The Creation Foundation
For our time together in God’s Word today we’re going to study the implications of Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading from Mark 10, specifically these words:
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Mark 10:2–12)
We don’t have time to appreciate the fuller context of what’s going on here because these words of Jesus are going to require all our time. In fact, all our time will be focused on these questions: Why and how does Jesus’ use of these verses from Genesis matter to us today? What does it teach us about marriage, about identity, about sexual ethics? And here’s what we’re going to find, Jesus is teaching us how to think about these things. He teaching us how to answer the following questions: Who am I? What is marriage? How do I know what is ethical when it comes to sexual matters? All of which are incredibly relevant questions today.
God’s Design in Gender and Marriage
Let’s start where Jesus starts – in the beginning. Why do you think Jesus starts there? What is it that God teaches us there? What phrase gets repeated over and over again in the creation narrative? It was good. Then, it was very good. Now, that’s a fascinating word because it carries with it more than an ethical connotation, so good vs. bad or wrong, but it also carries with it a aesthetic connotation, so good as in pleasant or beautiful. So, God is saying, this is good, this is pleasing, this is beautiful.
So Jesus takes us there. If you want to know foundationally what God considers good, this is where you go. As a side note, this is why churches who are embracing the ethics of the sexual revolution are distancing themselves from or outright rejecting Genesis. For the sexual revolution to move into the church the creation narrative of Genesis must move out. Now, without going into details on the historicity of Genesis, there’s at least one glaring problem with rejecting it: Jesus says, In the beginning God did it this way. Jesus seems to believe the Genesis narrative. The sexual revolution rejects it. One of them is wrong. I doubt it’s Jesus.
So, here’s what God calls good: male and female. Now, we need to appreciate this. These are creational, foundational words. These are identity words. To be more specific, these are ontological words. So, ontology has to do with the beingness of a thing. So, what is it at its core? What is the ground of its identity? When you strip away all the nonessential stuff, what are you left with? That’s what we’re talking about here.
God created male and female. To be a bit more blunt: God did not create a spectrum ranging from male to female. He created male and female and we are male or female all the way down to our cells. Now, there are thousands of ways for males and females to express themselves. Males can swing a hammer or wield a pen. Women can rock a baby or take your blood pressure. Males can butt heads in football or entertain people on stage. Females can wear pink dresses or blue jeans. But when you get down to ontology, to the essence of our being, we are either male or female. There is no third option.
To be a bit more direct: biology informs identity. Our bodies actually speak to who we are and what God intends for us. Our bodies teach us why a male and a female are joined in marriage. And our bodies teach us about sexual ethics because male and female are designed to fit together in a special union. And this union regularly produces offspring that must be cared for by this couple, and who is best cared for by this couple, by this father and mother. And anyone who knows anything about this union knows that it is designed for this, that these bodies are aimed toward this.
Now, I don’t have to tell you that we live in a world that is actively rejecting this. They are actively rejecting creation. They are actively rejecting the ontology of male and female. They are actively rejecting what the body is teaching. And they have some colorful words for those of us teach what God’s Word says about the place of the body in identity. And while that grieves us, we’re not going to return fire. Despite their name-calling, we are teaching what we’re teaching because we truly believe that what God calls good is actually good, that it is good for us. It would be unloving in the highest degree not to teach what God calls good and not to teach what is good for us, not to teach what will result in human flourishing.
But here’s what’s happening. Many people have discovered that their desires don’t align with their bodies. So now we’re talking about sexual orientation and gender identity. We’re going to take these one at a time and consider them in light of what Jesus is teaching us about our created natures. We want to ask how our created natures bring clarity to some of the burning questions of our day.
Gender Identity and God’s Design
Let’s start with gender identity. What happens if we wake up and find that our thoughts and feelings about our identity don’t align with our bodies? So, I’m biologically male, but I don’t feel like a male. Then what? Is the body wrong? Can a female be stuck in a male body or vice versa?
