were just friends.

October 17, 2009
October 17, 2009

Whenever you get shot down you need a little time to lick your wounds. For the next couple of months we were a bit estranged. But as time marched on we started hanging out again. It turns out that being “just friends” is a pretty good way to get to know someone. Kanon and I ended up spending a lot of time together as just friends. We still had the same circle of friends, we both helped out with the youth group at our church, and we were both in the same small group. Our little circle of friends went to movies together, the fair together, and plenty of other things together.

But, to be honest, I could never really see myself as just friends with Kanon. The more time we spent together, the more time I wanted to spend with her. I found myself always looking for reasons to go talk to her. No matter who else I was talking to I always seemed to have one eye on her. It was becoming painfully obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to view Kanon as just a friend. When the summer of 2009 came I realized that I had one year left and it was now do or die.

I remember one particular night as a sort of turning point for me. We were at our friends’ house (the Bowers). While we were there she got an email from a guy in her class who was asking her out. She responded with some sort of polite refusal. But Greg Bowers, to whom I will be eternally grateful, saw this as a golden opportunity. Greg pointed out that she was asked out all the time but was never willing to date any of these would be suitors. Then he asked her the most normal question that anyone would think to ask. “Why don’t you date these guys, what are you waiting for?”

Kanon explained that she wasn’t interested in just dating some guy that she didn’t know. Dating, to her, was a completely awkward enterprise. What she wanted was to be such good friends with a guy that she didn’t have to go through some awkward get to know you stage. She wanted to be such good friends with a guy that one day she would just realize that she was in love with him.

I immediately thought, isn’t that what we already have? I also immediately came up with a strategy. I had one year to show her that we were in the most natural easy relationship possible. We loved hanging out together. We could talk to each other for hours about every topic under the sun. We watched the same TV shows, had the same friends, and had really similar aspirations for our lives. All I had to do was help her realize it.

02b43-60373_510443102534_176300478_30299865_7219911_nFrom August to December Kanon and I hung out all the time. I did everything I could think of to spend time with her. I tried to go to every event that she was going to be at. I offered to ride with her every night after youth group to take one of the kids home. I even started bargaining to get gift certificates so I could take her out to eat without it seeming like a date. And all along I kept liking her more and more.

By December it must have been getting somewhat apparent that I spent as much time with Kanon as possible. She was constantly fielding questions about what was going on between us. So one night, after Kara and Tanner’s Christmas party, the two us were driving back to Wake Forest when she decided to bring it up. I decided it was time to come clean. I confessed to her that I definitely still liked her and had for just over 3 years.

Kanon got quiet. She said she was surprised, but I am not sure that I really believe it. Regardless, she needed some time to process everything. She was now faced with the reality that we couldn’t be just friends anymore. Fortunately for her, we were leaving for Christmas break so she had a little time to think through things.

With all my cards on the table, I spent January and February trying to pull out out the stops. Some of our best dates were during these two months. I began buying presents and writing long letters. Those two months were both exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. Every date, every gesture, every interaction seemed like one last plea for her affection. Until, finally, on February 19, 2010, Kanon said that she was ready to begin dating.

October 18, 2010
October 18, 2010

The last year has been the best year of my life. We have moved from being just friends to being in love. I have moved from dreading her graduation and the day she would move away, to promising to spend the rest of my life with her. While the process has been challenging at times, it has also been good. Kanon has been my friend for over four years, over the last year she has become my best friend.

On our way home from DC on Sunday Kanon received a text message from Nicolle Bowers that summarizes exactly how I feel. She said, “It is the best thing in the world to marry your best friend.” Kanon is my best friend and I couldn’t be any more excited that I get to marry her.

February 13, 2011
February 13, 2011

But What About… Gender and Knowing God pt 6.2

2. But What About Legitimate Bodily Deformities
City of God Interestingly, this concern has been around for a long time. Augustine, addressed the problem, along with other birth defects, in the City of God in the early 5th century.

As for the Androgyni, or Hermaphrodites, as they are called, though they are rare, yet from time to time there appears persons of sex so doubtful that it remains uncertain from which sex they take their name; though it is customary to give them a masculine name, as the more worthy. For no one ever called them Hermaphroditesses.

