Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Class Paper: Marriage & Gender

This was a paper I wrote for my "Marriage & Family" class with Dr. Dan Allender. We were to consider the question, "What is God's design for marriage with regard to gender?", according to Genesis 1-3.

It’s Not Good

“It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). This small, daunting statement becomes our framework as we take up the task of talking about God’s intention for marriage as it relates to gender. Prior to this sentence being uttered, Adam is alone in perfect union with the God who created him. They walk, talk, play, and dream together, but the inference is that this is not enough. It’s not good. Man was never meant to live this way, but rather, is meant to find completion, oneness, and a life of mutuality and reciprocity in the life of another human, namely his wife.

Our religious culture, in congruence with all of culture, has a deep desire to individualize our experience with God. We have emphasized our “alone” time with God and have often neglected the role of community in the life of faith. Genesis makes it apparent that a life alone with God is not sufficient. This was never the way we were meant to live. We were designed for community. We were created to live lives of sacrificial surrender to the other as a way of unifying differences toward the goal of abundant life with each other and God.

The imagery used of Adam losing part of himself for the completion and wholeness of his new wife is meant to demonstrate the unique relationship that exists within the bounds of marriage. Separate, they are but two distinct pieces of string, but as they weave together under God’s plan for unity, they put on display an incredible tapestry of God’s beauty, creativity, and love. They become for the world the aroma of God, a picture of the unique relationship of give and take that exists within the Trinity. They echo the communal nature of God.

This first narrative also speaks to the fact that humanity is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Throughout the scriptures, God is referred to as having both male and female characteristics, and this diversity of personality and identity is modeled through the difference in gender being brought into harmony within the sacrament of marriage. God seemingly understands that if God is to be known and shown in the world, it will only be through the diversity of gender being brought together through acts of community, and specifically marriage.

While this difference in gender was designed to provide a fuller, richer picture of the vastness of God’s identity, its limitation is the production of shame. Within a broken world, difference is often seen less as a beautiful uniqueness, and more in the categories of superiority and inferiority. A spirit of comparison takes over and quickly leads one to strive for power, influence, and dominance over the other. Where a spirit of cooperation between strength and tenderness was meant to exist, now strength and force become the dominant realities. Whichever gender can best exert their will over the other gets to set the rules, and the other is left in obscurity and unimportance.

The story of human history has largely been the devaluing of half of humanity, and as a result, the extreme emphasis of God’s strength and justice with the denial of God’s tenderness and mercy. Gender was never meant to be something that divides and polarizes, but rather a distinctness that unifies and complements. Gender was always meant to be understood in a spirit of humility and surrender, where each part of the marriage freely submits him or her self to the other as Christ has sacrificed himself for the church. It is only through a proper understanding of God’s design for gender that we will properly understand the character of God, a God who properly balances the unity of strength and tenderness, justice and mercy.