Now, just as an aside here, we need to appreciate why this is such an emotional issue for some people. At its core, it’s about identity. So, suggesting that a person has grounded his or her identity in the wrong place is a big deal and is likely to be met with stiff resistance because the person feels personally attacked. Now, we are not aiming to attack anyone. Our goal is to ground our identities where God does because He has told us that this is good and we trust Him. We actually believe that God has spoken truth, that He loves us, and that what he says is good and is what is good for us. Further, we don’t believe the body is the problem, and that will become clearer in just a moment. So the motivation is love. We want what is good for people and we believe God has defined good in the creation narrative.
Now, before we get into gender identity, we’re going to step outside of this emotionally charged issue to consider a few parallel examples. I am six feet tall (on a good day). You can measure me and verify it. But what if I believe I’m 6’5”? Where’s the error? I’m 40 years old. You can talk to my parents or look at my birth certificate to verify it. But what if I sincerely believe I’m 21? Where’s the error? I’m Caucasian. That’s pretty obvious just by looking at me. But what if I truly believe I’m black? Where’s the error? I’m approximately 180 pounds. You can put me on a scale and see. But what if I believe I’m morbidly obese and need to go on a starvation diet? Where’s the error?
Now, let’s consider gender identity. I’m biologically male. But what if I believe I’m a woman? Do you see? In every other example we rightly see that the error was in my thinking, in my beliefs about myself. We rightly see that I have disregarded verifiable reality. And if I truly believed those things, then you would bend over backwards to help me align my beliefs with reality. But what you wouldn’t do is blame my body. So, the problem here is with our thoughts and desires.
And let’s not get bent out of shape over this because this is precisely what Scripture teaches. Remember Genesis 3? We are fallen. Our natures are bent. Our thoughts are warped. And this affects every last one of us. In no way is this unique to individuals who struggle with gender identity or same-sex attraction. All of us are beset by bent desires. There are no exceptions here. So, it is not appropriate to single out anyone over their bent desires, to somehow suggest that they are different from or worse than us. All of us lack the glory of God. All of us are bent inwards upon ourselves and our desires. All of us have holes in our boat. All of us need a Savior.
So we don’t single people out. And we don’t blame the body. We don’t call the body a lie. Besides, while we can change a body’s appearance; we can’t change ontology. In other words, we can make a male look like a female or vice versa, but we can’t make a male into a female or vice versa. Our created nature won’t let us. You can wrap an orange peel around and apple, but it won’t make it an orange.
Further, and this is the real tragedy here, blaming the body short circuits true help. It short circuits true help by ignoring the underlying thoughts and feelings, by ignoring many of the deeper issues that are at work in people who struggle with gender identity. For some it’s simply a search for acceptance. Others have been influenced by peers. Others still have experienced trauma or rejection specifically as a male or female and have dissociated from their bodies to escape it. And this is being ignored in the headlong rush to pin the blame on the body.
In fact, there’s a growing number of individuals who have de-transitioned, so returned to their biological sex, who are starting to talk about how the physical alteration of their bodies didn’t help because it didn’t address the emotional turmoil they were experiencing on the inside. It didn’t address the false beliefs and false ideas. It didn’t address the depression, the co-morbid disorders, the dissociative issues.
And make no mistake, this is where the problem lies. In the headlong rush to embrace the sexual revolution, these issues are not being addressed and people are being hurt. Blaming the body and changing the body won’t heal the mind; it doesn’t even attempt to help the mind. To speak theologically, claiming the problem is what God has called good won’t result in good.
Takeaways on Gender
So, a few quick takeaways before we turn to same-sex attraction. First, we need to learn how to speak in creational language. We are male. We are female. This is our creational identity and it is good. Because we are fallen creatures, we may find that our desires, even our self-concept, are out of line with our creational identity. The call is to trust God, to trust His Word, to trust what He created is good and to live in line with His Word.
Second, we need to walk in love and extend compassion to the struggling. Individuals struggling with gender identity are welcome in the church, just like people who struggle with dissociative disorders and depression are welcome in the church. We’re not going to endorse transitioning from male to female or vice versa, and we’re certainly not going to develop a liturgy to celebrate it as are many liberal church bodies today. We are going to love the struggling, though. We are going to listen. And we are going to try and help them address what they’re struggling with on the inside.
