Dancing around in the corridors of my mind, much the way a ping-pong ball ricochets back and forth in a heated match, I was contemplating biblical manhood versus womanhood.
It was not long before I came to a standstill. I do not believe we can adequately discuss genuine manhood and womanhood unless we first define biblical personhood. After all, God possesses both masculine and feminine characteristics and the gospel reaches men and women alike.
If you peruse scripture, you find God taking on more than just the role of a father. You see that he is mother, as well. This is not to say that he is nondescript, neither male nor female. Rather, God is both. In his perfection, he is able to meet humanity where and how it must be met.
In Genesis, it is written that God created both male and female in his image and bearing his likeness.
In Psalm 22:8-10, we read of God as midwife — “You brought me safely from my mother’s womb. … I was thrust into your arms at my birth.”
And earlier, we read of God’s maternal nature. In Numbers 11:12, it is written that Moses pleads with God, asking him, “Why did you tell me to carry them in my arms like a mother carries a nursing baby?”
“If we are humble, we know that human words and metaphors are incomplete and can never do justice to describing the majesty of who God is,” Yolanda Pierce, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote in a Time editorial.
Furthermore, though Christ was a man on earth, it was his femininity that set him apart. His delicacy in approaching the woman at the well and his grace in forgiving the adulterous woman set him apart from the violent and aggressive Roman culture into which he was thrust.
By that same token, we read of Christ’s righteous anger when he overturned the tables in the temple and drove out the thieves and the moneychangers (Matthew 21:12). Then in Revelation 6:2, it is written that Christ will return, “to win many battles and gain the victory.”
Like a diamond against a black backdrop, Jesus’ personhood captured the curiosities of those he encountered, never quite fitting the mold of established norms.
“This is the man who chose poverty, who relied on others for support, who ministered to the least of these in society,” Nate Pyle, lead pastor at Christ’s Community Church in Indiana, said of biblical manhood. “(Jesus) didn’t exactly fit the Greco-Roman idea of masculinity.”
God — and Christ, his manifest presence — operates outside of the cultural binary we have come to accept. Much like God is separate from time and space, he is uninfluenced by our finite understanding of femininity and masculinity.
Set apart to be in the world, fully immersed in culture, those who call themselves Christians must be equipped to carry the gospel in various directions, understanding that neither full masculinity nor full femininity is capable of meeting every need.
The answer, like in most things, lies somewhere in between.
“I wonder sometimes if our strong emphasis is on, ‘This is what it means to be a man,’ and ‘This is what it means to be a woman,’ rather than, ‘This is what it means to be a well-integrated person,” Micah J. Murray, a religious commentator, told Relevant magazine.
Much of what we believe to be biblical “manhood” and “womanhood” is, in reality, nothing more than American cultural identities that have been woven into our theologies.
In exploring the Bible, I think it is of paramount importance for the Church to dampen the cultural cacophony of ideas bombarding our thinking, and analyze scripture for what it is, realizing that Christlikeness is so much bolder and more vibrant than personality traits and characteristics.
I am thankful for that standstill in my mind — when I stopped analyzing biblical manhood and womanhood and discovered that, when I walk in the fullness of who God made me to be, I am called to be like Christ.
Biblical personhood is feminine and masculine, full of gentle conviction, bold grace, unwavering commitment, conquering love, fortified faith and the realization that I am totally weak and incapable of claiming any of these things apart from the strength I find in salvation.