Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mirroring God's Image

At a recent pastor’s conference, evangelist John Piper shared his view that God gave Christianity a “masculine feel”. He insinuates that because God chose to reveal himself as a male, because God chose only male priests and prophets in the Old Testament, because Jesus’ 12 most famous disciples were male, and so forth, that the churches and families that will flourish are those that likewise have a similar “masculine feel”—i.e., male headship.

You can imagine these words have set off quite a response, to which I am about to add my own. As the husband of a pastor, you can probably guess where I am going to come down on this issue. But I should acknowledge that there was a time not all that long ago where I might have been closer to Piper's views than I am today. It's funny how God can use our life experience to radically change how we think about certain issues. It was easy for me to take a certain "stance" on the matter when I was single. But when I actually got to know a strong female leader, and ultimately married her, that obviously changed things for me.

Piper admits that God created both men and women in "his image" (magnanimous of him since the passage below from Genesis tells us so) but then he goes on to say that the fact that he named them as he did suggests this “masculine feel” is, if you will, built in to the very fabric of our human essence.

Then God said, let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27

Piper attests that this arrangement isn’t a bad thing at all—in fact it’s ultimately God-ordained and best for churches (and families) to flourish.

Isn’t it funny how, throughout human history, the oppressor has a habit of telling the oppressed that they are actually better off the way they are?

I’m quite sure that slave-owners justified the continuation of that age-old institution using similar exegesis. We know that some Southerners used the Bible verses that command slaves to obey their masters to justify maintaining the status quo.

Abraham Lincoln once quipped that, during the Civil War, both Union and Confederate Soldiers read the same Bible and prayed to the same God. In other words, both sides tried to claim that God was “on their side” in the conflict—when the reality is God, who abhors war, wouldn’t have chosen either side. Looking at it another way, God was bigger than either side.

Likewise, neither Piper nor I have the market cornered with regard to discerning God's word on the issue before us. We are both followers of Christ, we read the same Bible, we pray to the same God, but we reach very different conclusions when it comes to interpreting these scriptures and how they should be interpreted.

I understand humanity to be created in God’s image. Both men and women reflect God’s image in distinctive ways. We’re all like mirrors[1], each carefully constructed to reflect the divine image; no two are exactly the same. When we do what we were put on this planet to do, we “reflect” God to the world. To say it another way, we reveal glory—the essence of who someone is—both God’s and ours.

The glory of God is a “fully human being”.

Adapted from St. Irenaeus and N.T. Wright

Now, let’s take the mirror metaphor a little further...

There was only one person whose mirror reflected God perfectly—Jesus. The rest of us have scratches on the surface of our mirror. Living life on imperfect (but good!) planet Earth guarantees we will have them. Thus, you, me, and every person on Earth are imperfect God-reflectors. Even if every God-reflector on the planet joined together, we would still fail to capture the full image of God. (The Eastern Orthodox say that while God’s divine energy interacts with creation constantly, God’s divine essence always remain utterly distinct and separate from what we can “see”.)

If life on Earth already guarantees we’ll get scratches on our mirror, does it then make sense to say that fully one-half of all human beings have a design flaw built in by the Creator? (That would kind of make NASA’s Hubble Telescope fiasco pale by comparison!)

Piper seems to be saying: “Yes, we’re all in God’s image, but if you happen to be born with two X-chromosones, you begin life with a pre-installed disadvantage. I’m afraid your mirror can’t possibly be as reflective as your male counterparts and you’ll need to defer to them to “see” clearly.”

Really?! Have you ever met my wife? Have you seen her in the pulpit? Or have you seen many other women I know in both secular and sacred roles? These confident, assertive, and intelligent women would certainly take issue with Piper's flippant assessment; and so do I.

In fact it's probably safe to say that the widespread perception that the Church doesn’t let women lead—even if not true in many cases—is probably a big reason that many of these women I speak of would have little interest in going to church.

Can you blame them—when Piper gets this kind of news coverage for what he says? They assume Piper represents us all, and they say, “No thanks.” It just confirms what they already thought was true about “the Church”.

Personally, I think we need—and God desires—all the mirrors we can get; we need the reflections of both men and women. This to me is why a diverse Christian community is so important. The Jesus Way was never meant to be practiced in isolation. When we get together, our mirrors begin to reflect off each other and when we turn them toward God, and our “focusing power” is far greater than when we are by ourselves. Our image of God and of ourselves becomes clearer. We can begin to see past beyond the scratches on our souls and understand who God has created us to be. Why would we want to limit the potential of the Body of Christ by suggesting that women aren’t quite on par with men?

I believe the Church is at its best when there is a healthy mix of male and female leadership. While I do feel that many churches currently languish for lack of male leaders, I don’t suggest as some do, that females are only stepping up to lead because males have abdicated their “God-ordained” roles. Females are leading because that’s what God has called and continues to call them to do.

From Deborah, to Esther, to Mary Magdalene, to Priscilla; from Perpetua, to Therese of Lisieux, to Mother Teresa, to my wife; down through the ages God has called and continues to call women to lead.

I am proud to be the husband of a pastor; I am proud of what my wife does and who she is. I would never ask her to put aside her God-given identity as pastor simply because she is female. I do my best to support and encourage her as she lives out her call to serve God. She in turn supports me as I seek to discern and live out my calling. As spouses, we are mirrors into one another’s souls. When we are at our best, we see ourselves more clearly through the other’s eyes. Together we focus on our Creator, reflect upon one another, and seek to discover the glory that is within us, our children, and in the world around us.

[1] I believe N.T. Wright also developed this metaphor but what appears here is my own reflections.

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