In Consideration of Our Gendered Selves
In 1993, relationship counselor John Gray wrote a book called Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. The book’s premise is obvious from the title: Men and women are cut from a different cloth. Put an X chromosome in the place of a Y and you get a whole new anatomy and, Gray also believes, a whole new expression of the same species. While men and women are both unmistakably human, they are also unmistakably from different ‘planets.’ He writes:
When a man can listen to a woman’s feelings without getting angry and frustrated, he gives her a wonderful gift. He makes it safe for her to express herself. The more she is able to express herself, the more she feels heard and understood, and the more she is able to give a man the loving trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration, approval, and encouragement that he needs.
Men in general, says Gray, are motivated when they feel needed while women in general are motivated when they feel cherished. Most women crave affirmation and safety based on their relationships; whereas most men crave honor and respect based on their accomplishments. Out of these general orientations (both of which, of course, have many exceptions), both genders uniquely reflect the image of God, who is simultaneously relational and vocational, tender and strong, in-the-moment and future-focused, like a protective father and like a nurturing mother, truth-teller and caregiver, lion and lamb, and so on.
Almost thirty years since its first printing, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus is still a top seller. There are also many other popular books like it. There is a reason for this:
Most men want to connect better with the women in their lives.
Likewise, most women want to connect better with the men in theirs.
At the primal level, both genders recognize they are better together than they are separate. As Scripture affirms, God made humans in his own image—both male and female (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4). The gendered nature of male and female, of the he and the she, taken together and not separate from one another, provides the fullest picture of what God is like. For God is neither a man nor a woman. Rather, he is a Heavenly Father who loves us as a Mother would (Romans 8:15; Isaiah 66:13).
Have you ever noticed that the two top teachers in the Bible on the nature of marriage were both single men? Paul speaks of the male/female, one-flesh union as a ‘profound mystery’ (Ephesians 5:21-33). This very well could be the greatest understatement in history.
And then there was Jesus, another unmarried prophet, who said:
Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
Whether through marriage or friendship, the coming together of the genders is so significant that it becomes the top metaphor in the Bible to illustrate God’s relationship with his people. In the Song of Solomon, we are our Beloved’s and our Beloved is ours. In Hosea, we are the unfaithful wife and God is the forgiving, pursuing husband. In Isaiah, we are the Bride, and God is the Bridegroom who rejoices over us. In Jeremiah, we are the faithless whore deserving of a certificate of divorce, and God, once again, is the faithful Husband who pursues us for reconciliation. In the New Testament, Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is his Bride. The one-flesh union between husband and wife serves as a picture of Christ’s self-sacrificing love for the Church, and the Church’s glad surrender to that love. In Revelation, the New Heaven and New Earth will be inaugurated when the Bride of Christ comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a Bride beautifully dressed for her Husband. Then, when Christ’s coming Kingdom is consummated, his collective Bride will dine with him at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (see Song of Solomon 6:3; Hosea 2:19-20; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 3:8; Revelation 19:7-9 and 21:1-5; Ephesians 5:21-33).
When we trace the Bridegroom/Bride metaphor throughout the Bible, the first thing that stands out is that this is a positive metaphor versus a negative one. The image directs our understanding of how God desires to relate to us, and it also tells us much more. The metaphor affirms our gendered differences, and helps us see how male and female are at their best when they ‘image’ God together.
In the curse, Adam’s vision to better the world through his work is frustrated. From the moment he eats the forbidden fruit, his work is invaded and frustrated by sweat, toil, and weeds (Genesis 3:17-19). Momentum is replaced by resistance; hopes and dreams by discouragement; triumph by defeat; gain by loss; the satisfaction of accomplishment by the frustration of anticlimax. At the center of Adam’s longing is a vision for the redemption and recovery of satisfying work, and with it, a dream to accomplish something significant and lasting. Adam, wrecked by the fall, is still motivated by progress and legacy.
Eve, too, is motivated by progress and legacy, but never at the expense of her vision for relational connection, harmony and peace.
