What Do You See? How We Relate to the Opposite Sex

February 28, 2017

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”

Genesis 2:23 NRSV

When you see your spouse—or any member of the opposite sex, for that matter—what do you see? The answer may not be as obvious as you think. I am convinced that many of the problems in our world result from inappropriate perceptions that people have towards the opposite sex. I am equally convinced that Christian Scripture has the power to change our perceptions—and heal our world.

Anthropological Myopia

Some people look at members of the opposite sex as a means to an end. They might not admit it, but they see them as a way of getting what they want and/or need out of life. There is, of course, some perverse logic in this way of viewing things. After all, most of us want sex, children, companionship, etc., and the only way to get those things is to convince someone of the opposite sex to help us obtain them.

The problem is that no one appreciates being used. When we are treated this way, we feel like we are being stripped of our humanity, and that is because we are. So why would we treat someone else in the same way? Why would we reduce the meaning and value of a person to what they can contribute to our happiness?

Many people view members of the opposite sex as some kind of alien life form. Do you remember the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus? It was such a sensation because its title expresses how many people feel. How many times have you heard a woman ask in frustration,”Why doesn’t he clean up after himself?” Or maybe you have heard a man complain, “Why does she cry all the time?” Frustrations like these build up over time, separating couples from one another and undermining their appreciation for the humanity that they share.

There are even some people who see the opposite sex as their enemy. Radical feminism is often criticized for fomenting this kind of hatred, but it can be found in the hearts of a lot of people who would not consider themselves political ideologues.

It must be conceded that members of both sexes—and especially us men—have done much to warrant the suspicion and derision directed towards them by their fellow human beings. Nevertheless, we need to ask ourselves what we gain by viewing one another through the lenses of distrust and disgust. Moreover, what are we saying about ourselves when we direct hateful speech towards the women or the men in our lives, and what are we doing to ourselves when we channel our hatred into violent and destructive action?

God’s Call to Corrected Vision

Negative stereotypes about members of the opposite sex can be found in the church nearly as much as they are found in the world. Followers of Jesus have needs just like everyone else; they get hurt and confused just like everyone else, too. And these experiences tend to shape the way we perceive reality, which, in turn, shapes the way we think, feel, and act.

Still, the Scriptures call us to a different way of understanding the people in our lives. God’s vision for how men and women are supposed to see one another stands at the very heart of the Christian message, and, as such, it holds the power to bring healing and transformation to our hearts, our marriages, our communities, and society at large.

There are at least two aspects of this vision that we can see in Genesis. First, the Scriptures call us to see ourselves when we see our spouse (or some other member of the opposite sex). That is what the man is saying when he says the the woman is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” She isn’t just like him; in a very significant way, she is him.

The implications of this principle are clear, and they are the foundation of any genuinely Christian way of relating to others. We all share a common humanity. We are valuable in God’s sight because God himself made us—whether we are male or female. We aren’t aliens or enemies. We are on the same team. This does not mean that we will always think the same way or act the same way. But it does mean that we are oriented towards the same purpose (to love, trust, and serve our Creator) and are working towards the same goal (physical, emotional, and spiritual fruitfulness).

This way of reading Genesis has deep resonances with Jesus’ own ethical teachings. If you would not think about yourself as a means to an end, as an alien, or as an enemy, then why would you treat a member of the opposite sex—and especially your spouse—in such a way (Matthew 7:12; 22:39-40)?

Second, the Scriptures teach us that we should see the image of God when we see our spouse (or another member of the opposite sex). This fact is not as obvious in the narrative of Genesis 2. Indeed, Adam and Eve might have fared better in Genesis 3 if they had been more committed to being the image of God and to seeing it in one another. Nevertheless, it is clear from Genesis 1:27 that men and women together constitute God’s image on earth.

