The Image of God

I somehow made it through both middle school and high school without a random guy slapping my butt in an inappropriate attempt at humor and attraction. I was in my twenties before I realized this was a rarity among women and in my thirties before I seriously started to think about the intersection of my faith and of my gender. Just as importantly, I started to think about how society viewed those two, sometimes disparate parts, of my whole self. Now in my forties, I am closely observing how the church handles the ripples from sexism, feminism, questionable leadership, the #metoo movement, toxic masculinity, and other controversial topics- stones thrown onto the seemingly smooth surfaces of often patriarchal modern American church culture. One of the most frustrating aspects of this experience is that it seems impossible to engage in any kind of healthy dialogue without the discourse becoming entangled in a web of political extremes and biases that result in angry hackles being raised, ending the conversation before it can even begin.

I think that the tension surrounding these topics make us pause, hesitant to engage, hesitant to speak our minds, perhaps even hesitant to know our minds to begin with.

Thankfully Jesus had no such qualms, even though challenging gender norms held far more serious consequences in His time than they do now. He waded into danger, confident in who He was as the Savior of all and confident in the never changing character of God – Holy, Just, Loving, and Truthful.

What can we the Bible teach us about how God views women?

We could begin quite a few debates with that question. Women’s role in the church. Women’s role in marriage. Women’s role outside her home. But I don’t think any of those issues are really what we’re debating when we talk about women. I think the heart of the matter is what we truly believe about the heart of God.

So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27

A few weeks ago, I was joking with my daughter and I told her that women were clearly the pinnacle of creation because God had to keep going until He created her, and then it was “very good,” so He stopped. She gave me a sly little smile that said, “Mom, I know you’re joking, but also, that’s kinda awesome.”

She’s right, that is kinda awesome. But really, what it does tell us, is that in God’s permanent will, before sin entered the world, male and female were created in God’s image. God spoke to them the same and gave them the same responsibilities. And they in turn, worshipped Him the same and fully understood that their hearts were fashioned after His. That may seem like a fairly simple truth, held easily by modern religion. But when you break it down, each aspect of it points right back to the hotly contested debates surrounding women and faith.

I wrote in a previous blog (All In) about the dangers of thinking that any group of people is viewed as being “less than” anyone else. I believe that philosophy applies here as well and is at the root of any sinful attitude toward men and women that does not follow God’s original intent. Thinking how God would respond helps us frame the discussion based on who He is, not who we are, who is right, or who has the power. It also places necessary weight on issues that we may be tempted to brush off as not important, or not being a big deal. God’s perspective is always important and determining His response is a very big deal.

What does the word of God say about women?

If a woman had engaged in questionable behavior, made bad choices, would God have nothing to do with her? Or would He use her to save His people, writing her into the very lineage of Christ?
Joshua 2

If a country was in dire need of leadership, God’s people on the brink of destruction, would God call a man to save the day or would He use a woman, placing her in control of decisions that changed the course of history?
Esther

If a woman was an immigrant, unwelcome and poor, seen by all around her as useless, would God write her off or write her a new story, illustrating the very picture of sacrifice and redemption, echoes to come of His own son’s precious act?
Ruth

If Jesus encountered a woman society deemed inappropriate, would He avoid contact? Or would He engage, meeting the woman where she was at and giving her the words of life to transform her entire town?
John 4:4-42

If a woman came to Jesus, broken and in need of healing, would He question her past actions and fail to trust her pain, or would He bring Healing and dignity with a touch, with His voice?
Luke 8:43-48

If women were ready to sacrifice all, leading in the ministry of Jesus and shaping the early church, would they lose their place in history or be written into the Word of God, for all of time to witness their acts?
Priscilla, Junia, Phoebe, Lydia, Mary

If Jesus were speaking to a group of children, would he accuse little girls of being crybabies? Would He only let the little boys speak, discouraging little girls from even raising their hands?

If a young woman, came to Jesus, terrified and ashamed of what had been done to her, would He doubt her story or hold her hand, helping her hold her head up too?

When we examine the Word of God, the line between how Jesus treated women and how we are called to treat women, grows blurry, because it should all look the same. And although our actions say a lot about what we truly think about other people, ultimately, they show what we think of God as well.

The Way We Treat People

The way we treat people is the way we treat God. Conversely, the way we treat God is the way we treat people. I grew up in Sunday School, complete with felt boards and “Jesus Loves Me”, but I did not fully understand this truth until I was sitting with a small group of people nearly two decades ago.

A dear friend shared that how we chose to interact with people, any people, was a direct reflection on our interactions with God. What we think of their behaviors, our ability to share grace or show control, is in direct relation to what we think of God. Deep down, in our gut, who we really believe Him to be. And who He created us to be too.

So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27

If we know humanity to be created in the image of God, yet consistently regard half – or ANY – of the people He created as being less than us, what does that say about who we think God is? Small. We fashion a god that props up our own fears and is smaller than our worldly concerns for power and privilege. We “follow God with our lips, but our hearts are far from Him.” But God is big and He demands that we love Him with our whole hearts, bodies, and minds, love our neighbors as ourselves, and have no other gods before Him. Treating women as less-than in our churches, our families, our workplaces, and our society, is fundamentally a selfish act, whereas treating women with equality is a selfless act that brings the kingdom of heaven to the here and now.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” Matthew 16: 24-25

The Heart of God

When we come back to the heart of God, to His creation from a place of love and beauty, we see women as representing intrinsically vital components of the nature of God. Anything that does not lift that up as a value is not in alignment with God’s first established relationship with all of humankind. Which has serious consequences. Because if we condone an environment that allows for the treatment of woman as less than men, then we create an environment that can condone abuse and injustice towards women.

From pastors to presidents, we’ve seen the full circle of what can happen when we disregard the significance of embracing the worth of God’s creation in its entirety.  Whether it’s a joke here or a closed door there, when we belittle women, we belittle God. When a woman comes to us, bearing the sins of the world on her shoulders, and we turn our backs, we crucify her. We separate ourselves from God. And in doing so, we break His heart.

“My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?…Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.” James 2: 1-4,8

But even when our actions break the heart of God, He calls us back, into healing, into restoration. He longs for closeness with us and gives His bride, the church, the mandate of creating a safe space where that closeness can grow, nourishing relationships that build community within church walls and lead to fostering relationships outside of church walls. If the church does not lead the way in treating women as made in the image of God, living that truth out daily in small meaningful ways and big life changing ways, then our society will step in to fill the vacuum. At the detriment of our witness to the world. Only when we follow the heart of God, treating people as we treat Him, treating Him as we treat people, can we live that is based on Christ’s integrity. And only then can we share that integrity with the world, shining His light so that people can see the face of God.