Male and Female: A Perfect Pairing?

Why did God make us male and female? Surely God could have devised some other manner of human life, made in his image, that did not require two sexes. Why Adam and Eve? Why husband and wife, father and mother, XY and XX?


[Note: this essay was first published by Ethika Politika and is reprinted with permission.]


This article was born of a stumbling block, perhaps the greatest stumbling block of our time: “In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). How can male-and-female creation possibly be a tiny picture of God, who is Spirit (John 4:24)? In a culture that sees sexual differentiation as an embarrassment, why do Christians see it as a glory?

The answer may sound strange at first.  It starts big and then gets small. It starts with the Trinity, and considers male-and-female creation in light of the Trinity. It then turns to Christ and his church, that heavenly marriage where the great purposes of male-and-female creation are revealed and fulfilled. The answer is that sexual differentiation was God’s original idea created so that we might join God in bringing glory to God.

So before we marvel at the glory that is Adam and Eve, let’s first step back and marvel at the triune God, and then Christ and his church. Only then will we get to the bottom of it: Why did God make us male and female?

Made for Glory

God made us male and female for the same reason God does anything—for the maximization of his own glory. “Bring my sons and daughters from afar, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isa. 43:6-7). The Didache puts it this way: “You, Almighty Master, created all things for your name’s sake … to you be the glory forever.”

What is God’s goal? What does God love most? Because God’s existence does not depend on anything outside of himself there can be only one answer. God’s goal is … God. God loves God most. Does this make God an egocentric narcissist who is ultimately incapable of love? Not at all. God is not “self-centered” in human terms; God is God-centered in God terms, and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God’s very being is an eternal exchange of love—Father loving Son, Son loving Father, in the binding love of the Holy Spirit. God’s ultimate goal is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. To borrow from Ignatius of Loyola, everything God does is “for the greater glory of God.” The Persons of the most adorable Trinity are eternally and passionately in love with one another. God’s love for us is grounded in God’s love for himself, and this makes his love for us so divine.

Ultimately, the best gift God can give you is himself. “God so loved the world that he gave.” What did God give? “He gave his only Son” (John 3:16). We were made for God. “God has made us for himself,” says St. Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.” In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Redemption means that God, acting as God truly does, gives us nothing less than himself. The gift of God is God—he who as the Holy Spirit is communion with us.”

All human love is needy, dependent, finite. Only God is God. He alone creates. Everything else is creation. He alone has always been. Everything else has a starting point. He alone is supremely capable of love, because he alone is God. Out of the overflow of his self-love, the triune God is able to love us.

This truth first stabbed my heart when I was reading Cardinal John Henry Newman: “God was all-complete, all-blessed in Himself, but it was His will to create a world for His glory … We are all created to His glory.” It was fanned into a flame when my favorite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, answered the question, Why did God create? with this reflection:

[God] meant the world to give him praise, reverence, and service; to give him glory. It is like a garden, a field he sows: what should it bear him? praise, reverence, and service; it should yield him glory … It is a book he has written, of the riches of his knowledge, teaching endless truths, full of lessons of wisdom, a poem of beauty: what is it about? His praise, the reverence due to him, the way to serve him; it tells him of his glory.

When it comes to gender, our first impulse can be to want God to make a big deal out of us. We want him to make us the center of attention. But male-and-female creation is not about us. It’s about God. When God made Adam and Eve, he made a “praise, reverence, and service; it should yield him glory.” Sexual differentiation “is like a garden, a field [God] sows.” St. Paul says “You are God’s field” (1 Cor. 3:9). As men and women, then, we were made for growing something beautiful, for bringing God praise. Until we get this right, we will never get human sexuality right.

Made to Show the Trinity

Because “God is Spirit” (John 4:24), it is sometimes suggested that male-and-female creation cannot be a reliable reflection of God (Gen. 1:27). It has even been suggested that God cannot really be “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19) since these terms are anthropomorphic and patriarchal.

Yet God really is “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3). He would be Father even if he never created the world. His Fatherhood is not a borrowed idea from his creation. It is essential to his eternal Person. Likewise, the Son’s Sonship is of eternity. Even if the Trinity had never made the world, the Godhead would still be “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This is God’sname, God’s identity. When God revealed his name, he revealed himself fully. And from all eternity, before creation, God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Trinity is the ultimate reality. We are the imitation. So how does male-and-female creation reflect the Trinity?

The answer is found in the family: one husband, one wife, and their children. The family is the fullest expression of male-and-female creation. According to Pope Benedict XVI, the Trinity is a “communion of love, and the family.” Pope John Paul II put it this way: “the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God Himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of His life.” The tri-unity of the Godhead is not biological, but theological. Yet made in God’s image, husband and wife—two creatures of equal dignity, sharing the same human nature, held together in a bond of love, a love that overflows into fruitfulness and creativity, bringing forth life—are a tiny snapshot of the divine life. The family is an icon of the Trinity because God is a family.