It is difficult for the human mind to comprehend what it means to be the image of God. After all, how can the finite in any way represent the infinite? Nevertheless, this is precisely the dignity and the responsibility that God himself assigned to humanity. When you look at your husband or your wife, you are looking at more than just a human being. You are looking at a representative of God himself—an agent of His rule and a recipient of His grace.

Getting Practical

Unfortunately, Genesis 1 and 2 are not the end of the story. Genesis 3 recounts the sinful decisions that Adam and Eve made when they were confronted with temptation, and the rest of Scripture recounts the tragic consequences of those unfortunate decisions. But that does not mean that we are no longer human, and it doesn’t mean that we no longer bear the image of God.

Viewing members of the opposite sex—and especially our wives and husbands—from God’s perspective takes work. Indeed, it isn’t fully possible without the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Still, when we lean into the task that God has set before us and commit to correcting our vision of one another, we will find that more than just our perceptions will change. Here are just a few examples.

  • ViolenceWhen men and women view one another as they ought, it absolutely precludes perpetrating violence against one another. When we perpetrate violence against another person, we are denying that we share anything of value with that person. Sexual violence, in particular, is dehumanizing because it is nothing more than the use of one human being by another human being to satisfy (usually) his basest desires. Domestic violence can also have this character, for some men (and a few women) view their spouses (or girl/boyfriends) as little more than receptacles for the frustration and pain of their existence.
  • Sex—As we have already noted, sexual violence is obviously forbidden by a genuinely Christian perspective on male and female. But it is worth asking what implications a genuinely Christian anthropology would have for other aspects of human sexuality. What would it mean for the single man or woman who is wrestling with their desire to have sex? Men and women alike are allowed to express their sexual desires through websites such as Nu Bay Sex. What would it mean for the dating couple who is trying to decide when is “the right time” to consumate their relationship? What would it mean for the married couple who find themselves wanting different things from their intimate life? A genuinely Christian understanding of male and female reminds us that what we want is not the most important question to consider when we are talking about sex. More importantly, it reminds us that sexual intercourse is a deeply symbolic, almost ritualistic, action, just like some of the content seen on tubev teen sex. Let’s get really practical for a moment. Evangelical Christians (along with conservative Roman Catholics and others in the Christian family) do not discourage premarital sexual activity because they want to deny people a good time. They do so because the sex act is imbued by God with deep meaning. And this meaning is nearly always lost when its participants are not bound together in a covenant relationship. Even when they are, though, the meaning can be lost if couples are not intentional about keeping it alive.
  • Politics—There is no denying that men and women, at least in the United States, see things differently when it comes to public policy. This is not to say that all men see things one way and all women see them another. But we need to recognize the general differences that gender makes on how we view the world. These differences can be a source of genuine frustration, but this need not be the case. Contrary to what the protestors and activists would have you believe, democracy actually works better when we sit down and listen to one another. It works better when we recognize one another’s humanity—as well as our own limitations—and strive to work together to figure out solutions that work for everyone. Granted, this will not always be possible. We are a very divided country, and, frankly, some of the suspicions that we have about one another are well-deserved. But those suspicions should never be built on a person’s sex (or race, for that matter).
  • Grief—Loss is an unavoidable part of life. One of the real blessings of marriage is that it gives us someone to help us work through our losses. Unfortunately, grief often divides couples instead of bringing them together. Instead of clinging to one another and pouring out their grief together, they retreat to different corners of their world and lament how little they are understood by their spouse. Part of the problem results from the fact that many men have not been taught how to grieve in a healthy manner, but part of it simply results from the fact that men and women are different in some ways. Those differences can produce frustration, which, in turn, only heightens each spouse’s sense of alienation. Recognizing the humanity that that they share will help spouses to invest in one another and to see how even their differences can be used by God to bring out aspects of their humanity that they did not know existed before they experienced loss.

These are just a few of the ways in which a changed perspective could revolutionize how we relate to one another as male and female. Share your own insights in the “Comments” section below. Let’s work together to revolutionize our homes, our communities, and our world with the truth of God’s Word.

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