Genesis 3 and Gender

symbol-male-and-female-mdThis morning I was preaching on Genesis 3 – ‘the fall of man’. It’s a fascinating passage, very carefully and cleverly constructed, and bears studying carefully. One of the things I noticed in my preparation time but didn’t really have time to elaborate on in the passage is the way gender is portrayed.

In Genesis 1-2, the creation, a sort of order of hierarchy is established within creation. God creates the world, creates the man, and places him in the garden “to work it and take care of it” (2:15). The Lord commands the man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Mankind is also given dominion over creation – God says to “rule over” the animal kingdom (1:28).

However, and in our society this is probably the most controversial part of Genesis 1-3, there is something of an order within the relationship between the man and woman as well. Genesis 2 describes how no ‘helper’ suitable for the man could be found in the animal kingdom, so God created a woman from the rib of the man. The man names her ‘woman’ in 2:23 (and further on in 3:20 he names her Eve). Now, naming something is significant, because it does signify a kind of authority – for example, God brings the animals to Adam for him to name them (2:19-20). Naming is what God does in chapter 1, e.g. in 1:5 God calls the light ‘day’ and the darkness ‘night’. So the act of naming itself indicated that Adam had a kind of authority over Eve – although that isn’t exactly spelled out in detail here.

Just as an aside while I’m here – the more I think about this the more I think how fundamental gender difference is to marriage. God takes one – the man – and creates two – the man and woman. One becomes two – but in marriage (if I may say this without invoking memories of the Spice Girls) – two becomes one. Husband and wife become ‘one flesh’ (2:24). Something which two men or two women cannot do. Anyway, this is a digression, but an important one given today’s society.

So, according to Genesis 1-2, the ‘order’ of creation before the fall is: God – Man – Woman – Animals. So, what’s interesting about Genesis 3 is that that order is completely reversed.

The story of the fall begins with the snake, “more crafty than any of the wild animals…” The snake, a representative of the animal kingdom, then talks to the woman. The woman eats the fruit, then gives some to her husband. Only then does God get involved. The order of Genesis 3 is Animals – Woman – Man – God. It’s a reversal of creation – it is, in a sense, ‘de-creation’.  Creation is undone.

Why is all this important, and how is it relevant to us? It’s relevant because I think we’re seeing a huge amount of gender confusion at the moment. What seems to be happening is that people think being a man or a woman is basically unimportant – sure, there are some biological differences, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re a man or a woman: people are pretty much interchangeable. I think we see this play out in the transgender movement, same-sex marriage, and so on.

We seem to believe as a society (or at least, movers and shakers in our society are imposing the idea) that being male or female is of no real consequence. Women and men are simply people, and aside from a few biological differences, there’s nothing to distinguish them. Same-sex marriage is a just a logical consequence, because there’s virtually no difference between two people of the same sex getting married as there is with two people of the opposite sex: it’s just the same love, right? Whether or not you have certain body parts is immaterial.

The problem here is that, according to Genesis 1-3, being a man or a woman is an important thing. Being a man or a woman is, in fact, a gift of God. We are not amorphous beings, people who simply happen to have a different physical body. Men and women are created both in the image of God and reflect his glory, but they reflect it in different ways. Men and women literally need each other, and we need each other as men and as women. This seems to be to be common sense to me: in my own experience, I do relate differently to men than to women. It’s just the way the world is. Men and women are not simply interchangeable, there is some kind of fundamental difference.

The other day I was reading an article by Alastair Roberts: Why we should jettison the “Strong Female Character” (it’s a long read but good). One of the things that struck me while reading that was that to blur the lines between male and female actually is harmful to women. If women are supposed to be strong in the sense of being able to do better than men in what are traditionally seen as masculine things, what value does that place on things which are traditionally feminine?

What happens when the boundary lines between male and female gets blurred is that things which are uniquely masculine and femine get lost. If being a woman isn’t really significant, who is going to champion being a wife and mother? Should a woman feel like she has to be ‘strong’ in that she needs to be more masculine than a man?

The real irony of steamrolling over differences between the sexes is that I think it is detrimental to both men and women – but especially women. Generic people, men and women, have jobs, play sports, spend time with friends etc – but there are things which only a woman can do, e.g. be a wife and mother. During the last election, my wife felt quite undervalued: David Cameron kept on talking about people being in work as if the most important thing that anyone could do was to be an employed worker. Not once was there a mention of mums (or dads, for that matter) who choose to stay at home to look after their children. Mums and Dads parent in different ways – I’ve noticed this with my daughter. I’m not a generic parent – I’m a Dad. I bring something different to the table than a Mum.

I apologise that this blog post has gone on a bit. This is because my thoughts are still in the process of forming. However, I do feel like our society’s view of gender at the moment is following the pattern of Genesis 3. We need to get back to God’s pattern for our lives and in particular Gender – to rediscover what it means for men to be men and women to be women. To cherish the unique gifts that each can bring, rather than simply erasing all differences.

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