Sunday, February 1, 2015

Made…As Men and Women (Part 1)

If God made us in his image, how are women and men designed to reflect something about God’s good nature, how do we tend toward ruin, and how can we recover the good of Eden? There are so many different ways to approach this subject biblically and practically, and I have chosen one. I pray that it is honest and true, but it will be incomplete and, like everything on this side of Heaven, imperfect. 
The Eternal God placed the newly made man in the garden of Eden in order to work the ground and care for it. He made certain demands of the man regarding life in the garden. Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die.” 
 “It is not good for the man to be alone, so I will create a helper for him, a perfectly suited partner”… So the Eternal God put him into a deep sleep, removed a rib from his side, and closed the flesh around the opening. He formed a woman from the rib taken out of the man and presented her to him. And Adam said, “At last, a suitable companion, a perfect partner.
Bone from my bones.
Flesh from my flesh.
I will call  her “woman” as an eternal reminder
 she was taken out of man.  
 Now this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother, and is united with his wife; and the two become one flesh. In those days the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed…. The man named his wife Eve (life-giver) because she was destined to become the mother of all living. ” (Genesis 2:15-18; 21-25; 3:21, The Voice) 
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You don’t have to read the Bible to recognize that men and women are different. You can study biology, sociology and psychology as a purely secular endeavor and see this clearly.
  • Men get lots of testosterone, women get lots of estrogen. Men tend to be taller and broader, built for confrontation (we actually have thicker skulls).
  • Men have more grey matter in their brains (processing center) and women have more white matter (network connections) in their brains.
  • Women bond with their children chemically (oxytocin) in ways that men don’t. Cells from the unborn baby actually permeate the mother’s body.
  • Men often score better at tasks that involve orienting objects, while women usually do better at language tests.
  • Women tend to build relationships with words, men with activities. It's “Ladies, shall we go out for dinner and talk for 5 hours?” vs. “Hey, you guys want to watch the Superbowl or go golfing?”
  • Women are generally more concerned with how to solve a problem (it’s relational). Men want a solution to demonstrate their competence.
  • Women tend to build support networks; men don’t. In studies, girls tend to go through mazes together with “collective intelligence.” Boys tend to establish a chain-of-command and send out scouts.
  • Women tend to see the interconnectedness of problems in a task and can be more easily overwhelmed. Men get more done, but they tend to minimize the complexity.
  • Women tend to remember things that have strong emotional components. Men tend to remember memorable events. “Do you remember that trip when we really connected with your family?” vs. “Do you remember the zoo?”
  • Men often feel validated through shared activities; women through shared experiences. If my wife goes to Stratford for a Shakespeare Festival she could care less about, that’s a good trip to me. And we could go to the Bahamas, but if we don’t connect emotionally on that trip, the dream trip will be ruined.
  • Women generally determine the quality of a day or a life by their relationships; men value accomplishments. Little girls will make sticks play together; boys will fight something with them. I look at a finished project and think it was a good day; my wife is more likely to consider whether we did projects together to reach the same conclusion.
  • Women tend to respond to emotion with more empathy. Even as babies, girls respond to the emotion around them in ways boys do not.
God’s Word and God’s world give a unified picture of the general way in which men and women see and interact with the world – and that’s differently. Our culture wants us to view these differences through the lense of power. The Bible views it through the lense of service. Rather than trying to erase these differences, let’s understand them and maximize them for the glory of God and the good of the world. So let’s look more closely at what service looks like for men and women.*

God is a protector and provider.  So is Adam.  We see Adam tasked with the privilege and responsibility of serving God and the world by doing the same. When Adam is told to “care for” the land, it’s shamar, a word used in Psalm 12 to describe how God keeps Israel safe from evil. This encompassed the physical (the land), the people in it (“be united”), and the spiritual (“Keep that tree off limits”). 

Men, within the reach of your abilities and opportunities, protect and provide for everything in your environment, not because women shouldn't or can’t but because you must. Get involved in the needs around you. Raise the spiritual bar. Protect the oppressed and helpless. Honor and value women. Be a father to your kids or to those whose fathers are gone. ‘Be united’ to your wives. Stand for truth and justice. Fight against sin and for righteousness. Biblically speaking, real men do not sit back and watch the world become overrun with thorns and thistles physically or spiritually. We have got to do work!  This is genuine masculinity, and the world flourishes when we do this well.

God is a creator and sustainer. So is Eve. She is  tasked with the privilege and responsibility of serving God and the world by doing the same. This isn’t just about having children, though that is included. Eve is bringing God’s “help,” a word used throughout the Old Testament to describe the kind of help God Himself gives humanity.  If Adam was to order the land and provide safety and resources for those under his protection, Eve was to take that environment of safety and provision and use it to nurture and encourage the people in it. 

Women, within the reach of your abilities and opportunities, nurture and bring life (literally and/or figuratively), not because men shouldn't or can’t but because you must. The world flourishes when you see the needs around you and engage with and enter into the lives of people. The ways in which you impact our culture reflects this. It’s not just bringing life and nurturing by having children: the top fields women dominate in America show how crucial your presence is for our world to work: day care (99%), health care (78%), social assistance (74%), educational services (69%), and advocacy and civil organizations (67%). (http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2009/01/26/10-industries-where-women-rule/). There are plenty of women who very capably work in a multitude of other vocations, but the vocations that more overtly encourage, sustain, emote, and empathize flourish because of the overwhelming presence of women.

Cue the Fall.

(To Eve) “As a consequence of your actions, I will increase your suffering—the pain of childbirth
and the sorrow of bringing forth the next generation. You will desire your husband; but rather than a companion, he will be the dominant partner.” 
(To Adam) “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistle for you and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:16-19)

How do we tend toward ruin? Primarily, we stop seeking to serve and we start wanting to be served.