Unfortunately, Augustine’s treatment of the issue is in reference to Greek mythology rather than how we are to actually view issues of this sort. Still, the work as a whole gives some good starting points. First, “sin is not caused by the flesh but by the soul, and the corruption contracted from sin is not sin but sin’s punishment.” The importance of this point should not be understated. It is not sin for a person to be born with two genders, or with any other defect, instead it is the result of sin. One never needs to repent of a birth defect. The wise man, however, will look at the birth defect as a sign pointing to the sins of the world, and will respond by repenting and longing ever more for the return of Christ.

Perhaps today this understanding is more widely accepted than it was in Augustine’s time. He lived in a time where people often confused the relationship to the body and the soul. When the Visigoths sacked Rome, many of the Roman women were raped, and believing that they had lost their purity and their sanctity, they followed the lead of Lucretia and committed suicide. Augustine reassures them saying,

For the sanctity of the body does not consist in the integrity of its members, or in their exemption from all touch; for they are exposed to various accidents which do violence to and wound them… Let us rather draw this conclusion, that while the sanctity of the soul remains even when the body is violated, the sanctity of the body is not lost; and that, in like manner, the sanctity of the body is lost when the sanctity of the soul is violated, though the body itself remains intact.

Augustine assures us that the physical body, though important, is less important than the soul. We have established that the goal of our genders is to benefit our souls. Augustine assures us that though our bodies be harmed, our souls can remain intact. Thus, to destroy the body willfully demonstrates and compounds the destruction of the soul. But non-willful destruction of the body does not affect the soul. The difference is not the physical affliction, but the type of person suffering the affliction. “And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise.”

The question is “can a person rightfully remove certain gender specific parts so to be wholly male or wholly female?” I believe that a person is free to do so, though not required to do so. Why then would one be obligated not to change their bodies for a mental imbalance but they are free to in the case of a physical imbalance? The answer has everything to do with the nature of sin.

Remember that Romans 1 explained the primary effects of the fall in mental terms. Certainly we see that the fall also has physical effect, but these are not the primary effects. The reason I say the mental effects are primary to the physical is because the mental effects (a depraved mind) keep us from knowing and loving God and thus keeps us from having “true and full felicity.” However, the effects of sin on our bodies do not prevent us from knowing or loving God. Instead, they are often the very things that God uses to draw us back into a deeper knowledge and love of Him.

This is why redemption and recreation is a task of renewing our minds. Certainly, in the end we will also receive new bodies, but this is almost an afterthought in comparison to knowing and loving God. Our position should never be to change our bodies so that our minds are no longer in need of renewal. We are charged with the task of renewing our minds and we must consecrate ourselves to that task in order to attain “true and full felicity.”

If however, “there appears persons of sex so doubtful that it remains uncertain from which sex they take their names,” this person is free to clearly designate their gender in order that they might more closely reflect the created order without interference from the physical effects of the fall. Jesus himself demonstrates that there is a role for healing the body so that it again functions as it was designed. This is exactly what he does when he causes the blind to see, the mute to speak, and the lame to walk. The goal is not to avoid the call to renew their minds, but to reinsert them into the system by which their minds are continually being renewed.

Lastly, I did say in the case of physical abnormalities one may rightly opt for a surgical solution. However, that option should not be seen as mandatory. As Christians we believe that nothing happens that fails to ultimately bring glory to God. This includes birth defects. Augustine explains,

For God the Creator of all knows where and when each thing ought to be, or to have been created, because He sees the similarities and diversities which can contribute to the beauty of the whole. But He who cannot see the whole is offended by the deformity of the part because he is blind to that which balances it, and to which it belongs. We know that men are born with more than four fingers on their hands or toes on their feet: this is a smaller matter, but far from us be the folly of supposing that the Creator mistook the number of a man’s fingers, though we cannot account for the difference. And so in cases where the divergence is greater.

