With the opening of the infamous 50 Shades of Grey movie now imminent, Christian voices speaking out about the sin the movie celebrates and the toxic messages of abuse it promotes are growing in number and volume. Interestingly, more secular voices are joining in the outcry. Feminist groups and organizations that work to eradicate domestic abuse and trafficking of women are speaking out loudly, asking people to donate the money they would otherwise have spent on an evening out to watch the movie to any cause related to promoting the protection, instead of the exploitation, of abused women. In one sense, it’s encouraging that the church and at least some parts of the secular world are in agreement that both the movie and the book series on which it’s based offer nothing good for women. But what’s becoming concerning to me is that, at least for Christians, the message sometimes seems to be little more than “Just Say No.” And if we truly desire to be women who put the gospel at the center of every issue in our life, then we should recognize quickly that “Stop it. That’s Bad.” is not a message with power. It’s just the law.
The good news of course is that Christians do have a message that does have power. The gospel has the power to transform all of our thinking and behavior, including our sexuality. In our talk of the spiritual dimensions of life with Christ, it’s important to remember that life may be grounded in inner, spiritual transformation, but that transformation is lived out through our bodies. This is why Paul’s exhortation to glorify God in our body in 1 Corinthians 6 is so specific. But the question is – what does that actually look like? Is the way we view our own bodies, and one another’s, really just about the clothes we put on each morning or the contexts in which it’s appropriate to remove them, or are there deeper issues to be considered? Just what is a woman’s body for?
Those are just some of the questions I started asking after reading Hannah Anderson’s excellent book Made For More, which we often reference here. In it, she argues that feminine identity must necessarily be grounded in our identity as image bearers of God as described in Genesis 1 and 2. In the months that followed, each time I read yet one more article about Christians and body image or Christians and pornography, I found myself beginning to ask questions about these issues in the light of that argument. Just how was God’s image meant to be reflected in the female body at Creation? What precisely did the Fall do to mar that image in our sinful thoughts and behaviors regarding our bodies? And if the gospel is what restores us, what does that restoration actually look like? How does the truth of the gospel change the way women at every season of life think about and live in our bodies, the vessels in which we live and move and have our being in Christ?
Whenever conservative evangelicals consider the account of the creation of Adam and Eve from Genesis 1 and 2, it’s often in the context of chronology. In 1 Tim. 2:12-13, Paul uses the chronology of creation events to argue for the primacy of men as teachers and authorities in the church. If the timing of events in Genesis 1 and 2 offer practical guidance for how we live in the context of our gender, what might the actual nature of events, the methods God employs, reveal? There are at least three things.
A woman’s body is very good.
When God brought the physical world into being, first the sun and moon and stars, then the earth below and the creatures that dwell on it, He did it with a literal word. Simply by speaking, God called constellations, trees, toucans and tigers into being. God’s very words generated an entire world teeming with life.
But when God made man, He did much more than speak. Out of the dust onto which God had spoken into being all the creatures now standing on it, God formed yet one more creature. But this time, He breathed into that creature His own breath, and a creature unlike any other came to be. Adam was formed from the stuff of earth – carbon and calcium, nitrogen and phosphorus, with bones and muscles and organs like every other creature God made. But the man had a heart and mind and will that knows and is known by the One whose breath he breathes and in whose image he has been made. Adam’s arms and legs, his back and brain, would be uniquely equipped to work as His Creator worked, to bring order out of disorder and multiply life where none had been before. But it was not good for him to do the work alone.
God had already made from the earth all manner of creatures after their own kind. How hard would it be to make one more? God parades His entire creaturely body of work before Adam, the one who was of “adamah” like all the other creatures he sees. But he is not mere “adamah” anymore. He is Adam, a creature blazing from the inside out with the very life and breath of God. To make someone suitable for such a creature as Adam, God needs better building materials than dirt.
In God’s consummate act of creation, God builds another divine image bearer, not from words or dirt, but from the bone of the one bearing His image. She is made of the same substance as Adam with the same structures. She is made with the same heart, soul and mind infused with the life of God. When Adam wakes up and sees her, he sees a person who is like him – from him and for him. He sees sameness, and he celebrates it. The sameness of Adam and Eve’s bodies precedes the oneness out of which they will live and work together.
But the oneness of their bodies and their relationship to one another is not merely a matter of sameness; it is also a matter of otherness.
Although Eve has come from Adam, Eve is not the same as Adam, in the same way that Adam is not the same as the soil from which Adam came. Made from Adam, a living bearer of God’s image, Eve is one who can in herself be the bodily bearer of more image-bearing life. She is a living dwelling place, a habitation, a wellspring of the nourishment of life.
We know well that Genesis 3 follows Genesis 2 – that corruption is just around the corner. But when we consider the methodology of creation alongside the chronology, we should pause to remind ourselves that when God made our bodies, He made them profoundly good, because they were made, and are made still, for His eternal glory.
The goodness of a woman’s body is objective, not subjective.
It is important to note that God’s declaration of the goodness of what He has made precedes anything Eve does. God’s pronouncement of the goodness of Eve’s body comes before she gives birth to Cain and even before she consummates her marriage to Adam. The goodness of Eve’s body is not derived from what Eve does with it, but from what God has done in making it. Her goodness rests objectively in her identity as an image bearer, not subjectively in her functionality.
The world argues that true womanhood finds its zenith in borderless, self-determined sexual expression. The church counters by putting marriage and motherhood at womanhood’s center. Genesis 1 and 2 put the lie to both ideas. Women’s bodies were not made for sex, nor were they made for procreation. Such arguments are grounded in law, not gospel.
Women’s bodies were made for worship.
When Adam awakes and sees, not what, but whom God has brought, He marvels at Eve’s design in a most telling way. Rather than marveling at what are her notable and easily distinguished differences, he marvels at her sameness to him. Adam’s admiration is not about her proportions or her parts; it’s about the very method of God’s design. Adam’s first words of wonder are not to her about God, but to God about her. In Adam’s created perfection, his perfect response to Eve is one of unashamed worship – not of Eve, but of Eve’s Creator. In these words (the only words recorded in Scripture, it’s worth noting, of a perfect person other than Jesus), we see in miniature what the Westminster Confession offers as the answer to its very first question. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. In the garden, for one brief and glorious moment, Adam lived that reality in his worship of God in the wonder of God’s creation that was Eve.
Sadly, the moment was short lived. The goodness of God’s creation would soon be corrupted. All that had been made and called very good would be turned inside out and upside down. But just as God rested after His creative work was complete, when the world was, for a moment, as it was created to be, it is also good and right for us as women to rest and ponder what God did when He made us, and even to worship.
Because that’s what we were created to do.
What Went Wrong – Disoriented Glory
How the Gospel Restores Us, Body and Soul
By Rachael Starke