 Men, at least two things happen as a result of the fall. First, we now fail to provide as we tend to drift toward the ruin that comes with being lazy. We see a broken world full of thorns and thistles and we just aren’t motivated to break a sweat. Second, we now fail to protect as we tend to abuse our power. 

  • With other men, everything becomes an unhealthy competition. We gauge our manliness in comparison physically, or financially, or by social status. We think dominance is the mark of a man.
  •  With children, we aggressively dominate them verbally or physically because they are aren’t strong enough to challenge our anger or frustration, or we force them to become the kids we wish we had been and live vicariously through them with no thought for who they are.
  • With women, we use them instead of protect them. It might be a recreational approach to sex that uses and discards women so casually – or it could be an approach to sex in marriage that demands availability no matter the circumstances. It might be that we dismiss the intelligence, talents, and gifts that the women around us bring to any given situation. It might be that the jokes we tell or the places our eyes roam make women feel unsafe or demeaned.  

Women, the Fall distorts how God has designed you as well. Eve’s increasing “pain’ after the Fall was emotional “sorrow” more than physical. The call to relational and emotional engagement with people will now bring you sorrow. You will tend to feel the pain of broken lives and failed relationships in ways that men do not, and instead of that motivating you to press in even more, it will bring resentment, despair or anger. You will not want to serve; you will want to be served. You will tend to build emotional walls to preserve your heart and disengage, or you will tend to lash out and hurt others to keep them at bay.

  • With other women, if they hurt you or intimidate you, you will not try to serve them more. You will try to make them feel it too. Your capacity for empathy and understanding that gives you this tremendous power to bring good also gives you an incredible capacity to bring ruin. That’s why gossip, or comments about appearance or capability are so devastating between women. When deeply relational and empathetic people decide to hurt someone else, they know how to do it.
  •  You will tend to sabotage your own longing for connection with men by pushing them away instead of engaging with your attitudes and words. How many times have I heard the phrase, “If he can’t handle me at my worst, he doesn’t deserve me at my best!” Or,  “I was just too much woman for him to handle!” What that usually means is that you either withdrew and became hard or cold, or lashed out and insulted or belittled him, and showed him what it looks like when someone decides that ruin is more important than relationships.
  • Instead of nurturing and serving children, you will want them to serve you. You will tend to resent the obligations they put on your life, or you will count on them to respond perfectly to all your nurturing needs and place on them an impossible burden to bear.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

If we want to recapture a vision of Eden, we must walk in the path of life (Psalm 16:11). In the Old Testament, this was done through the Law. David said it delighted him (Psalm 119:97).Why? God has made clear that you can plant particular things so you can reap a particular kind of harvest. And you CHOOSE. Over and over again:
‘After all, what I’m commanding you today isn’t too difficult for you; it’s not out of reach. It’s not up in the sky, so you don’t have to say, “Who will go up into heaven and get it for us and tell us what it is, so we can obey it?” It’s not across the sea, so you don’t have to say, “Who will go beyond the watery abyss and get it for us and tell us what it is, so we can obey it?”  No, the words you need to be faithful to the Eternal are very close to you. They are in your mouth (always talk about these laws, as I’ve commanded you) and in your heart (treasure them there). Look, I’ve given you two choices today: you can have life (“tob”) with all the good things it brings, or death and all the ruin (“roa”) it brings.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-15)
And we are right back to the language of Tree of the Knowledge of Good (tob) and Evil (roa). God’s law is for our good. It’s not just OT law; just read Proverbs, and you will get a fantastic overview of the path of life that anyone who bears the image of God can read, put into practice, and receive the benefit.

 This will not save us, but it will guide us. It won’t transform our heart, but it will guide our hands. (We will talk next week about how Christ fulfills the Law and brings us hope in ways the Law can’t). It will give us general boundaries for “sowing and reaping” so that we can bring good to the world and not ruin.

MEN – Within the scope of your abilities and opportunities, provide and protect  - not because women shouldn't or can’t, but because we are designed to reflect God’s image in this way as you serve the world. Show the world what it is like to live in a church, a workplace or a home where men not only bring safety, but men are safe. Be committed to character and integrity; make it your goal to help those around you flourish, praise and honor the women around you. The world is desperate for men like that. Watch the women around you flourish.

WOMEN – Within the scope of your abilities and opportunities, create and sustain life in all its depth and complexity - not because men shouldn't or can’t, but because you are designed to reflect God’s image in this way as you serve the world. Show the world what a nourishing, life-giving presence looks like. I think I speak for all men when I say we long for it, we flourish in it, and we will respond to it. Show us what life is like when our hearts are safe with you, and watch what happens.

This is not yet the path to Eternal Life that we see when Christ fulfills what the Law started. But God has given us a path to help us recover the Eden we long for. Let’s choose it for our good and His glory.

Made as Men and Women: Part Two
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*(It's important to note that this does not mean there is an insurmountable wall erected between the sexes, or that there is an exclusivity to these generalized categories. Just because men and women generally have different strengths or tendencies does not mean they always do, and neither men nor women are somehow exempted from seeking to flourish in the 'image bearing' commonly found in the other. Men and women combined - and thus the masculine and feminine combined -   fully represent the image of God as revealed in humanity.  If we desire a well-rounded view of God to be increasingly seen in us as individuals as well as in combination, men should desire to have and grow in 'feminine' traits, and women should desire to have and grow in 'masculine' traits. One can identify with both sides of the 'men vs. women'  list and still very capably fulfill the tasks God has designed for them.)


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