We began a new series this week, looking at God’s design for man and woman. And what we found is that figuring that out is a lot harder these days than we ever imagined. For most of human history, it’s been “male” and “female.” Having those two things work together was hard enough. But in our day and age, it’s far more complicated. Everything’s in flux. Just listen to Lady Gaga’s song, Born This Way, and you’ll see that it’s not just “male” and “female” anymore.
Want a couple of examples of the confusion? An article in The New Yorker magazine entitled “What Does Manhood Mean in 2013?”—citing research by the J. Walter Thompson marketing and advertising firm—said that not only is there no consensus about what defines a man, but total confusion abounds on how to even go about arriving at a consensus. The impact: Millennial men today are more frustrated than any previous generation with not knowing what it means to be a man or even whether it’s ok to be a man.
Take a gander at the new admission standards for Mount Holyoke College—an exclusively all-female university up in Massachusetts—introduced for the 2014-15 academic year. I simply quote their document:
"Mount Holyoke College welcomes applications for our undergraduate program from any qualified student who is female or identifies as a woman. As a pioneer in higher education, Mount Holyoke remains committed to its historic mission of providing access to excellence for academically talented women regardless of socioeconomic background. The College values each student's development, both academically and personally, and recognizes that self-identity may change over time.”
The school goes on to answer the question, “Who can apply, based on these new standards?” Again, I quote from their document:
"The following academically qualified students can apply for admission consideration:
Biologically born female; identifies as a woman
Biologically born female; identifies as a man
Biologically born female; identifies as other/they/ze
Biologically born female; does not identify as either woman or man
Biologically born male; identifies as a woman
Biologically born male; identifies as other/they/ze and when 'other/they' identity includes woman.
Biologically born with both male and female anatomy (Intersex); identifies as a woman.”
Ultimately, the only person who should not apply for admittance is someone who is born a biological male and identifies as a man. However, the school states that, if someone is admitted—say, someone biologically male who identifies as woman--and later changes their identity to “man”--he is not excluded from continuing to attend. Confusing? You bet.
And this is just one example of what is playing out all over the world, including in our own Fairfax County. You are aware, are you not, of the debate about the use of restrooms in the County, aren’t you?
So, how are we Christians, who believe in the word of God, to respond to this confusion, to those who struggle with gender confusion? The answer is simple, actually. We should respond the same way that God responds to us with the things with which we struggle—with truth, compassion, and love. And we have to because this is heartbreaking stuff. I brought in testimony from Dr. Paul McHugh, the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, whose extensive research has concluded that gender identity confusion is a psychiatric issue and not something people should be left to decide on their own. This, from the University whose hospital was in the forefront of sex reassignment surgeries dating back to the 1970s.
Dr. McHugh sat down with the individuals who had those surgeries to ascertain whether it fulfilled them, satisfied them, and fixed what was broken. What he discovered was devastating. Virtually all the males who had had the surgery later identified themselves as lesbians because they subsequently found out that they were more attracted to women, after all. By the way, the University’s hospital no longer performs these surgeries, based on the latest research. Those who have had these reassignment surgeries are 20 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. He also found that 80% of children expressing gender confusion will simply outgrow it. He claims that overzealous parents who push for gender reassignment treatment end up causing lifelong fear, anxiety, and heartbreak for their kids that is exponentially worse for them than the confusion they experienced as kids.
Why do I bring Dr. McHugh into this discussion? Well, primarily because he’s not a Christian or an elder at some church. And because he is brilliant. Johns Hopkins does not hire morons to lead their departments.
Given all this, how do we enter this confusion and think clearly about it? Well, we need to start where God starts, so we’ll make this easy. First book of the bible, first chapter of the first book of the bible, and the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of the bible. Genesis 1:1. We start there because we’ve got to build a base, a foundation, for even beginning to wade through the mess our culture has made of this issue. We’ve got to get back to basics.
Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
What can we discern from this one verse?
1. There was a beginning, and there was something that was before the beginning. Something that caused the beginning to begin. Before there was time, something, something made time start ticking.
2. That something, that someone, that caused time to begin was God. He’s the only one who existed before the beginning.
3. This God created. That is, He made whatever He made out of nothing, which is what the Hebrew word for “created” means. And to create is an exclusively God action in scripture. Now, to create something out of nothing makes Him incredibly wealthy, doesn’t it? I mean, if you could take the nothing in your hand right now and make anything you wanted, and as much of that anything as you wanted, you’d be wealthy, right?
4. What did God create? The heavens. OK, in addition to time, God manufactures space, the expanse of the heavens. So, this God is incredibly powerful. We know from verses like Job 26:14 that everything you and I see in the universe is only revealing the very tip of God’s power and might and majesty. He’s so much more than everything He has made.
5. We’re told that God made the earth. We’re told that on this little planet in this universe will play out the greatest drama in the universe and that it involves man and woman, creatures made in God’s image.
So, from this one verse, what can we conclude? Well, we know something about origin—we know we are created. We didn’t used to be something else and now we’re this. We were made people—male and female. That makes God the center of the universe, not man and women, despite the fact that God does appear to have a special role in the created universe for man and woman.
We also know that, if we’re created by a Creator, a purpose exists for us. We’re not just floating through the cosmos aimlessly. And we know there is a design, that we were made to be something, to do something, to accomplish something. And the revelation of those things are to be found in what the Creator, this God of ours, says it is.
We also know that if God is God that what He made was thoroughly thought through, that He didn’t make a mistake, that nothing that has ensued since He created was a surprise. A God who creates time would certainly know from the beginning of time to the end of time what was going to come to pass inside of that time window He created.
This one verse also lets us know that God knew from the start everything there was to know, and because of that, that never was there a need for a course correction, never a need to change His mind. He was right about everything before the beginning, right about everything at the beginning, and He’s right about everything right now. So, our job is to figure out what God says we are, both male and female, to glean from God’s word what God says we are to be and how He designed us to function. In this series, we are going to buy into Psalm 16:11, which tells us that God is the one who makes known to us the path of life, that in His presence there is fullness of joy, that at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. We’re going to trust Him, as our Creator, and be prepared to marvel at His beautiful design for men and women.