I was listening this morning to another pastor and preacher talking about gender roles. He asked a question in the form of a story which I am sure I will experience before long with my own children.
Imagine an eight or nine or ten year old child asking his father, “Daddy, what does it mean to grow up to be a man and not a woman?” Or imagine another child, a little girl, asking her mother, “Mommy, what does it mean to grow up to be a woman and not a man?” Surely the answer is not merely plumbing.
Of course there is a lot of confusion, debate and conflict in the global church about what biblical manhood and womanhood are. This debate includes an individual’s lifestyle, home life, work life and church life. The debate raises some huge questions:
- Are men and women equal? What does equal really mean?
- Can men and women do all of the same things or are men intended to do some things and women to do other things?
- Do the Bible and Christianity repress women?
- How does the Bible define the core of manhood and womanhood and thus relate to issues of sexuality?
These are massive questions and not easily answered. Yet if I am going to say anything about Christian Families then they must be addressed somehow.
Hence the title of this post. What Good is a Man?
In Genesis 1 God creates man and woman – Adam and Eve. He creates man in His own image. As I wrote in this post the creation of people in God’s image gives them incredible value.
What does it mean to be created in God’s image? Biblically, the imago dei implies at least three things:
- Man is a person and thus self-aware.
- Man is meant to rule over his dominion in a way which mirrors God’s rule over His Creation.
- Man is the “son of God” and is thus created into a web of relationships and is intended to live in these relationships.
All people are created with these things in them as bearers of the imago dei. Men and women each have these characteristics.
Yet men and women are different.
Adam was created first and then Eve was created from his side. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 do not tell two conflicting stories of Creation but they tell the same story from two complementary perspectives. Allow me to quote the Bible at length here and then comment on it:
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man. ”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Here we can see, in the very order of Creation, a few distinctions of manhood:
- Man was formed first and was created to work and initiate work. At the point when man was created, work began. Adam initiated this work by his presence. He led this work by doing it. Please notice the lack of shrubs and plants prior to Adam because there was no one to work the ground. Today, we must agree with the Bible and say men are created to work. What does it mean to be a man? Men work. Men work in the world to fulfill this mandate of exercising dominion over the earth.
- Men are intended to work with God. As part of the imago dei men exercise authority over what they have been given. Yet this authority comes from God and so a man’s work must be with God and not independent of Him. The man living independently from God is a rebel and opposed to God’s plan.
- The work of men is not possible or efficient without women. “For Adam, no suitable helper was found.” Imagine Adam looking at all of these animals and thinking to himself: “There is a male goat and a female goat. Nice pair. There is a male elephant and a female elephant. Cute couple. There is a male parrot and a female parrot. Lovely partners. There is a male human and there is a … Hey! Wait a minute! There is not a female human! Who is my partner?” Maybe it did not happen quite like that yet the design of God’s actions here is very tender. God, by showing Adam all of these animals, is pointing to Adam’s uniqueness and also his loneliness. Thus both Adam and God agree: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Why wasn’t it good? Because Adam was hindered in his rule by being alone and because Adam was created into a web of relationships and was thus not meant to live alone.
- Men and women are partners. There is a great symbolism in where Adam ‘loses’ something in order to gain his wife. He did not lose something from his feet as if his wife would now occupy the place his feet used to be. This means he was not intended to rule over his wife by trampling upon her person. He did not lose something from his head. This means his wife was not meant to rule over him, either. He lost something from his side. Adam and Eve, man and woman, were forever meant to be partners. In this partnership Adam was meant to lead from beside Eve.
What good is a man? A biblical view of manhood means men are created to be leaders, rulers and partners. We must add Christ to Genesis because the Bible does. The way in which a man leads himself and his wife is defined by the way in which Christ ruled Himself and now rules the Church. So a man leads his wife, teaches his wife and helps his wife to grow. Yet a man also gives Himself to his wife, gives up his life for his wife and tries to help his wife to grow into maturity.
What good is a man? A good man is a leader.