Divine Image Bearer
The Scriptures begin with the bold assertion that men and women are equally created in the image of God: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). This divinely imprinted image gives men and women inherent value. From conception until their last breath men and women bear God’s image and are to be regarded with dignity and honor. For this reason embryonic stem cell research, abortion, abortive medications (such as the abortion pill), and potentially abortive drugs (such as Plan B, Ella, and “The Pill”) are rejected by the Church. For the same reason euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are rejected by the Church.
Beyond the inherent honor of bearing the divine image, maleness and femaleness uniquely inform our understanding of our existence. God did not first create “man” and then differentiate into male and female. Maleness or femaleness is essential to our very essence. Kathy Keller, co-author of The Meaning of Marriage, writes, “Every cell in our body is stamped as XX or XY. I cannot understand myself if I try to ignore the way God has designed me or if I despise the gifts he may have given to help me fulfill my calling … we risk losing a key part of our ourselves if we abandon our distinctive male and female roles” (172). Lilian Barger, author of Eve’s Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body, concurs: “the reality is that my body informs me every day not only about my place in the world but about what is needful for my life to flourish” (57). To understand the essence of their identity, men and women need to appreciate their uniqueness as male or female.
Part of the divine image women bear is the ability to bear and give life. Reflecting on this George Wollenburg, LCMS pastor and District President, wrote, “Both male and female are bearers of the divine image. The woman is created to give life. No male can give life. Just as God is able to give life, so the image of God is reflected in the woman’s created nature. She is capable of giving life.” Acknowledging this sacred potential, Adam named his wife “Eve,” which means “living,” because she would be “the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20).
The ability to give life is truly remarkable and worthy of the highest honor, but the spirit of the age has denigrated motherhood and placed “choice” on a pedestal. From the time young girls begin maturing, contraception is pushed on them with “morning after” pills and abortion offered as reliable backups if their first line of defense against children fails. They learn slogans like “My body, my choice. My family, my plan.” The message is clear: your life-bearing potential is a problem that must be treated.
Our government reflects this mindset by funding Planned Parenthood which, in addition to terminating babies’ lives, offers advice on how to obtain contraception over the counter without parental knowledge or permission (not to mention approval of a number of sordid sex acts and sexual perversions). Both prior to and in the wake of Obamacare, the federal government has gone to great lengths toward requiring employers and insurance companies, regardless of conscience or moral conviction, to provide contraception (including abortive “morning after” pills) and toward requiring all persons to purchase such coverage. The government has gone so far as to issue a gag order on military chaplains and their ability to speak against such policies. And, sadly, many Christians have lost the appreciation for women’s life bearing potential, believing it to be something you can turn on or off with a pill.
The Christian Church must strive to regain its holy appreciation of women’s life-bearing potential. This gift is sacred and should not be violated by any means or methods that diminish the value of women or motherhood. Writing with a divine appreciation for motherhood (and fatherhood), Martin Luther states, in the Large Catechism:
Not only has [God] commanded us to love parents but to honor them… he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself. For it is a much higher thing to honor than to love. Honor includes not only love, but also deference, humility, and modesty directed (so to speak) toward a majesty concealed within them.
God has placed motherhood (and fatherhood) in an esteemed position next to Himself. Within these godly vocations, God’s resplendent majesty is concealed. For this reason a woman’s life-bearing potential is worthy of the highest honor.
After declaring that it was “not good” for the man to be alone, God said, “I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). Kathy Keller points out (173) that “helper” tends to connote
merely assisting someone who could do the task almost as well without help. But [the Hebrew word for helper] is almost always used in the Bible to describe God himself. Other times it is used to describe military help, such as reinforcements, without which the battle would be lost. To “help” someone, then, is to make up what is lacking in him with your strength. Woman was made to be a “strong helper.”
Far from being a word that diminishes woman’s worth, “strong helper” elevates the significance and importance of woman.
Bride of Christ Emulator
Strength, however, must not be misused. A woman’s husband is given the title of “head.” This doesn’t imply superiority in essence, but responsibility. The husband is responsible for Christ-like, sacrificial leadership in the family. The wife is to acknowledge this divine ordering and lovingly submit to her husband’s Christ-like headship.
St. Paul writes, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:22–24). “Submission” is daunting for many women today, but as Kathy Keller writes (178):
We, the church, submit to Christ in everything, and the parallel of a wife submitting “everything” to her husband is no longer daunting, since we know what kind of behavior the husband has been called on to imitate. To what role must he submit? To that of a savior, a servant-leader, who uses his authority and power to express a love that doesn’t stop at dying for the beloved.
A wife’s submission is not a sign of weakness or inferiority, but an imaging to the world of the loving submission of Christ’s bride to her Groom. St. Paul calls this imaging a “profound mystery.” It is this profound mystery women have the privilege of portraying to the world. With an appreciation of these divine titles, we are prepared to offer women esteem unrivaled by the world. Any means or method which despises these defining characteristics of women is rejected. The Church values women as women and celebrates their God-given uniqueness. The Church celebrates a woman’s creation in the image of God, her potential as a life-bearer, her esteemed position as a strong helper, and her unique ability to demonstrate to the world the Church’s loving submission to Christ.
With this appreciation will also come appropriate help and counsel for women in need. Crisis pregnancy centers, adoptive services, compassionate counseling, health care that truly appreciates women as women, along with support and encouragement for women, all simply scratch the surface. A deep appreciation for the Creator’s design of womanhood is the “better” that women deserve.
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, is a former board member for the Hausvater Project.