Several years ago on Mother’s Day, my wife Patti expressed her own Eve-like feminine hardwiring when I asked her if she enjoyed having the whole family around the dinner table for Mother’s Day. Her answer: “It was wonderful, all of us being together. It’s what a Mother wants.”
It’s what a Mother wants. Similarly, I once heard another Mother say that as a Mother, she is only as happy as her most miserable child. Her joy is inextricably bound up in the joy of her people. Like God, she is fiercely and helplessly relational.
So then, if Adam lays awake at night worrying about the weeds in the garden, Eve lays awake worrying about the weeds in her marriage to Adam. Her desire for affection will be frustrated by an inability to connect deeply, and often, with her beloved. Her longing to love and be loved will not only be frustrated maritally with Adam, but also spiritually with her God, maternally with her children, and socially with her community. For her, so many of the joys of love will be hijacked by isolation, alienation and loneliness.
For both man and woman, then, real life will fall short of deepest longing. Vocational and relational momentum will be eclipsed by frustrated vision. Until Jesus returns and makes all things new, the grandeur of Adam’s ‘maleness’ and of Eve’s ‘femaleness’ will be held back by the fall. As Pascal has said:
The greatness of man is so evident that it is even proved by his wretchedness. For what in animals is called nature, we call wretchedness in man; by which we recognize that, man’s nature now being like that of animals, has fallen from a better nature which once was his. For who is unhappy at not being a king except a deposed king?
And yet, in their ache we also find Adam and Eve’s strength and potential. Adam’s remaining desire (for the memory of Paradise always remains with us) to conquer and achieve, and Eve’s remaining desire to love and be loved, is something that can (and must!) still be nurtured and pursued in Jesus. Wherever this pursuit occurs, men and women reconnect with their (and each other’s) image-bearing, gendered selves. In this, they also nudge one another toward becoming more complete as the image of God. The God-like aspects of his maleness have a completing effect on her, and the God-like aspects of her femaleness have a completing or ‘helping’ effect on him.
Sometimes the meaning of Bible words gets lost in translation when ancient texts are read from a contemporary western hemisphere grid. Specifically, modern ears tend to hear Eve being identified as Adam’s ‘helper’ as offensive and belittling:
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18).
From our limited view and cultural lens, the ‘helper’ language conjures the image of a weak, subdued, domesticated servant whose reason for existing is to stand by her man, serve his desires and needs and goals, and do his bidding…to essentially lose herself in him. But when God gave Eve to Adam, Adam had a much different perspective:
Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:18, 23).
You might say that this was human history’s first love song and poem. Naked Adam looks at naked Eve and responds with spontaneous wonder and thankfulness. The sense of not being complete, even in Paradise (!), has now been resolved by the giving of a She. He becomes more fully alive, more complete, more of a man, in the presence of her, because through his connection to her, the she-ness. That is to say, the Mother-like attributes of the Heavenly Father–rub off on him. The strength and perspective that Adam once lacked has now been provided, because biblically, a ‘helper’ is precisely that…A helper is someone who helps…who comes into the picture, and walks along your side, in order to provide a strength and a perspective that you would never have gained without her.
Lest we forget, the Bible also says that God, like the woman is to the man, is helper to us all. He is our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1).
So what does this tell us about the place of a woman in the life of a man? As his fellow image-bearer, as his equal in strength and dignity and worth, Eve in her femaleness becomes the answer to Adam’s lack. She represents the ‘rest of the puzzle,’ and as such she will teach him a fuller view of the nature and character of God. As my dear friend and long-time mentor, Scotty Smith, has been known to say, when God sends us a gift, he often does so in the form of another person. This ‘other person’ can be in the form of a spouse or a sister or a friend. Either way, God’s design is that s/he rub off on us and that we rub off on her/him.
Whether married or unmarried, then, let’s do what we can to move toward the opposite sex, shall we? For the more the he in him influences her, and the more she in her influences him, the more like the Heavenly Father—the One who loves as a Mother does—we shall all become.
Scott’s latest book, A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us-Against-Them
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