How the family is an image of God is a mystery, but that does not make it less true. Gerard Manley Hopkins notices that by mystery most people mean an “interesting uncertainty,” but for the Christian, a mystery means an “incomprehensible certainty.”A mystery is a reality that we cannot wrap our minds around. We can’t fully grasp it, but it remains a reality.

Sexual differentiation is one such reality. God gave us the mystery of male-and-female creation and its vital outcome of children so that we might reflect the Trinity’s unity-in-diversity, creativity, and love. Even more, God gave us the family in order to lead us into the family of God, the church, which is the body and bride of Christ himself.

Something of the Prophetic

Why did God make Adam before he made Eve? Why not make them at the same time, and thereby avoid all of this “headship” and “source” business?

A good place to answer this question is in the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo captured salvation history from beginning to end in pictures. Strangely, the center point of the entire ceiling is not a picture of the Trinity or the Cross, but a picture of God making Adam’s wife. Smack dab in the middle of this epic masterpiece, in the sanctum sanctorum, is a picture of … Eve. It is the crowning glory of the whole work, the center around which every other scene radiates.

Pause with me for just a moment and look closer at this central image. Michelangelo’s Adam sleeps against adead tree, an odd thing to find in paradise. Eve is drawn from Adam’s side in a posture of prayer to God. Why? Because Christ, the “second Adam,” would someday “fall asleep” against a dead tree so that the church might be drawn from his side as the “second Eve.” God destined the church to be His bride from the beginning. So it is that Michelangelo depicts God embracing Eve—the mother of Christ’s mother, Mary, who is herself the beginning of the church—in his famous “the Creation of Adam.”

Jesus is the First Thought

Michelangelo is trying to tell us something. What is it? I think it is this: Genesis rings with something of the prophetic. The creation story is a foreshadowing of the re-creation story. The story of Adam and Eve was an early clue about the story of the New Adam and the New Eve.

In creation, Jesus was the first thought, not an after thought. He is the power behind the scenes, the “author of life” (Acts 3:15) and the “author of our salvation” (Heb. 5:9). He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 22:13). All of history is hisstory. All of creation, especially male-and-female creation, is for his glory. So everything about humanity was designed by God before the fall for this special moment: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).

The incarnation is the climax of creation. The whole universe anticipated the moment when the Son of God would take flesh from the virgin Mary. “When thefullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). The incarnation was decreedbefore the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:20). We were destined inChrist before the world was made (Eph. 1:5). “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” Paul goes on to say: “In him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible … all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of his body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:15-19).

So I want to suggest to you that God intentionallydivided human nature sexually into male and female primarily for Christ, not us. Although we are a part of it, the story is bigger than you or me. We are not the beginning or the end goal: Jesus is. Male-and-female creation is first and foremost for the great purpose of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Gender is how the Creator could become created without losing his divinity.

We would not know the deep reason why God made human beings as male and female without Christ. We would not know why God made us in his image (Gen. 1:26) or why he instituted marriage to highlight that we are made for one-flesh union (Gen. 2:24) without the Light to shine in our darkness (John 1:5). The deep meaning of the conjugal union was a mystery kept hidden until Christ, “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest” (Col. 1:26; Eph. 5:32).

The Son of God became the Son of Man in order to create a new humanity, to fulfill and renew the “maleand female” image of God. This new creation is not going to be a great androgynous blob, but rather a “unity in diversity.” The work of Christ both concludes the sexual alienation that came with the Fall and inaugurates a holy restoration of sexual differentiation. In heaven, we will “neither marry nor be given in marriage” because we will be married to God. Christ is the new Adam, and the church is the new Eve drawn from his side (Rom. 5:19; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; cf. Eph. 5:22-33). From old Adam to new Adam, from old Eve to new Eve, he is making all things new (Rev. 21:5).

Made to Show the ‘Whole Christ’

Although earthly marriage will someday cease (Mat. 22:30), sexual differentiation will never cease. You will never stop being a man or a woman. When St. Paul wrote that there is “neither male or female in Christ” (Gal. 3:28) he was not suggesting that God’s redemption annihilates God’s original and good creation. He was celebrating the church’s unity in Christ, telling of how in Baptism “we are all one man in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). In Christ, men and women equally share in Christ’s Sonship (a Trinitarian, not anthropological term) as born again men and women.

In other words, God saves us from sin, but he does not save us from the way he made us. God does not redeem us despite our sexual differentiation; rather, he redeems us through our sexual differentiation. “Grace does not destroy nature,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “but rather perfects it.”

How can we be both the body and the bride of Christ? Jesus’ body was male, but a bride is female. It’s a problem: how can we be both male and female, both body and bride, at the same time? St. Paul says, “You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). In Revelation we read that the church is “the bride, the wife of the Lamb,”  “prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband” (Rev. 21:9, 2).