There is no need to assume that God intends for all sicknesses and deformities to go untreated and unhealed simply because he allowed them to exist in the first place. If this were the case it would be hard to explain the healing ministries of Jesus and his disciples. The folly is not trying to restore what appears to be broken. Instead, the folly is believing that there is no point to what is broken. We must strive to be wise men who see the entire picture of gender and sexuality and ask what we can learn about the nature and character of God and how it can teach us to love Him more.

But What About… Gender and Knowing God pt 6.1

1. But What About Legitimate Mental Imbalance?

But what about the person who, because of the effects of the fall, has a legitimate mental imbalance which causes them to think they should be the other gender? I don’t deny that sin has caused legitimate mental imbalances. In fact, we should expect to find mental imbalance where God has given us over to our sinful desires and lusts and our minds have become darkened and whereour thoughts become futile.

However, I am convinced that we do not change our bodies to accommodate our sinful minds. Instead we change our sinful minds to accommodate our bodies, which still reflect the image of God. This seems to be the clear and “weighty” instruction of the Law. Our minds are depraved, but God can and will restore them. Though the process may not be a quick one, it is nevertheless the paradigm for Christian living. “Do not conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”

It seems that the chief reason that a person would suggest changing the body rather than changing the mind is that they believe that it will make them happier. There is a promise of immediate relief and, therefore, immediate happiness. I have no issue with the desire for happiness, but I fear that the means by which it is achieved is actually counter-productive to the goal. Consider C.S. Lewis’ words,

The Weight of GloryIndeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

With this in mind, we must ask the question, would the temporal pleasure of a sex change be worth it if the cost is diminishing the picture which God gave us to know Him and love Him with? Can more happiness be gained through a physical operation than through a spiritual transformation? I am convinced that the answer is no!

Augustine explains this well,

For to what but to felicity should men consecrate themselves, were felicity a goddess? However, as it is not a goddess, but a gift of God, to what God but the giver of happiness ought we to consecrate ourselves, who piously love eternal life, in which there is true and full felicity?

If the goal truly is happiness, it seems a horrible trade to secure some measure of temporary happiness at the expense of knowing the God who gives “true and full felicity.” Our study of gender has demonstrated that our genders are a part of the way God has sought to communicate himself to us. Sexual corruption, which includes masking our genders, serves to conceal the true knowledge of Christ. Therefore, when I consider the weighty matters of gender and sexuality I feel compelled to say that I would prefer to suffer through the process of having my mind renewed and know God than to bypass that process and not know Him. I say this because I believe that Augustine is correct when he says,

When He exposes us to adversities it is either to prove our perfections or correct our imperfections; and in return for our patient endurance of the sufferings of time, He reserves for us an everlasting reward.

The Problem of Questions – Gender and Knowing God pt 5

The Book of Stupid QuestionsI remember hearing my teachers in school try to put the class at ease by telling us “there are no stupid questions.” However, in my own experience that just isn’t the case. I found a book on Amazon full of stupid questions. The truth is, if you goal is right thinking, certain questions can be more of a hindrance than a help. I recently saw a quote from a scientist named Amory Lovins who said, “If you ask the wrong question, of course, you get the wrong answer. We find in design it’s much more important and difficult to ask the right question. Once you do that the right answer becomes obvious.”

The Pharisees are notorious for asking the wrong questions. They were lovers of the Mosaic Law, but never quite understood it correctly. The entire book of Matthew is filled with instances in which Jesus is correcting their wrong understandings. However, perhaps no passage puts it as plainly as Matthew 23:23-24,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

When our questions cause us to miss the whole point, they are wrong questions. When our questions derail us from seeing the weighty matters and instead focus us on the minutia, we are asking wrong questions.

The pastor of my church often cautions us against “but what abouts.” The but what about question can easily distract us from the main point. Or perhaps, more precisely, it reveals that we are already distracted. For instance, when the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce in Matthew 19 Jesus replies,

Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 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’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.

But the Pharisees immediately respond with a but what about. But what about Moses? He permitted divorce. Their but what about shows that they are so focused on the exception that they are unable to see the weightier matter of marriage. They are unable to see that it is glorious because God has joined two people together.