Third, we need to guard against gender pigeonholing and against all the negative ways we speak about boys and girls, men and women, who don’t fit our preferred image of male or female. Like we said earlier, there are thousands of ways to live as male and female. We simply cannot mock or laugh at someone who doesn’t fit our stereotype. We cannot call them sexually charged words because they don’t fit our image of what a boy or girl should look like or do. This is deeply wounding and causes them to question their identity. This has to stop.
Same-Sex Attraction and God’s Design
Okay, let’s turn to same-sex issues. Everything we’ve covered so far applies here as well. We are male or female. Whether we marry or not, Genesis makes it clear that the sexes are complimentary and designed to be joined together in a procreative, one-flesh union in marriage and only in marriage. Now, this doesn’t mean that every union will produce a child in marriage, but it does tell us that this is a good result, a designed result, of the union.
But what do we do if we find that our desires don’t align with our created nature, if our desires are for union with someone of the same sex? Well, let’s ask in other contexts. What should I do if I desire to join in this special male/female union with a woman who isn’t my wife? What should I do if I desire to live with a woman who isn’t my wife? What should I do? Scripture is unequivocal: die to these desires. They are contrary to what God calls good. They are contrary to what is good for us. Pursuing these desires will not fulfill us, it will not draw us closer to God, it will not move us to glorify the good design of the Creator. Pursuing these desires will bring destruction and death. Death to these desires, however, will mean life in God and His will.
And here are the questions that emerge: Do I trust God? Do I trust His will is good? Do I trust that it is good for me? Do I trust God’s Word? Now, do you feel the rebellion bubbling up? Do you feel the resentment? Do you feel yourself trying to justify your desires, trying to explain why you need to act on them? Do you feel yourself wanting to push the creation narrative aside? That’s sin. And it is in rebellion against God. It screams at you, “This is what I want! This is what I need! If I don’t get this desire filled, I’m going to die! Whoever is denying me this desire is cruel and unloving.” That’s precisely what Scripture says sinners do.
So we crown our desires king. We dismiss our bodies as irrelevant to our identities. And instead of doing the difficult work of sorting out our desires – in same-sex attraction, how the strong desire for acceptance as a male was unmet and then sexualized in puberty, how the desire for loving companionship as a woman was unmet in a man and sought in a woman – instead of doing this incredibly difficult work, we simply ignore, dismiss, or reinterpret the creation narrative to align with our bent desires.
Remember what we talked about a couple weeks ago? We asked, “Is what I desire good? Is what I’m willing to do to satisfy this desire good?” How would we know? Can we trust our hearts? Is it the source of truth? Is it objective? No. It will lie to you. Scripture minces no words on this: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…” (Jeremiah 17:9). So, how do we know what is good?
We absolutely must look beyond our hearts to discover what is good and God tells us in creation: male and female; this is good. Marriage between male and female is good. The procreative, one-flesh union between a male and female in marriage is good. The family that grows out of this union is good. The culture that is built on this family is good. The culture that is built on these goods is good.
Yes, we fall short. Yes, we fail. Yes, our desires drive us to pursue what is contrary to what is good. And, yes, it makes a mess out of our lives. So what do we do? God has established a church specifically for sinners to gather around His means of grace to receive forgiveness. So, yes, you may enter these walls guilty. Yes, you may have your guilt exposed within these walls, just like you may have your illness exposed in the doctor’s office.
Conclusion: The Good News
But here’s the good news: you don’t have to leave guilty. God is forgiving sin here, your sin! He’s removing guilt here, your guilt! You leave here a forgiven sinner. You leave here with forgiven sinners. We’re headed back out there to give her another go. We’re headed back out there with our eyes on the good: from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ And this is good. And when we grasp this and embrace the fullness of its implications we will truly flourish as male and female.
We have to stop here, but there’s so much more to say on the topic. For now, though, let’s all appreciate the creation foundation God gives. It is good. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Editorial Note: This article is an abbreviation of a sermon preached on October 7, 2018.
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, is a former board member for the Hausvater Project.
TAGS: Marriage, Male and Female