There is more here than meets the eye. What is it? I think it is this: Christ and his church are one flesh. Ephesians 5:31 is a quotation from Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” St. Paul adds in verse 32, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Together, men and women are the image of what Augustine called “the whole Christ, head and body” (totus Christus, caput et corpus). The “whole Christ” is Jesus and his bride: Head and body, Lamb and bride, Vine and branches, Cornerstone and temple, King and people, Pastor and flock, Master and disciples. “As the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are still one body, so also is Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). Augustine would later describe this God-exalting mystery this way: “The word was made flesh, and dwelled among us; to that flesh is joined the church, and there is made the whole Christ, head and body.”

Sons of Adam are to image forth the incarnate Son of God. Daughters of Eve are to image forth Christ’s bride. These symbols mutually define and fulfill one another. Sons of Adam are the symbol of one side of the glorious reality of the whole Christ, daughters of Eve are the symbol of the other side.

And they are symbols. As both men and women are “sons in the Son,” both men and women are “the bride of Christ.” If women do not shine the glory of the church (one side of the whole Christ), something is lost. And if men do not shine the glory of Christ (the other side of the whole Christ), something is lost. The holy image of body and Head, wife and Husband, man and God is lost when we forget that for which we were made.

Sexual differentiation, typified in marriage, is a sign of Christ and his church. Every single Christian marriage is called to be a reminder that the church is the Holy Spirit-filled organism through which God reveals himself to the world. Christ and his bride are one flesh. To some degree, to look at Christ is to look at his bride, and to look at his bride is to look at Christ. He cannot be found without us, and we cannot be found without him. The church is the whole Christ (totus Christus), Head and members together (membra cum Capite), to the glory of God the everlasting Father.

Only because we are the bride of Christ are we able to be the body of Christ. In heaven, the whole body of Christ will gaze upon the face of the Father through the eyes of Jesus, who is our Head, our Source, our Adam, the one “who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Pet. 3:22). The whole life of the church is a lived prayer to the Father through the eyes of her glorified head, Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Col. 3:3). “Since the church is Christ’s own body, she learns to offer up herself through him.” One body. One bride. Through Christ. To the Father. In the Holy Spirit.

The mystery of the “one flesh” union of marriage is revealed in Christ and his church. Earthly marriage is a living, breathing parable of this heavenly marriage. It’s a passing glimpse of something better yet to come. But the dead will not be raised as androgynous demigods. We will forever be what God originally made us to be: sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, made to join God in glorifying God and enjoying him forever. So let’s get this male and female thing right. “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding feast” (Matt. 22:2).


So what was God up to in making us male and female? God was up to what he has been up to from all eternity: bringing glory to himself. True, God could have devised some other manner of human life, made in his image, that did not require two sexes. Yet out of the superabundance of his love he chose to make Adam and Eve. The whole business of husband and wife, father and mother, XY and XX, was a mystery until it was unveiled in Christ, and Christ has shown us that we are made to reflect the Trinity’s family life and thetotus Christus, the wedding of heaven and earth in the second Person of the Trinity.

“In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” might be the greatest stumbling block of our time, but for Christians, the fruitful tension between man and woman, along with its vital outcome of children, is a part of that stone the builders rejected, “the cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22; Acts 4:11). Male-and-female creation proclaims the glory of the church, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20).

Scripture is telling one story, and the juxtaposition of the sexes is a part of that story. It’s a story of creation and re-creation, of sin and salvation, and it all ends with a wedding because it began with a wedding. So it is that in a culture that sees sexual differentiation as an embarrassment, Christians see it as a glory. In something as ordinary as one man and one woman and their children the story of creation and re-creation, Christ and his church, the glory of the Trinity, is proclaimed.

We are living the story of the Bible now. God’s story makes sense of ours. We are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. As the baptized faithful, we are the new Eve and Jesus is the new Adam. Someday, our Lord and Savior will look upon his Beloved, as Adam once looked upon Eve, and say: “At last! This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This is good, “very good” (Gen. 1:31). In fact, this is Gospel.

God is on a mission to bring himself glory, to rescue creation for his name’s sake, and he is using creation to do it. He’s using men and women as men and women to do it. The Creator became incarnate—not an androgynous garden snail—but as a male human being because he was on a mission to become the second Adam. And he became the second Adam so that we could become the second Eve, the new human race re-created from his side. The mission is the wedding of heaven and earth.

Oh, that our marriages might have the aroma of eternity in them! For the reputation of heaven is at stake in every marriage. How I pray that Christian marriage would be a public exultation over the truth that it brings! For marriage is not a megaphone for the opinions of mortals. At its best, marriage can be a faithful exposition of God’s Word. Sexual differentiation does not exist for its own sake. It exists for God’s sake. When God made Adam and Eve and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply, he made a “praise, reverence, and service; it should yield him glory.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet…” (Matt. 22:2). Sexual differentiation, typified in marriage, is a signpost of the ultimate marriage. It is an arrow pointing to the cosmic truth of Christ and his church, an outward sign of an inward grace. Marriages that do not have the flavor of eternity may entertain for a season, but they will not touch the desperate cry of the heart: “Show me thy glory!” (Ex. 33:18).

Read it in Ethika Politika.

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