This debate is really about something much bigger: what —or who— is the basis of reality, and how does this “filter down” to the issue of gender?
There is a fundamental coherence between who God is and how he created the world, the sexes, and the individual. It is impossible to talk about one without talking about the others, and vice versa.
Although the moment we are living in seems to be one concerned primarily with gender, it actually has much greater repercussions, and in fact, many of the problems that we are facing in the West (but also elsewhere) can be reduced to a fundamental imbalance regarding the created order, which itself comes from an imbalanced view of who God is. What I would like to do in this brief essay is show that God fundamentally knows and delights in himself, the truth of which is reflected in creation, gender, and psychology.
First, we must begin with God, who is the foundation and fountain of all reality. I will be speaking about God from an explicitly Christian standpoint, and for now I will not digress into the very important topic of whether or not a non-Christian, such as a natural philosopher or non-Christian religious person, could affirm the same. As I have written in a previous article, from a Christian standpoint, we would say that the Father, as the fount of deity, knows himself in the Son, and delights in himself in the Spirit, which means that the uniting principle to God’s attributes are three: that he is, that he knows himself, and that he loves himself.
Setting aside the attributes which speak of God’s existence, his basic attributes are those related to knowledge and love. At a conceptual level, God’s self-knowledge implies attributes such as truthfulness, wisdom, and order, and his self-love implies those such as goodness, graciousness, joy, and community.
This basic dyad is what we find in the Old Testament when it speaks of God’s emet (truth) and hesed (lovingkindness), and in the New Testament when it says that Jesus was full of charis (grace) and aletheia (truth). They are simply different ways of affirming the same reality that God is self-knowledge and self-love. When God creates, it makes sense for him to create in ways which reflect his character.
Thus, when God created the cosmos, he overcame chaos with his knowledge and love. Genesis 1:2 says that the cosmos was “formless” and “void”. So, during the first three days of God’s creation he overcame formlessness by bringing about order, and during the second three days he overcame the void by bringing forth life. He brought forth order by separating the cosmos into its basic divisions, and then he infused the respective divisions with its corresponding life.
When he created humanity, he invited them to participate in his creational activity. The commands that he gave them in Genesis 1:28, reflected his action of bringing order and life where there was formerly formlessness and void: subduing and having dominion over the earth correspond to the first three days of God’s creation, and being fruitful, multiplying, and filling it correspond to the second three.
But the Bible further specifies that each sex has their respective task. In Genesis 2:15, Adam’s task was to “work” and “keep” the garden, while in Genesis 3:20, Eve was called the mother of all living. Therefore, the man’s role corresponds primarily to God’s creational activity during the first three days of creation, which in turn corresponds primarily to God’s self-knowledge and order, and the woman’s role corresponds primarily to God’s creational activity during the second three days of creation, which in turn corresponds to God’s self-love, community, and the affirmation of life.
These are not absolute distinctions, however, since each human psyche has both “masculine” and “feminine” elements to it. We all have internal dialogue, which means that we can know ourselves fully and completely, and we also delight in what we do, which means that at some level we love ourselves. Sin has marred and corrupted these abilities, just as it has the relationship between the genders and creation’s harmony, but the fundamental reality remains.
Thus we have it, that there is a coherency between who God is and how he created the cosmos, the sexes, and the individual. This is helpful for at least two reasons. First, the current moment in which we live is one that seems to be dominated by the issue of gender.
But as we have seen, “gender” is not an isolated issue, but rather part of a ladder of greater meaning. To erase gender would necessarily carry with it the erasure of the self, creation, and our knowledge of God. Because of the coherency between the person of God and his act of creation, any attempt to change or modify gender necessarily carries with it further implications. When we look at it from this perspective, the debate about gender is really a debate about something much bigger: what —or who— is the basis of reality, and how does this “filter down” to the issue of gender?
Second, when we speak of God’s coherency between who he is and how he creates, we see that especially in the West there is a tendency to over-emphasize love, community, and life-affirmation to the exclusion of order and truth. Most likely, this is a reaction to the West’s previous cultural moment —the Enlightenment— which over-emphasized truth and justice to the exclusion of grace and mercy.
When we look at the world from this very general level, we see that so much conflict can be explained in this light. Religious liberty can be seen as a debate about the relationship between the State’s truth and the individual’s freedom. Economic debates can be seen as a debate between capitalism’s preference for wisdom and socialism’s preference for community-sharing. Ecological debates can be seen as a debate over man’s right to bring order and usefulness to the world and their responsibility to affirm its life and flourishment. Political debates between the right and left can be seen as the tension between the right’s preference for tradition and order on the one hand, and the left’s preference for progress and community on the other.
So, where does this leave us? In our current moment, we are debating gender and the importance of truth. We have systematically reacted against the notion of truth, which has now entered the realm of speech.
Christians cannot surrender truth, because to do so is to betray who God is and the entire created order. However, neither can we surrender love, since to do so would be equally disastrous. May the Lord give us wisdom to walk this fine line, and not turn to the right or left of it.
Andrew Messmer is Professor of theology in Spain.
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