When I was a child, I was plagued with this disorder that my mother liked to call “selective hearing.”
Perhaps you’ve experienced this as well: whenever mom would call that dinner was ready or say something like, “Hey Megan, I’m going to run some errands at the mall, do you want to come?” I would always hear her. But when she would ask things like “could you take out the trash?” or “hey, could you clean up your room please?” my ears were a little less attuned. I almost never heard those requests the first time. And interestingly enough, my dad and my brothers seemed to have the same issue.
I think we all experience the phenomenon of selective hearing sometimes. We experience it with our friends, our spouses, our children, co-workers. And we’re guilty of it as well.
It’s easy for us to hear things that benefit us, that are comfortable and familiar, but when we are confronted with things and ideas that maybe cost us something, are out of the ordinary or uncomfortable for us, it’s easier to block it out – even if we do so subconsciously.
It’s not just in our work and family lives that selective hearing exists. I think there is such a thing as spiritual selective hearing as well. And the Church has developed a serious case of it over the years, especially with respect to hearing both a male and female voice from God.
Our story starts like this: God bends down, scoops up some dust and forms humanity in God’s own image. The breath and Spirit of God filling them, giving them life. God’s image bearers. Male and female. Created in the image of God.
But somewhere along the line, the image became distorted. The image-bearers fell away from the God who created them and loved them and in doing so they fell away from the ideal of representing God as a unit – male and female. The image-bearers fought each other, they dominated each other, they constructed systems that held one another into set roles and rankings. Like a broken mirror, the image of God became distorted and broken and our ears began to fall deaf to certain rhythms of the divine. And the world lost sight of the true image of God.
The Image has become so distorted and our ears so selectively tuned that it is now common for evangelicals to affirm certain roles for genders. It is common to believe that there is a certain hierarchy within humanity, that women should submit, they should help and support – not lead. And a woman certainly should not be exercising spiritual authority over a man. Here is the problem with these ideologies though: when we create hierarchies within humanity we fail to represent the God whose image we bear.
As we look back to where we come from, the creation narrative, God speaks and declares “let us make humanity in our image” God is, in very essence, three distinct persons – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – yet one God. Within this Trinitarian image there is community, there is relationship – things we see fleshed out in humanity as image bearers. There is not, however, hierarchy.
“The difference of roles in the Trinity cannot mean anything like a relationship of command and obedience, where one persons’ will is subjected to anothers’. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are always, necessarily of one will, because there is only one God and therefore only one divine will. And where there is but one will there cannot be the authority of command and obedience, for that requires one persons’ will to be subordinate to a will other than his or her own.”
Within the very being of God we are given a picture of complete alliance, three persons working within one and the same will to accomplish God’s own purposes – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the image which we were designed to bear. This is the glimpse of God we were intended to put forth to the world God so desperately loves and desires to redeem. But we cannot portray this image on our own. No single gender can advance or clarify the image of God to this broken and hurting world without the partnership of the other.
It is all too easy though, for male-female relationships to become the wedge which separates rather than the tie that binds. Denominations the theological circles split over what to do about women in leadership. Both genders become frustrated and angry and wound each other as the battle of the sexes wages on in every sector of life. But we were not made for this.
“God’s original vision—a vision He has never abandoned but revives in the work of His Son—was for relationships between men and women to be dazzling points of light on this spinning globe. Dynamics between men and women were never intended to be a battle of the sexes or a heated debate within Christian circles. Male/female relationships in Christ are to be a glowing testament to the fact that we are followers of Jesus. This is where God means to put on display a gospel-powered love. This is where the world is supposed to see men and women laying down their lives for others, offering strength and wisdom to each other, and investing ourselves fully for God’s kingdom.”
We were made for more.
More than patriarchy and dominance-based structures have to offer for men.
More than lone feminist philosophy and empowerment have to offer for women.
We were made to live in what Carolyn describes as “blessed alliance” portraying an illuminated image of our God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – as we live, work and lead in partnership with one another.
In a world where little girls – some as young as seven years old – are bought and sold daily for sex, is the Church really to silence the voice of women?
In a world where one out of every three women will be raped or abused, is the Church really to call for female submission?
In a world in which more young women will die from gender-based violence than from car accidents, cancer, malaria and war combined is the church really going to stand up and declare that abuse that doesn’t cause her to sin and “only” hurts her must be “endured for a season”?
If this is the image we are portraying then the image is horrifically broken. Our hearing has become selective at best, if we have not fallen completely deaf.
I believe it is time for the church to rise up, broken and mangled as she might be, and return to the design set forth in Eden: the image of God – male and female – on display for all to see. We must begin to define both genders not by the roles or stereotypes laid out by culture, but primarily, predominantly as Image Bearers of the Most High God. We must reject hierarchies and chains of command within cross-gender relationships – inside and outside the home and the Church – as these ideas undermine the Image of our God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. We must tune our ears once more to hear the voice of God – male and female – even when it makes us uncomfortable, even when it costs us something.
We have turned a blind eye to half of God’s image. We have turned a deaf ear to half of God’s voice. We have crippled one hand and one foot of the Body of Christ. We have muted half of the messages God wishes to convey.
But there is hope.
The prophet Isaiah wrote long ago
“Strengthen the weak hands, and support the unsteady knees. Say to those who are panicking: ‘Be strong! Don’t fear! Here’s your God, coming with vengeance; with divine retribution God will come to save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared. Then the lame will leap like the deer, and the tongue of the speechless will sing.” (Isaiah 35:3-6, CEB)
The Image is broken, but the Blessed Alliance is still God’s plan.
God has redeemed and is yet redeeming humanity one piece at a time, a little more every day.
Let us unite and hand in hand march boldly together, bringing God’s Kingdom a bit more fully with each of our paired steps.
photo credit: “It’s Too Loud” by Eric Spiegel