John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, has sold millions of copies and has given many the ability to understand the differences between men and women, for we puzzle one another.
We’re both from planet Earth.
As long as we think of the opposite sex as from a different planet, we can avoid partnering with one another and thus miss the opportunity to be truly human, reflecting the image of God more completely as we work together for the Kingdom of God.
Genesis 3 narrates the Fall of humankind, and most interpretations see more than just eating fruit as the cause. Ruth Haley Barton sees the Fall as a failure on the part of the humans to act as a team; the first human couple failed to give and receive feedback and to make decisions together. Eve did not consult Adam (who was with her (Gen 3:6)), but spoke only to the serpent and made the decision to take of the fruit. Adam did not talk with Eve about the advisability of the serpent’s plan but decided to eat the fruit she gave to him. Choosing not to truly partner meant they distorted their image-bearing call to steward the earth together.
Becoming truly human means having relationships and teaming with those who are different from us, for only together can we fully reflect the image of God.
And I’m not only talking about marriage.
Regardless whether one chooses marriage, choosing to have relationships with the opposite sex (the non-dating kind) is healthy. Men and women need each other—singly, we cannot fully express the image of God, but together as family, we begin to approximate its diversity, wealth, and beauty.
But What About Sexual Temptation?
Sexual temptation happens. No doubt about it.
We can avoid it by coming up with rules whose effectiveness is questionable, or we can acknowledge its reality and grow our self-control muscle (it is, after all, part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)).
Sexual temptation is not only about seeing or interacting with the opposite sex. St. Anthony, a fourth-century monk in Egypt who lived a solitary life in the desert, was still sexually tempted even without external stimuli.
We cannot avoid all sexual temptation by avoiding the opposite sex. It is a matter of the interpretation, a matter of the soul, rather than of stimuli. That is, looking at the opposite sex as an object of sexual desire more than as a fellow human is the problem; the problem is not the fact that he or she is attractive. We cannot avoid all sexual temptation by avoiding the opposite sex. Click To Tweet
Please note that it is certainly good to avoid or flee sexual temptation, but to think that sexual temptation is part and parcel to any meeting of the sexes is simply not true. John Stott, Christian leader, writer, and life-long celibate believes we can resist sexual temptation.
We Christians must insist that self-control is possible. We have learned to control our temper, our tongue, our greed, our jealousy, our pride: why should it be thought impossible to control our libido? To say that we cannot is to deny our dignity as human beings and to descend to the level of animals, which are creatures of uncontrolled instinct.
In spite of examples to the contrary, many have been faithful married or faithful celibate Christians.
Since sexual temptation can be avoided, does this mean that we should throw ourselves into any and all cross-gender relationships? Certainly not. While cross-gender partnerships can be safe, not all are, so some caution and discernment is necessary.
Only Mars or Only Venus
As an adolescent, I was diligently schooled in the idea that men and women can’t be friends since sexual temptation always gets in the way. For that reason, I never had male friends because I was always scared of potential sexual attraction. I lived in an Only Venus world socially—thank God I had a father and a brother.
But my Only Venus world was skewed and I saw the life only in part. I lacked balancing perspective, and since women tend to agree rather than challenge, I was intimidated rather than spurred to growth by challenge. I became an elementary school teacher, and continued in my Only Venus world where agreement trumps challenge.
An Only Mars world is different, for there, strategy trumps people. Lisa Graham McMinn tells the story of a male physicist who was determining the number of immediate fatalities that would result from various counterattacks in a war. One particular strategy would result in thirty million deaths rather than thirty-six million, and all were impressed at the decrease. The physicist suddenly realized how ridiculous it was to state only thirty million immediate fatalities, and blurted out his dismay. No one responded, and he felt like a woman because he was thinking about people rather than strategy.
Venus and Mars Truly Human on Earth
Only Venus and Only Mars do not reflect the full image of God, for God both agrees and challenges, thinks about both people and strategy. Only together on Earth do we approximate what it is to be truly human.
Partnership is possible between men and women in the church and in society. It comes when we cultivate our own and others’ gifts on a team, rather than competing and calling certain gifts lesser than others. Though this only comes through practice and may include setbacks along the way, it is important to allow all voices to be heard in their distinctiveness and diversity.
Picture a panel with invited experts who were specifically chosen to talk about ethical issues related to stem cell research. If only half of them are allowed to speak, the final recommendation may (likely) not be the best. The same occurs if the voice of half of God’s image-bearers (women) remains silent.
Picture a panel of elementary educators specifically chosen to talk about stemming the tide of bullying and its affect on education. If half of God’s image-bearers (men) remain silent, the final recommendation is again lacking.
I suggest male and female partner in all fields. Both male and female voices bring distinct and necessary perspectives to situations; the presence of both brings balance. Males in traditionally female-dominated fields (education, nursing, etc.) and females in traditionally male-dominated fields (police work, politics, etc.) would offer transformative balance.
We have been created to partner, and though it may be difficult to be a pioneer in these areas, it will be worth it; partnership brings about better life for the world, for we share a common humanity—we only become truly human together. We have been created to partner. We can only become truly human together. Click To Tweet
This piece was excerpted from The Book of Womanhood.