This does not mean that there is no place for questions. We just need to make sure that our questions are good questions. The way to do that is to make sure the questions are relevant to the main point. If we are confronted with a but what about, the questions and answers must drive us back to the weightier matters of gender and sexuality. The weightier matters are that God has designed us with gender for a purpose and that purpose is ultimately that we may know Him and love Him more. Sin distorts our minds, making our thinking futile, so that we no longer are able to see how our genders point us to God. But God has provided a way to restore our minds, and thus restore the effectiveness of our genders in our lives. The gospel allows us to cast off our sins and have our minds renewed so that we can again know and love God more because of the picture of our genders.

I intend on addressing, in the next post, the two main what abouts that I have been asked. The first but what about deals with a person’s mind. What if the problem is more than a person simply wanting to be the other gender, but they have a legitimate mental imbalance that causes them to identify more strongly with the opposite gender? The second but what about deals with the body. What if a person is actually born with male and female reproductive parts? To make these two questions good questions we simply need to ask them in such a way as to help refine our understanding of the weightier matters of gender.

Picture Restoration – Gender and Knowing God pt 4

There is something really fun about old pictures. Things that might have been forgotten, or never even known, can be preserved, remembered, and even relived with a picture. Many people can think of a few pictures that they would list among their most valuable possessions.

A few years ago my Mom realized that time was starting to destroy some of her most valuable pictures. This picture of her parents’ wedding day is one of many that were beginning to become discolored and faded. In order to preserve them she decided to buy a scanner to copy the picture and save it digitally. Now everyone in our family is able to enjoy a copy of the picture without fear of it fading away.

We have seen that being created in God’s image means that our genders and sexuality are like a picture designed to teach us about God and how to love Him. The problem is that our sin introduces noise into the picture making it increasingly difficult recognize. Yet, if any picture were ever worth saving, it would be this one. Unfortunately, God’s image cannot be simply scanned and preserved forever. Thankfully, God has not left us without a means for preserving this picture of infinite worth. At risk of oversimplification I am going to try to present God’s method for picture restoration in two steps.

Step 1
The first step is to stop adding noise. Distorting the image of God is a big deal. Jesus thought it was such a big deal that we should take drastic steps to stop. In Matthew 5:27-30 he explains,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

In other words, sexual sin is so bad (because it causes us to not know God and thus go to hell) that it would be better to pluck out your eyes and cut off your hands than get caught up in sexual sin. I believe that this is not only true in the area of lust, but in any area that would distort the picture that God is painting with our genders and sexuality. For instance, Deuteronomy commands that “a woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deut. 22:5). The question is, why would this be an abomination to the Lord? Because by hiding our genders we hide one of the important parts of his image and that keeps us from knowing and loving God as we should.

It is really important that Christians realize how important our genders and sexuality are. They are one of the primary tools that God has provided for us to know Him and love Him rightly. This is why our first step must be to keep ourselves from any sin that would distort that image.

Step 2
However, there is a problem with the first step. How are we to know what would be a distortion of the image of God if we do not know God. This seems to me like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together with no picture to guide you. Remember that according to Romans we have been given over to depraved minds and our thinking has become futile. Fortunately God gives an answer for this problem too. He offers to renew our minds. Romans 12:2 explains, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

You may wonder why, if step 2 has to come before step 1, I didn’t make it step 1. That’s because “having your mind renewed is the first step, but it is also the last step. Its something that has to happen to give us the ability to keep away from sin, and it is something that increases the more we keep ourselves from sin.

At the time a person places their faith in Jesus, they are immediately made a new person. 1st Corinthians 5:17 explains, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Simply being in Christ remakes the person. The Christian is no longer given over to the depraved mind and futile thinking. Being made a new creation is what makes it possible for us to begin to cast off this sin that distorts the picture of God.

At the same time, Romans 12:2 describes the renewing of the mind like a process. The more that we get rid of the things that distort the picture, and dwell on the picture as it should be, the better equipped our minds are to not only grasp the meaning but to be moved by its beauty. That is, casting off the sin that distorts God’s image and dwelling on the image as it is intended, allows us to grow in our knowledge and love for God.

