In a world divided, the resurrection of Jesus Christ calls us to embrace and embody a new creation. We celebrate Jesus as the firstborn of that new creation. A prayer and vision of that rebirth is found in Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17—a prayer Jesus knows can only be answered when he goes to the cross. Jesus’ prayer is a visionary call to unity in which we are in Christ, he is in the Father, and the Father is in him. We are in him and in the Father, both male and female. The resurrection serves as a source of reinvigoration for the church—to continue to pray for the unity Jesus called us to. But, praying for unity unaware of how cultural definitions of masculinity have divided the body of Christ is counter-productive. By courageously integrating feminine typologies and metaphors present within Scripture into our own story and vocabulary, we can begin to live Jesus’ prayer, practically.
Men and women are not cast aside, diminished, or deleted when we embrace biblical unity, unity with God and with each other. Unity is provided for in the resurrection, but it does require the definition of masculinity to submit to Jesus’ prayer for unity. We do not learn biblical unity by defining masculinity first. In this equation, unity is the constant that all other variables work around. The Holy Spirit pursues the fulfillment of this prayer for unity through us, new creatures instituting a new creation that was, is, and is to come.
Masculinity therefore, cannot continue to look at femininity, as did Adam to Eve, and accuse, “well, she gave me the apple.” To define masculinity in this way is to fall short of Jesus’ prayer for unity. Such masculinity is powerless, ripe for abuse, and entangled in sin. This view of masculinity produces a flawed understanding of unity—a cheap, whimsical act of charity from the powerful gods of men to the lesser human female species. This masculinity does not even darken the door of biblical reconciliation that is at all times mutual and equitable.
Moreover, when gender identities engage as an exchange of goods and services, Jesus’ prayer for unity is diminished. Our commercial culture has thrived on this philosophy since the Industrial Revolution. We tend to see gender identity in economic terms. For example, femaleness is devalued in the job market in tangible economic ways—women make less than men. Jesus’ high priestly prayer is a prophetic challenge to our commercial culture, calling us to become newborns again by resisting the temptation to accept masculinity as God’s most valued identity. Reading Jesus’ priestly prayer, we see there are no most valued identities. And, we must live in a way that reflects that truth.
Unity is further diminished when the commercializing of gender identities overlaps with colonialism. Colonialism says that we interact with “the other” in three ways. 1) We assimilate “the other” into our identity. For a woman to be successful, she has to throw like a boy or lead like a man. 2) We marginalize “the other.” This happens when men act as if the devaluation of women is insignificant. 3) We rationalize—a rational argument is developed, oftentimes with theological support, allowing for the subjugation of women. When colonialism dominates the masculinity narrative, Jesus’ vision for biblical unity is inhibited.
In a recent post, I shared how my current discipleship journey requires not “God-himself,” but rather, “God-herself.” I was attempting to describe the feeling of being in the womb of God, in the fetal position, totally reliant on God’s umbilical cord. Scriptural references describing God as a mother hen are not hidden, but they are apparently seen as toxic by some. My reflection on “God-herself” was met with concern. Some asked if I was “using the Bible” and I was invited to lunch to process. Am I not supposed to refer to those distinctly biologically female experiences in relation to God? What about other such experiences? Does “God-herself” not know what it is like to feed her flock? Parenthetically, suckling is not something a male fully understands. But undoubtedly, God does.
Herein, admittedly, the English language is limited. Yet, language helps organize and frame the way we interpret our experiences. We rarely access the appropriate vocabulary to confer God-herself suckling her children even though the biblical text metaphorically does. If we can create language for all sorts of actions, like Xeroxing or LOL’s, we should entertain a more fluid vocabulary for the sake of biblical unity. God-herself is spoken of in Scripture through types and metaphors. Even the resurrection offers believers feminine imagery. In the resurrection, Jesus is conqueror. Yet, Jesus is also in the womb or belly of the earth for three days—a metaphor only a mother can substantively relate to.
Assimilating, marginalizing, and rationalizing are tools used to colonize and enslave others. Obviously, these tools historically have not led to unity. Conquerors were successful in winning land, resources, and fame, but they fell short of attaining the unity Jesus envisioned for humanity. As new creatures, we must practically define masculinity in submission to Jesus’ prayer for unity. We can do so by daily integrating counter-cultural female typologies and metaphors and courageously speaking of God-herself in accordance with Scripture.