Imago Dei and Gender: God’s Design of Man and Woman: Offensive? Pt. 2

Whether you know it or not, your convictions about God’s design of gender will be displayed in the way you teach your kids on relationships, marriage, sexuality, and identity.  Becoming aware of the implicit (or explicit) messages you are communicating about gender could be one of the more important new adventures you embark upon.

In Scripture, we read that gender was created before the fall, meaning that it isn’t a result of humanity’s brokenness.  It is a special reflection of the attributes of God (imago dei).  Scripture does not merely paint a picture of some sort of mutually exclusive list of actions that make up a description of a woman or a man (although passages are sometimes taken out of context and used in this way).  Instead, the concepts of male-ness or female-ness equally play a part in creating the bigger picture of who Love is and of how He has designed the world to interact to display His glory.

Notice I have not yet used the words ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity,’ as they trigger many various reactions in us that have been shaped by the world’s images and ideas of what they mean.  For me, it is hard to shake the picture of the strapping, young 5-o’clock-shadowed, successful and athletic lad working a 9-5 job to support his family when I think of masculine.  And it is hard to shake the sweet and sexy, bejeweled and perfectly make-uped mother as a picture of feminine.

But I believe there is more to it.  When Genesis (1:27) talks about men and women being created differently in God’s likeness, it implies the importance of each as a representation of Him.  We are co-equals in terms of value, status, and purpose.  And together, we make up parts of a bigger picture.  It is similar to the I Corinthians 12 metaphor of the church as a body with different parts which together make up the whole.

An important thing to remember is that post-fall, there is no part of us that isn’t tainted by sin, meaning that even our sexuality, our gender, is now colored by it.  This makes it really difficult to understand God’s design if we begin with man’s experience versus Scripture’s description, as there is an infinite number of ways sin has affected us.  It has been helpful for me to explore the deeper implications of the way the curse of the fall looks different for men and for women.  Men are cursed to face futility in their work (the thorns and thistles), in their impact, and women are cursed to toil and suffer in relationships (represented by childbirth), in their inviting unto connection.  Again, this does not mean that women are not meant to work, and men are not meant to invest in and invite relationship.  But perhaps God’s characteristics are revealed differently in this design.  Perhaps woman’s heart for forming and shaping relationships points to God’s heart for connection, mercy, and tenderness slightly more than man’s.  And perhaps man’s heart for movement and impact/transformation reveals slightly more of God’s strength, righteousness, and power to transform.

There is no question that women reflect the characteristics listed above in relation to men, and men reflect those listed for women.  But could it be that there is beauty in the way the two are different, allowing for them to come together to more fully reflect the Wholeness, who is God?  Could it be that both motherhood and fatherhood communicate important pictures of God for children, distinguishable (yet not mutually exclusive) and equally important?  Again, this is not to say that the single person (that’s me!) is incomplete without a husband, but perhaps to wonder at how I as a woman more specifically represent particular aspects of God.

Differences in God’s design of gender may be offensive to our independence, and to the cultural constructs of masculinity and femininity we have nestled down into.  And certainly there is also a spectrum of scriptural understanding from extremes of egalitarianism to extremes of complementariansim.  However, gender differences may just be a unique part of living as human who especially reflects God’s image to the world.  And the outplay of our gender-identity may have significant implications for the way we understand (and teach on) our interactions with marriage, sexuality, identity, and other relationships.

Recommended reading: Men & Women by Larry Crabb, Chpt 6 from The Meaning of Marriage by Tim & Kathy Keller, Discovering Biblical Equality by Pierce & Groothuis, and Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood by Piper & Grudem.

Liz Edrington serves as the Fellowship Groups and Young Adults Director at North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN. She received her M.A. in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, and she has worked with students in one form or another since 2002. She is an emeritus member of the Rooted steering committee, and she's the author of a 31-day devotional for teenagers called Anxiety: Finding the Better Story (P&R Publishing, 2023). Pickled things delight her, as does her snuggle beast, Bella the Dog.

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