Putting it together
The image of God is truly a beautiful thing. What amazes me most is that God has designed a picture in such a way as to give us pleasure so that we would know that He feels pleasure and wants us to find our pleasure in Him. The problem is that we have added noise to the picture. We saw the pleasure, but took it the wrong way. We sought the pleasure in forbidden ways which distorted the picture. Proverbs 5 warned us, “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.” Yet, like fools, we run back to the forbidden woman.

Sex and the Supremacy of ChristOur genders and our sexuality are a great gift, but when they are misused or misunderstood they can be a great burden. In his book, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, John Piper explains this two edged sword well, “Sexuality is designed by Christ as a way to know God more fully and knowing Christ more fully in all his infinite supremacy is designed as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality. All sexual corruption serves to conceal the true knowledge of Christ, and the true knowledge of Christ serves to prevent sexual corruption.”

The picture that our genders and our sexuality provides is too great for us to let it fall into decay. No picture could be more valuable than the one that teaches us about God. No picture is more deserving of restoration. We must be vigilant to avoid sexual corruption, which distorts the image which our genders and sexuality tries to paint. At the same time we must never stop seeking to have our minds renewed by the knowledge of Christ to help keep us free from sexual corruption. And the great reward that will motivate us to seek after God and to avoid the forbidden woman will be the surpassingly valuable knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.

A Noisy Picture – Gender and Knowing God pt 3

Have you noticed that pictures typically look better when you take them outside than when you take them inside. The reason has everything to do with light. When a camera has enough light it is able to see the scene exactly the way it is and record it correctly. However, if there isn’t enough light you have to compensate. One way that you can compensate for a dark setting is by changing the camera’s ISO. A camera’s ISO describes how sensitive it is to light, so if you increase your ISO you can still take a picture even though you don’t have much light. The problem is that when you raise the ISO you introduce something to you picture called noise.

When a picture is noisy it has a lot of extra colorful dots throughout the picture. If it is just a little bit noisy the picture will probably still represent the scene pretty well, but sometimes the picture can be so noisy that you can’t even tell what was being pictured. Those are the shots that I move to my trash bin. If your goal is a clear picture, noise is your enemy.

We saw in the last post that we are created in the image of God. That is, we are designed to be a sort of picture from which we can learn about God and about how to love him rightly. One of the key parts of that picture is our gender. The problem is that sin has added noise has to the picture. This raises the question, once we take into account the noise of sin, how should we view our genders?

When sin entered the world in Genesis 3, the effects were drastic. Everything that was once alive and flourishing was now beginning to die. Our bodies were introduced to disease and deformity and our wills became bent toward the very thing that was killing us. This may be enough to make you think that our ability to reflect God’s image was completely lost. However, that’s not the case. In fact, God tells Noah that murder is wrong because we still bear the image of God (Gen 9:6). Further, Romans 1 tells us that we are able to see God’s divine nature through what he has created, and this includes us and our genders (Rom 1:20). Our genders are still able to accomplish what they were designed for. This means that our genders still matter.

Sin doesn’t destroy God’s image, but it does damage our ability to perceive it. Sin becomes the noise which distorts the picture making it harder to recognize. Romans explains that because we refuse to give God glory, in spite of it being plain in our own bodies, our thinking becomes futile and our hearts become darkened (Rom. 1:21). The image of God is not destroyed, but our ability to perceive it is damaged.

Romans explains that sin, especially sexual sin, is the barrier that distorts our minds and keeps us from seeing him rightly. Sin keeps people from rightly understanding their genders and from understanding how sex is designed to teach us about God and love. To compound the problem, the more we sin the more noise we introduce to the picture, until the image of God become nearly unrecognizable.

Consider how Paul explains sexual sin in Romans 1:26-28, “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not be done.”

That passage used homosexuality to demonstrate how people fail to use the bodies in the way it was created. I believe that Paul uses homosexuality because he believes that it will be obvious to most people that men and women were designed to go together. However, immediately before this example Paul gave a more comprehensive condemnation to impurity and “the dishonoring of the body.” Homosexuality is clearly a distortion of the way our bodies were created, but so is any other form of impurity. Any time that we do not view or use our bodies in a way that reflects God’s design, we add the noise of sin and distort the image of God.

