by Valorie Quesenberry
There’s an old joke that a man told his wife on their first day of marriage “I love you and if I ever change my mind, I’ll tell you.” The implication was that since he was okay with never again saying I love you, she should be okay with it too.
I grew up hearing the common jokes from the men in the church about their women, and generally, they were good-natured and gentle. Yet, as I have gotten older, I’ve observed that, often, we actually don’t understand or appreciate each other in many ways. In fact, we often let our differences pull us apart instead of letting them bring us closer together.
This certainly matters in marriage and families. But it is also important in a church congregation. As the body of Christ, we need to be aware of how we, as men and women, reflect God’s image on earth and how, from the perspective of our gender, we fulfill His purposes.
Different by Creation
In the beginning, God poured His divine image into two earthly genders, imaging His strength in the creation of man and reflecting His beauty in the design of woman. We are told He made them “male and female,” and it was “very good” (Genesis 1:27, 31).
In marriage and church life, we need to be aware of how we, as men and women, reflect God’s image on earth.
Throughout the millennia, humankind has understood to varying degrees the significance of that difference. We are each made for something and not for something else. We each have gifts, and we each have limitations. We are designed with a distinct purpose in mind, both in relationship to each other and in relationship to the family and societal units.
And this difference goes so deep that it is encoded in our DNA. Every cell in the human body has either an “XY” pattern or an “XX” pattern, male or female. The Creator saw to it that His design could not be changed with mere outward tampering. We are either man or woman down to the chromosomal level.
Different in Design
Men and women are not only different in their DNA and in their outward appearance, they are also very different in the way they think. Husband and wife speaking and writing team, Bill and Pam Farrel, explain this scientifically-based discovery like this: “men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti” (Harvest House Publishers; 2017). There are various ways in which this is demonstrated.
For instance, God created men to be able to laser-focus with all their abilities on a specific task, and He designed women to be able to manage multiple tasks at the same time. Men have the ability to block out distractions and put themselves fully into what is before them. Women have the capacity to engage in several tasks at the same time.
Is one right and one wrong? No, just different.
Men can “box” their thoughts and emotions and handle each compartment separately, like squares in a waffle. Women sort through their thoughts and feelings as one entwined mass, like a mound of spaghetti, where everything touches everything else.
Admittedly, there are exceptions to every standard. There are men who are better at multi-tasking and women who excel in unemotional thinking. But for many of us these generalities are close to reality. And can you see why these differences are planned by a wise Creator?
Men can go to work and focus on getting the job done; they can block out the leaky faucet at home and give themselves fully to the task at hand. Then when the day is done, they can move from that “box” into the one for home and family and fully be there.
A woman, on the other hand, can manage well the multiple responsibilities of the household and mothering without forgetting where she put the baby or that the laundry must be switched from washer to dryer because her spaghetti brain is constantly aware of all these details. She can stay fully engaged in the lives of her children and her husband throughout the day.
God didn’t make us differently in this way as a joke or to cause us irritation but for our good. When we understand this, we can respect the abilities of each other and appreciate the beauty that can come from our living together with understanding.
Our differences explain the challenges we have in making our relationships work. We must respect the abilities of each other and appreciate the beauty that can come from our living together with understanding.
Women and men are also often different in their relational approach. Because women were designed by God specifically to fulfill relationship (remember Genesis 2:18? “It is not good that the man should be alone..."), we are very attuned to every nuance pertaining to it. We see most of life through the lens of relationship. That’s why weddings and babies and friends mean so much to women. Men, in many ways, are more attuned to the experiences and benefits of the relationship than to the mere feeling of having it. Is one right and one wrong? No, just different.
Women and men differ in their verbal activities. Basically, women use more words than men. Men prefer facts, bullet-points that give precise information. Women like rounded-out conversations, giving details and explanations. I noticed this early on in my children. While my daughters were more talkative as toddlers, my son at the same age would point or use one-word requests. Were my girls superior to my boy? No, just different. Made that way by God.
Women and men often engage the journey of life from differing points of view. Men generally long for conquest; women desire security. Are there then no female adventurers or male nurturers? Not necessarily, but as a rule, there is a basic rhythm to each gender. Why else would women long for commitment in romantic relationship and men be much more drawn to “playing the field” and keeping their options open?
