I sat wide-eyed across the table from my new friend Courtney in our college cafeteria. I had just told her I was interested in a guy who sat near me in my freshman biology class. My plan was to go to him and inform him about my interest in dating. Courtney was convincing me to think otherwise — I was confused and didn’t understand why it mattered.
She said that while I should be friendly and get to know him, I should let him take the initiative and pursue me, instead of trying to take everything into my own hands. It was the first time I had heard of such a concept. I was amazed when she began explaining to me God’s design in creating men and women gloriously equal in their dignity and purpose, but wondrously different in the roles they play.
Though I hadn’t heard anything about “complementarity” yet, through Friday lunch conversations like this, the seeds were being planted for a new way of seeing manhood and womanhood. Over the next few years, God would use Bible classes at school and the faithful preaching of the pastor at my new church home, to produce life-changing fruit in my heart and mind.
When Things Broke
Our understanding of the identity and roles for men and women has been warped since sin entered the world back in Genesis 3. That ancient serpent knew that if he could reverse the roles that God had set up for Adam and Eve in the beginning, then everything would unravel. So, he set his aim on Eve, subverting Adam, the one given the charge by God to work, keep, and protect the Garden.
The deceiver planted doubt in Eve’s mind and tempted her to take the forbidden fruit. As a result, Eve, along with Adam who was by her side, questioned God’s goodness and assumed he was holding back his best. Rather than be a life-giving helpmate to Adam, Eve invited him to participate in disobedience. Rather than lead and encourage Eve to trust God’s word, Adam joined in without dispute. Then when God came for the reckoning, he came to Adam first.
Sadly, Adam’s response was anything but courageous. He shirked responsibility and shifted blame. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). Eve likewise continued the blame-shifting, this time to the serpent, and so began the unraveling of God’s original design.
Understanding Genesis 3 sheds light on what takes place in our own hearts. We are quick to doubt God’s goodness, to think that he is withholding blessing from us. We easily and often fall for the lie of the serpent and seek to control circumstances by taking matters not given to us into our own hands. We believe that true life and joy are found not in obedience to God, not in rest and trust, but rather in having things our own way.
The Fall Overcome
But the story doesn’t end in this mayhem. God sent his Son, the God-man, to lead the dawn of a new humanity. When men and women are saved by the blood of Jesus — when we are made new in Christ — we recover our identity as “two intelligent, humble, God-entranced beings living out, in beautiful harmony, our unique and different responsibilities” (John Piper, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 53).
It has been almost a decade since that pivotal conversation in my college cafeteria. And though nothing came of me and that guy in biology class, I am now happily married and, by God’s grace, no longer confused. God has shown us, in his word, the identity and roles of men and women. We have not been left to ourselves.
Jesus, by his cross and resurrection, restores men and women: their mind, their heart, their identity, and their relationship with one another. God’s salvation is pervasive and all-encompassing, encompassing the deep relational details of our lives, whether married or single.
This new way of seeing manhood and womanhood helped me understand the gospel more deeply — that God is that good. That the work of Jesus is that glorious. That this is why manhood and womanhood really matter.