And what makes a woman?
It is a perennial topic of discussion, debate, and even defense. And when you substitute the word “Biblical” for the word “real,” things get really heated. There is a huge assumption, among evangelical culture especially, that God has ordained men to be a certain way and women to be another certain way. And while we can all agree that there are certain, unchangeable differences between the sexes, determining exactly what those are can be a little tricky.
The discussion came up again recently with me, quite unexpectedly with some high schoolers.
It’s a fitting topic for high schoolers and it isn’t the first time I’ve been in the thick of this discussion, because they are just discovering themselves and each other and wondering where they are going to fit into the world.
And what I have discovered is that by and large, our kids know a lot of rules about what it means to be good at being men and women.
And that is exactly where our churchly education on gender roles stops – how to be good at being men and women.
And that is exactly why we have so many Christians who are still confused about what God has designed for men and women.
Here’s what I mean…
I Did Not Check To See If I Was Marrying a “Biblical” Woman
When my wife and I got married, and we were planning our lives together, I had a general idea of what she was good at. I knew a few of her likes and dislikes, what she had tastes and distastes for.
What I did not do before we got married was make a checklist of things she shall and shall not do as my wife. (Well, except for the “shall not have dogs in bed.” On that I was very firm.)
I did not make sure my bride-to-be knew that I expected her to cook for me (because I don’t).
I did not make sure she understood how to wash and fold my laundry for me (because I’m a big boy and can do it myself.)
I did not go down a list and make sure my “woman” understood how to live up to a definition of “woman.”
I did not do this, because for one thing I’m pretty sure she would have called off the wedding for such a big red flag. And for another, because I did not feel the need to do so.
Pharisees of Gender
Now, unfortunately, this is primarily where our conversation usually begins and ends when it comes to how men and women live together and treat each other. We set out a list of rules, roles, domains if you will. It’s best if these lists are made in a remote, abstract, or academic environment, away from men and women who actually live together.
And then we tell actual men and women that this how they should live. This is what will make them real men and real women.
The great thing about lists of rules is that you can always add to them. You cad add and switch things up just as people think they have a handle on things. This is how you get gender Pharisees in all their forms. This is how you get people who say men can’t stay at home or women can’t work (and definitely can’t minister). This is how you get a distorted He-Man Jesus as preached by Driscoll-types because they need Jesus to conform to their ideals of masculinity. This is how you keep women trying to conform to an ideal of lilting, passive deference to the authority of men.
It is amazing how something so small as a tiny rule can grow so monstrous. But this is how it happens. This is how we produce such a bloated list of dos and do nots that practically no one can live up to.
Jesus Does Not Care If You Are Good At Being a Man
I didn’t screen my future wife for all of these “womanly” qualities which some would say are “Biblical.”
I didn’t do that because I wasn’t interested in having a wife who was good at being a woman.
I married her because I knew that she was simply a good woman.
I’ll say that again. My wife isn’t just good at being a woman. She is just a good woman.
Good men and good women are what Jesus is after, not people who are good at being men and women. Jesus doesn’t care if men are good at hunting or women good at cooking. Jesus does not care if men make a lot of money or if women are good at diaper-changing. Jesus does not care about men and women who can check off a list of rules like Pharisees and pat themselves on the back for being “real” men and women.
No, Jesus cares about having men and women who are virtuous, who submit to one another, who draw each other closer to Him. He wants good men and good women. I don’t want my wife to fulfill the “Law of Matt” by doing what I want. I want a wife who fulfills the Law of Christ by loving all of her neighbors.
That’s the kind of man I want to be. That’s the kind of woman I want to be married to. Being a man or a woman isn’t “this or that.” It’s “both / and.”