Many years ago I was at a beach mission on the far north coast. I have fond memories of teaching little kids ‘My God is so big’; of singing with gusto in the massive tent as we washed up after dinner; of visiting local residents and sharing life with them. Another distinct memory at beach mission was an event that helped me to begin to understand what it means to work together as men and women.
I was moving a table in the massive tent and a guy came up to me and offered to help. I was quite adamant. “That’s fine, I can do it”. I was trying to be patient but I was thinking, “Who does he think I am? Does he not think I’m capable to move a table? Just because I’m a woman!” He said to me, “It’s not that I don’t that think you can do it, but I want to serve you.” That was quite a humbling experience!
Different by Design has reminded me, once again, of the goodness of being made differently as men and women. We live in a world where feminism has reshaped our thinking about who we are as men and women and seeks to undermine our differences. Being a Christian chaplain at a university means that this topic comes up a lot! These educated, capable women are told that they can do it all and in fact, they have a right to do so! This book helpfully shows how this worldview could actually be damaging our families and our churches.
Different by Design shows how our differences as men and women are not only biological but essentially theological. The relationship between men and women is actually a reflection of who our Creator is. In God himself (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) there is perfect unity and yet diversity and perfect equality and yet order. What a privilege to reflect God’s image in the world as we relate as men and women! I’ve been reminded that this isn’t something to be ashamed of but to be thankful for.
“To be made in the image of God necessitates being made in relationship with others, just as God himself is in relationship with other members of the godhead.”
Carrie Sandom offers such a thorough and engaging exegesis of Genesis (it’s worth reading just for this!) to show what it means to be men and women, distinct yet dependent on each other. She shows the goodness of God’s order in Adam leading and Eve helping him in the task of having dominion over creation, and yet how devastating it is that Adam and Eve overturned the order in which God has made them. We are no longer complementing each other but competing with each other, we are no longer appreciating our equality under God but seeking to be supreme over each other. And I think we can clearly see this in our world today! The world wants us to believe that women are superior to men and that they can do things better than men. Yet I was reminded that God is not pleased when we despise or belittle or mistreat the opposite sex (page 60). We are not supposed to be competing with each other, but being thankful for each other and for the different roles we play.
I was particularly struck in the book by the way that Jesus perfectly exemplified how to treat men and women, with respect and dignity but also understanding their different roles in the church and in the family. He called men to follow Him and to be leaders of God’s people, while He treated women with respect and high regard and understood their physical and emotional vulnerability, “Here, then, is complementarianism demonstrated by the Master of its design.” As we are transformed by the Spirit of God, we are to be people who reflect the Lord Jesus. This has opened up new possibilities for me to examine the life of Jesus in the gospels to show how men and women are to be treated.
Different by Design goes on to show how this redeemed design as men and women is to be played out in our families, churches and workplaces. I particularly appreciated Sandom’s thoughts on the relationships of men and women in the workplace, which is often a tricky issue to work out. She says that the order of relationship is particular to relationships where there is a covenant in place, “Within the familial or covenant contexts of marriage and the church, there is a diversity of role that demonstrates the relationships within the relationships within the covenant community of God Himself” (page 191). This means that this order doesn’t necessarily apply in the workplace environment, and yet she helpfully suggests that, as women, we need to understand that the men that we work with have positions of authority in the church and in the family and we need to be careful not to undermine them.
Sandom asks some thought provoking questions throughout the book. She asks whether “our (women’s) eagerness to help and be involved actually makes it harder for men to lead us” (page 61). She reflects on the trend that less and less men are in churches and ponders the possibility of women actually driving them away. It makes me question whether I am encouraging the leadership of men in my church or am I taking over their responsibilities and not giving them enough freedom to lead? How am I helping them to fulfill their God given responsibilities of leadership?
I’ve come a long way since my early beach mission days. I now know the privilege of being made as a woman, to be unique from men and yet to complement men. What a privilege to be made in God’s image. I’m thankful for books like this that have helped me along the way and offer such a rich biblical theology of the relationship between men and women. At university, I often recommend God’s Good Design by Claire Smith but now I have another book to recommend! And as we ponder these things and learn from the wisdom of God, ‘may we learn to serve the God who loves us, and forever rejoice in the knowledge that He has made us different by design.”
About this month's contributor, Elissa Moran
Elissa has the privilege of working as a Christian chaplain at UNSW. She loves chatting to students about Jesus and training students to keep serving him joyfully. She loves to play any kind of sport (although, frisbee is her favourite!) and to spend time in the bush. Other than that, she’s also very happy to have a nice cup of leaf tea while reading the newspaper.