Women and men have different emotional triggers. Men respond to admiration of their abilities and judgement, to respect. Women respond to confirmation of value and delight, to cherishing love. The old guy in the beginning vignette is off to a very bad start with his bride. She needs ongoing statements of his affection and joy in her just as a man needs his wife’s continued trust and esteem. (For more on this, read For Men Only and For Women Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn, Multnomah Books.)
Women and men are different in so many ways that to list them all would be an exhausting exercise. The ones here give just a basic foundation. They are enough to demonstrate the genius of our Creator and the challenges we have in making our relationships work.
Different as a Symbol
The idea of different but complementary genders to image God was the divine way to show us in human relationship how He wants to relate to us in an eternal context. The Creator chose to give to the human male the responsibility of representing His own role and to gift the human woman with the assignment of symbolizing His people, first the Jewish nation and now the Church.
These roles are not interchangeable on earth, as Elisabeth Elliot states, for that would destroy the beautiful picture of the divine Romance. They are designed and assigned by God who saw that everything He made was good.
Male and female roles are not interchangeable on earth, for that would destroy the beautiful picture of the divine Romance.
In addition to the responsibility of imaging the protecting and providing and cherishing role of God, the human husband is also charged with being the leader of his family and home. On his shoulders, the Creator placed the burden of being the trailblazer, the buck-stopper and the one in the crosshairs. He is called to be the head; it isn't up for debate but rather a sacred trust placed on him by God Almighty. As such, he is to be given respect, not necessarily for how well he performs his role but because of the role itself.
This is not to say that a man may act in any manner he pleases and still expect adulation from his wife. Such behavior does not represent our God and is certainly not commended by Him. It is to say that a wife needs to understand that respect for his place in this marriage symbolism does not have to be earned; it is due him because that is where God placed him. Of course, a man who is following earnestly after God will try to love his wife as Christ loved the church and thus, in many situations, will give her reasons to look up to him.
The human wife is commissioned with the role of response, reflecting the joyous receiving the Church demonstrates in its relationship to Christ. She is called to exude delight in being cherished and an attitude of trust in his leading. Her husband is exhorted in Scripture to adore her, listen to her and do his best to understand her so he may care for her just as Christ looks after the needs of His Bride, the Church. He is to give her sacrificial love, not because she does everything he likes but because of her God-given role. He is to lay down his life for her in thousands of little ways as he reflects Christ who gave up so much for His church.
Of course, a wife must not exploit his sensitivity to her for her own self-serving or control-seeking ways. The true Church does not respond in this way to Christ. A woman who is seeking to honor the Lord by the way she honors her husband will do her best to admire him and trust him and keep herself devoted to him.
A man's headship is not up for debate but rather a sacred trust placed on him by God Almighty. Likewise, a husband is exhorted to adore his wife, listen to her and do his best to understand her so he may care for her.
As both husband and wife seek to understand and fill their roles in this great mystery of Christ and the Church, there will follow, to some degree, beauty and peace. There will be conflict, yes, because the human symbolism of marriage is not a clear reflection but distorted by our earthly limitations and weaknesses, and, in some cases, damaged by sin on the part of one or both spouses.
A spirit of humility, a determination to forgive and a daily choice to keep our vows will be invaluable. And the Creator who designed human marriage and calls us to it will give us grace and help us to grow in our relationship to each other if we will choose ongoing submission to His plan.
Different For His Glory
Now, how do we bring this all together as men and women who follow Christ and want to bring Him glory in our relationships?
First, Choose to applaud our differences because God does. Often in the church we are vocal about affirming outward gender distinctions but silent about the relational differences which hit us right where we live; we should view these “inconvenient” differences with the same passion and acceptance. Both are very important.
Second, Decide to value the design even if you don’t fully “get” the differences. Some things must just be accepted as the way they are. Of course, you will never fully comprehend the opposite gender. If you could, you would be that gender. There is mystery involved in manhood and womanhood. It’s a good thing.
Third, Determine to learn more. Knowledge is power. Be a lifelong student of gender and relationships and how God made us wonderfully different. You will be more awed and less irritated.
Finally, Commit to being a godly role model for your gender. Our world needs men and women who are delighted to be who they are, who accept their divine gender assignment with attitudes of joy and surrender. Relationship with Him polishes our reflection of Him to a watching world.
In the 21st century, with gender confusion mangling our culture, there may be no more powerful witness than godly men and women who celebrate their God-ordained differences in the way they interact with each other and with the culture. This, after all, was the first mission given to humankind – to be male and female. From it, all other assignments flow. And God thinks it’s very good.