At some stage during my blogging career (read: careering along unnoticed), I had a set of categories for the posts I wrote, ranging from "Wondering" to "Utterly Convinced" (or some such title). It was a helpful way to indicate when my thinking was still in the air, and when and how heavily it had landed.
When looking at this topic, I lean very much toward accepting the suggestions I'm putting forward below, but in view of the furore and dust and smoke stirred up by the "civil war" (over the relationship between God the Father and God the Son and the ramifications for gender), I've decided it's prudent to offer thoughts, rather than nail down certainty after certainty. After all, as I've said many times, the Church has yet to (popularly at the very least) sort out its theology of gender, especially in light of the complete deconstruction of what was commonsense until very recently, and I would be beyond my normal level of arrogant to say I've figured it all out.
Maybe in a month or so. :)
So please find below my run and tilt at some biblical and theological points about gender.
Can we use the Trinity?
There's been a bit of a disagreement between Christian people who talk about these things. Apparently using the relationships within the Trinity to consider human relationships is a no-no for a large number of people because they say it emphasises God as three to the neglect of his one-ness. Thinking of the Trinity in this way is usually called the "Social Trinity" or some variant of that phrase, and the danger the opponents of this understanding is real and worth guarding against.
But I also wonder how far opponents can reject a social Trinity when God reveals himself as Father and Son. Surely there is some real sense that we can see at least the Father and Son as being reflected - can I say imaged? - in human father and son relationships.
So, to many people's horror, I am going to take this concept and apply it to gender, not to change orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, but to use orthodox Trinitarian doctrine to show how beautiful the concept of gender is.
And maybe we can use the longest passage in the New Testament about gender to think about gender?
I'm talking about that blasted 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 passage on headcoverings. I truly believe that the rejection of headcoverings has caused the Western church to skim over this passage and lose out on valuable truths about gender, truths that are needed at this moment in our cultural deconstruction. Of course, at some points what this passage teaches will be offensive to the egalitarian West, but it is the recognition of the image of God in mankind that actually gives the fuller, richer picture and calms the claims of oppression if we let it.
How can "Father" and "Son" be applied to "Man" and "Woman"?
One of the safeguards that helps prevent us from reading human relationships back into the Trinity is the recognition that the image of God in man is imperfect. How can a perfect, infinite, not-fully-comprehensible God be represented by imperfect, finite, not-fully-comprehending humans? Well, he cannot be, at least not completely. For that reason, any image of God seen in human form must be recognised as an imperfect translation. Even Jesus, the God-man, THE perfectly accurate image of God, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells, expressed the image of God in limited human ways.
Despite still upholding all creation while he walked on earth, he lived his Godhood among us in weakness, tiredness and frailty.
Despite still being omni-present, omniscient and omni-everything while he walked on earth, he lived his Godhood among us in one bodily location, learning and adding to his limited knowledge, being God in finite human form.
When we grasp this, we are freed from trying to fit everything God into only one facet of humanity. The human father-son relationship is an important but imperfect (and now corrupted) reflection of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, and if 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 didn't say any more, then I would not have the courage to go any futher. But it does.
So let me draw some parallels and see just how well men and women reflect the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
Do humans reflect the Three-ness of God?
Okay, just remember, none of what follows means that God is not One. What I am suggesting is that God is using humanity to display his Three-ness in an imperfect, creaturely way, and to see how that Three-ness is displayed, it is necessary to speak of God in his Three-ness (though more often Two-ness in this post).
1. The background of 1 Corinthians 11:3 is that of the divine and human, God and Man - with Jesus the Son as the bridge between them.
2. Biblically, all members of the Godhead and all of mankind are referred to by the name of their head, i.e. the Godhead is "God"; mankind is "Man".
3. Jesus is the glory of the Father (Hebrews 1:3); woman is the glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:7).
4. Jesus (and theologically the Son) came from the Father (John 7:29); woman came from the man (1 Corinthians 11:8).
5. Jesus came to earth for the Father (John 17:4); woman was created for the man (1 Corinthians 11:9).
6. Jesus and the Father are interdependent (John 17:1); woman and man are interdependent (1 Corinthians 11:11-12).
Do humans reflect the One-ness of God?
