Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Biblical Femininity Part Two: In the Image of God

(Please read Part One first.)

What does it mean to be made in the image of God, as a woman, as an individual, and as a wife?

I encourage you to take a second to read all of Genesis 1 & 2 before we get started. And then I'll just call your attention to a few key verses:

Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."…..

Gen. 2:6-8 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed...

Gen 2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."

Each individual is made in the image of God. You, a woman, by yourself, reflect the image of God, the imago Dei, and stand alone before Him. But there is also a social aspect to that image. How does God describe everything in creation up to the making of man? "And God saw that it was good." But then what? Verse 2:18 "It is not good that the man should be alone." Just as the Trinity exists in relationship; we were made to exist in relationship. The task assigned to the image bearers ("be fruitful and multiply," 1:28) cannot be performed by an individual. The Trinity has perfect harmony, perfect unity, perfect intimacy and communication.

But what does that look like? How do the members of the Trinity relate to one another? Is it egalitarian? Is there structure? Roles? Authority?

Psalm 30:10 "Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper!"

Psalm 54:4 "Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life."

Psalm 118:6-7 "The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me." (this verse also quoted in Hebrews 13:6)

Did you notice that? The psalmist is referring to God as his helper. This is clearly more than a secretary, right? An assistant, to iron shirts and bring the coffee? Hardly. Let's not forget that this is the LORD, the "upholder of my life," about whom we say:
Psalm 104 27These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
28When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.

It is this God, the very same one, who is described as our helper.

Keep reading as Jesus discusses His relationship with the other members of the Trinity:

John 5:16-23 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I am working." 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
19So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

John 10:30 "I and the Father are one."

John 12:49-50 "For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me."

John 14:6-11 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. 8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

John 14:15-17 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth..."
Perhaps most dramatically:
Matt 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."
Within the Trinity, there is a voluntary, functional subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father.

Do not miss this: within the Trinity, there is a VOLUNTARY, FUNCTIONAL SUBORDINATION of the Son and Spirit to the Father.

God Himself is not too proud to be our "helper."

Christ the Lord is not unwilling to be a servant.

Are we really too proud? Too good for this?

Listen to this: "This is a way that women are made in the image of God. Willingness to subordinate oneself to others for God's sake is itself a component of the image of God, not a compromise thereof." *

Does that make anyone else stand up a little straighter?

As I take a good honest look at my beloved Christ, suddenly I feel less embarrassed to proclaim the doctrine of submission.

Submission is not always taught in a Trinitarian context, and I think that's a shame. It is a dangerous thing to teach without the framework of the Godhead. Without the God-man Jesus, it just seems like subjugation of women. I get that.

BUT we follow a God who delights in turning our "wisdom" on its ear. If "helper" means what we think it means, it's not a good idea to use that word in reference to God. If our "dignity" is dependent upon our "rights" being protected, then our dignity is a very delicate thing. If we think it's degrading to "submit" to an equal, then Christ was degraded. Of course it doesn't make sense. If it did, would it honor God in quite the same way? I mean, does it "make sense" for Jesus to submit to the Father in such a way, to be humiliated as a human baby and child, to suffer a cruel, naked death after a mock trial?

Philippians 2:3-11 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

* This quote and much of this material was pulled from the chapter titled "Men and Women in the Image of God" written by John Frame in the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Highly, highly recommended.


Next up, Part 3: Submission: What does it look like? What it is, what it is not.

Part 4: But what if he _____? Conflict resolution within the context of submission.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Biblical Femininity Part One

I was asked to help lead a seminar on Biblical Femininity a couple of months ago at Christ Church. I enjoyed the opportunity immensely. I have wrestled with this subject for years, and God has been gracious to lead me gently. I have found that God is not afraid of our honest questions and will lead us (eventually) beside still waters, if only we will follow.

I have wanted to transfer the notes from my talk onto here for some time. I hope they will be a helpful resource for women of the Church. Please know that I approach this as a fellow struggler who has learned much the hard way. I just laugh at the irony that I am teaching this subject at all, given how desperately I have fought it. If you resist it, or chafe under it, know that I have as well, and keep at it. Just don't give up; there is treasure there. Don't release God until He has blessed you through this.

If you prefer to listen to the audio version, it is here. Please don't laugh at me; I'm not a professional speaker. It's not as polished as I would like.

Part One: Foundational Biblical Truths

We have to begin here. When we struggle with the specifics of certain Biblical doctrines, it often reflects dis-ease in fundamental Gospel truths. Let me give you an example: If I am fearful that following God's instruction will leave me powerless and defenseless, that actually reflects a lack of trust in God's gracious and omnipotent provision for me. I can analyze the cultural implications of the particular instruction all day long, but I won't experience spiritual growth until I deal with the broader reality. Another example: If I refuse to accept a difficult teaching because it "doesn't feel right," I am trusting my own fallen heart above the absolute authority of Holy Scripture. If I hold the Bible in one hand, and my instinct in the other, and weigh them equally, I am thinking much more of myself than I ought.

So when I find myself chafing under some of these specific ideas that we'll get to later, very often it can be traced back to one of these core issues. That's why I start here.

a. God is all-powerful and all-knowing.
He knows what I feel, need, and desire. He knows what is best for me, how I may best glorify Him. He cares for me with strength and power. I do not need to be afraid. He has a plan for me, and all strength to enact that plan and protect me, even when from my limited perspective I cannot see that plan and may feel vulnerable.

b. God is all-loving, gracious and good.
Jer. 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
God is righteous and compassionate. He can be trusted. He will hear me and care for me, and His care for me will always be good.

c. I am fallen and sinful.
Jer. 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
My heart cannot be trusted. Sometimes my emotions are misleading, and it would be better to pay attention to eternal truth. Oprah, et al. would have us believe otherwise, but we can't always "find our own truth."

d. I am precious to God.
He redeemed me at great price. My obedience is the natural response to His love and sacrifice.

e. God gave His word as a gracious gift to me.
I can go to His word expecting to find wisdom and grace.
John 8:32 "and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

If these aren't registering deep within your soul as truth, the rest of what I have to say will not resonate for you either. You may even experience profound and violent opposition. Don't try to grapple with things like headship and submission outside the context of the sovereignty of God. Of course they won't work; they were never designed to function in an atheistic vacuum. These presuppositions are necessary for what follows. Please don't forget them. God asks much of us, and it can be overwhelming if we lose the big picture. Hold on to the Gospel. Don't lose sight of the cross.

Don't stop wrestling.