This is why the issue of gender and sex are so important. Our purpose in life is to know God and to love Him. The Westminster Catechism explains our “chief end” similarly, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” God has designed gender and sex as a picture to teach us about Him and how to enjoy Him. However, the more we allow the noise of sin to blur that picture, the less we are able to know and enjoy God. This is why I believe that the battle against sexual sin and against gender confusion is such an important battle.

The Gender Metaphor – Gender and Knowing God pt 2

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them
          Genesis 1:27

What we learn from this verse is that gender has something to do with the image of God. Genesis is very careful to link gender and God’s image. There can be little doubt of their connection; the question is, how does gender reflect God’s image and why did God chose to use gender to reflect him?

At risk of running ahead to quickly, I believe that gender is given for two primary purposes. First it teaches us about who God is and second it teaches us how we are to go about accomplishing our most important task, which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

We must remember that knowing God, which is obviously part of loving him is no easy task. He is way to big for us to fully know. Further, he is eternal and a spirit, while we are temporal and live in a physical reality. There is no wonder we have some difficulty in comprehending God. But God is aware of that and, to accommodate our shortcomings, he has decided to teach us by using the tool of comparison. We are created in his image so we reflect God in the same way a metaphor compares one idea to the reality it points to.

Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible (New Studies in Biblical Theology)In fact, I believe that we are like living metaphors for God. Metaphors are tools that help us learn something new by comparing it to something we already know. Timothy Laniak, in his book Shepherds After My Own Heart, explains that they are not designed simply to help us understand something new, but to apprehend it as well. He explains, “Metaphors, like non-literary icons, invite, incite, and induce their readers to experience a reality, not just hear about it.” That is, they offer a “global understanding.” The important thing to remember is that we are created in such a way as that our very beings teach us to understand and experience God.

So how does God use gender to teach us about him? I don’t know if I can give an exhaustive list, but I will say that he always describes himself as a male. He is a gracious father, a loving husband, a pursuing bridegroom, and a conquering king. So as we consider all of these masculine roles we get a picture of whom God is.

Interestingly, God never describes himself as a woman. However, we are always described as a woman. Sometimes we are bad women. Many times in the Old Testament we are compared to a prostitute or unfaithful wife. However we are also compared to the beautiful bride who receives unbounded affection from her groom. We are to be presented as pure and white as a bride on her wedding day. We are the beneficiaries of the care of God in the way Ruth received care from Boaz.

The important point to recognize is that masculinity and femininity are tools that God uses to teach us about himself and to teach us about who we are in respect to him.  But I think they are more than just that. I think our genders are also the key tools that God uses to teach as about love, and how to love, which is our most important task.

For instance, Paul explains that marriage is a metaphor which pictures of Christ’s relationship with the church (Eph. 5:22-33). That is, wives are a picture of the church, and husbands are a picture of Christ. But as we read the Bible in its entirety, including the Psalms and Song of Solomon, we learn that the husband/wife metaphor is God’s primary method for teaching us about love and intimacy. Sex and intimacy (which should never be divided) within marriage are themselves metaphors to teach us how we are to relate to God. The same way the wife and husband praise each other and delight in saying, “I am my beloved’s and he is mine” (SoS 6:3), we are supposed to praise God. Think of how many of the Psalms sound like a love poem to God. “Whom have I in heaven but you, on earth there is nothing I desire but you. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

It is clear to me that God created the two genders for intimacy. Genesis teaches this when Adam says “this is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” and Moses responds, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” The two genders find their completeness in their union together. I think in the same way, we are to be unified and intimate with God.

In summary, genders are a big deal. They are no accident of creation but a strategic part of God’s creation. Having gender is an important part of being created in God’s image. Through gender we learn of him and we learn of ourselves because of them. Ultimately we learn how to fulfill our central task of loving God through rightly learning to love someone of the opposite gender.