Now, none of those parallel's are perfect, but how can you expect them to be? Humans are not God. But if we think further, we can see how aspects of God's Trinitarian relationships are played out between genders specifically, and even among Christians in general, to reflect the One-ness of God.
1. Even though the Son/Jesus came from the Father, he is still God; even though the woman came from man, she is still Man.
2. The Father and Son work as one to create; man and woman come together as one flesh to procreate.
3. The world came into being through the Son (Colossians 1:16); children come into being through the woman (1 Corinthians 11:12).
4. The Father and Son are one and in each other; Jesus prays that all Christians will be one in the same way, and even one with God! (John 17:20-23).
5. The Trinity has one will; Christians are to be "in full accord and of one mind" (Philippians 2:2).
How does this help us?
All this is nice, pie-in-the-sky-until-it-pokes-you-in-the-eye, but what does it mean on a practical level for gender?
Well, if humanity is to reflect God, including the relationship between Father and Son, there is much more to that relationship than the authority and submission that has been emphasised. Let's look one issue: the issue of communication.
If Christian men and women are to relate in similar ways to the Father and Son, the gospels show us how Jesus related to the Father, and it was far from a military relationship. Jesus did not just get orders and follow them. Just think, he spent a whole night in prayer finding out who he was to appoint as twelve apostles (Luke 6:12-13). Surely it wouldn't take all night to receive the names of the men Jesus was to choose!
Then, in the garden, we find Jesus in conversation with God, appealing to him, even asking him to change his mind.
This was no oppressive relationship, but an aligning of wills.
Of course, in eternity past, the Father and Son had no need of discussion since their will was the same, but when translated into humanese, their perfect relationship showed Jesus finding out and discussing God's will with the Father, and even raising concern.
Yet, because one side of that relationship is not human, it is not a perfect model of relating. But we are given teaching and examples of how Christians in general are to relate and work together to reach agreement.
This does not mean there is no authority in Christian relationships, including within marriage, but it is an authority that seeks to persuade and listen and work together as one as Paul did in his letters to the churches, and as he encouraged Euodia and Syntyche to do (Philippians 4:2).
How does this fit with the gospel?
So if we are right, and God intended humanity to reflect something of how the members of the Godhead relate as Three and One, what do we make of the ultimate reflection, Jesus?
You'll note that I have not made a strong distinction between the incarnate Son, Jesus, and the pre-incarnate Son. That is because I believe that Jesus, as a human, relates to the Father as perfectly as a human possibly can the same way he relates to the Father as the eternal Son. And as 1 Corinthians 11:3 says, Jesus has become not only the saviour of Man, he is the head of Man, by becoming the head man, the head "image and glory of God" (1 Corinthians 11:7), uncorrupted and perfect.
In doing so,
1. Christ reflects not only the perfections of the Father, but also his Father's headship through being the Everlasting Father to humanity (Isaiah 9:6) and the head of his bride, the church (Ephesians 5:23-32).
2. The church is being transformed into the image and glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
3. The church comes from Christ; the Son from the Father, the woman from the man (the symbolism of the blood and water from his pierced side is evocative, harking back to the woman coming from the side of man).
4. The church was brought into being for him (Colossians 1:15-23).
5. Christ and the church are interdependent (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Therefore, Jesus died to save his bride and so reveal himself to the church and in his church, and so in a finite, creaturely way reflect the revealing of the Father to the Son, and the Son to the Father, forever.
God's Great Work of Gender.
So, why is there gender? And why is it important?
Humanity is gendered in order be one way in which the image and glory of God is revealed. Not only does gendered humanity reflect the Godhead, it provides a means for the Son of God to reflect the glory of the Father through the Son's headship over mankind (as the head man), revealing himself to his chosen people perfectly, and, when they are perfected, together displaying God's glory to God and the rest of Creation.
Until that time, we are to relate to each other based on the example and revelation of God through Jesus, through his relationship with the Father, and through his relationship with us.
Now, let's talk about the Spirit... another time.