When I was much younger, it was fashionable to say -- as many of my teachers in said -- that gender was just something about the surface. Being male or female was just an accident of tissues, not something that really made a core difference. It was only a cultural bias, we were told, that made a big deal out of being male or female. I suppose at the time (in the late 70's) this was a natural outgrowth of the push for women's liberation, equal pay for equal work, and all those worthy goals that I fully support. But as in so many cases, the pendulum swung so far that we said things that were just unbelievable -- like, "boys and girls are exactly the same, it is just their plumbing that is different." Hogwash.
"So God created human beings in his own image.In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them."
Once we get into the version of humans being created in Genesis 2 things will look a little different -- we'll see the man created first and the woman later, and this will lead us to a whole new set of reflections about relationships. Even Genesis 2, as we will see, gives a sense of balance and equality between genders. It is important to recognize that Genesis first mentions gender in a symmetrical, balanced way -- not in a hierarchical system in which males are inherently better than females or vice versa. We need each other and we are interrelated in the plan of God. Gender bias, male domination, misogyny, and many other evils will appear in scripture -- but not here. In our creation we are together, united in bearing the image of God.
What do we do with the God-given gift of gender? God gives clear instructions: "Be fruitful and multiply." Fruitfulness is an idea that will come back again and again. Then we are told to "exercise dominion" or "rule" over the rest of creation. While our fallen minds immediately jump to the concept of domination, this idea doesn't necessarily stick to these verses. If we are created in the image of God, what does it mean to rule? What does it mean to exercise dominion -- literally, "lordship" over creation?
It means that we exercise authority in the same way God exercises authority. How does this happen? Jesus is our example. He is the "visible expression of the invisible God" (see Colossians 1:15). How did Jesus exercise authority? Take a look at John 13. Take a look at Philippians 2. What we see is that because he is Lord, Jesus is willing to empty himself for the sake of his beloved creation. He is willing to pick up a towel and do the servant's job. His lordship is based on loving servanthood. When we believe that our "dominion" over creation means that we can rape the land, strip mine the minerals, abuse the atmosphere, and build shopping malls on the wetlands, we have totally missed what it means to be created in the image of God. Yes, God will allow us to behave in these ways. But we will reap what we sow.
In the same way, when we look at what it means to be male and female, we treat each other in this same sense of loving servanthood. We tend each other and nurture each other as the bearers of the image of God. We get down on our knees with a towel and a basin. We empty ourselves, not because we are worthless -- far from it -- but because this is the character of the God whose image we bear.