Part III of III
Transgenderism & Human Identity
In God’s Image 1
Is there purpose in being human? I doubt individuals are capable of survival without some purpose sustaining their spirits. For Hugh Hefner, life was about achieving as much pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, as possible. Of course, he was only using those pretty girls…and they were only using him, too. Hugh and his sort live by exploitation, obtaining their desires at the expense of others. This is sound Darwinian principle at work—though it is socially dangerous and relationally toxic.
I find it horrifying that billions of people really believe their purpose is to take what pleasures they may, virtuously or carelessly, live day by day, slowly losing capacity until death. That’s it? That’s all there is? I hate the thought that this is the summation of life. The fact that I hate it—and lots of other people hate it, too—is evidence that it is not true. If we were mere chemical accidents, we would never wish for more than the present. Our deep longings would be for sleep, sex, and breakfast. The point is not that our desires authoritatively determine, but the fact that we have desires, the fact that we yearn for more and recognize how far short our lives fall from what they could be…this universal disappointment is evidence of awareness of a more perfect reality.
What then is the purpose of life? In one sense, there is a different answer for every individual…and individuals won’t know the full purposes of their earthly lives until they have come to the end of them. Our lives and our potentials are mysteries that we pursue, discover, and inhabit. But the answer for the individual is not my objective here. My purpose is to consider the meaning of life from a universal standpoint. The key to this question is found in the book of Genesis, the first chapter, verse 27: God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Notice that God created both men and women in his image. If there are differences between females and males, those differences were intentionally put in place by God. It’s also clear from other early Genesis verses that males and females were made for each other. Taking these facts together reveals that males and females together form a clearer image of God than they do separately. It is a case of the sum being greater than the parts.
Being made in God’s image is an exalted state. It is a title, like “king” or “emperor” or “president”, except that it is not a display of purple trappings. Rather, it courses through the blood. The rocks and hills, the stars, the plants, and the animals that inhabit the earth are all considered God’s good works, but they are not made in his image. Humans are radically exalted above all else in creation. This contradicts Darwinian evolution and scientific materialism, which claim that humans are accidents of a an undirected universe.
I love G.K. Chesterton’s perspective on humans and animals: “If you leave off looking at books about beasts and men, if you begin to look at beasts and men then (if you have any humor or imagination, any sense of the frantic or the farcical) you will observe that the startling thing is not how like man is to the brutes, but how unlike he is. It is the monstrous scale of his divergence that requires explanation. That man and brute are like is, in a sense, a truism; but that being so like they should then be so insanely unlike, that is the shock and the enigma. That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or mutton. People talk about barbaric architecture and debased art. But elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory even in a rococo style; camels do not paint even bad pictures, though equipped with the material of many camel’s-hair brushes…We talk of wild animals; but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out. All other animals are tame animals; following the rugged respectability of the tribe or type. All other animals are domestic animals; man alone is ever undomestic, either as a profligate or a monk.”
Normally, in the debate about how humans differ from the animals, capacities form the crux of the conversation. (It’s a strange argument in which one side believes that to be free one must be like the animals, while the other side believes that to be free one must be like God.) Proponents of human superiority emphasize hand dexterity and intellect. Animals have language but human children, no matter what culture they are born into, develop language skills well beyond all animals by the time they’re two years old. Most animals have some creative capacities but none come anywhere near the human capacity to create music (or to sing and express complex music through instruments), or to create art, or to create buildings, or to create clothes, or plumbing systems, electrical systems, heating systems, cooling systems, transportation systems, manufacturing systems, communications systems, computer systems, and I say with less enthusiasm, weapons systems. Animals can teach their young but animals don’t record information. The ability to write and record has enabled humans to multiply knowledge, with one generation being able to build on the knowledge of prior generations. Humans live very differently in the 21st century than they did in the 11th or the first.
Humans also are different from animals in their ability to make moral choices. We see a lion and recognize that it is dangerous. We may cage it or even kill it for the sake of protecting human and domestic animal lives, but we don’t blame the lion. We recognize that lions are carnivores. They kill to eat. This is what lions do. In contrast, human decisions are always seasoned in “oughts”. We may be uncertain about what the ought ought to be; we may be unable to solve the complexities of our ethical questions; and we certainly disagree with one another about many different oughts. We are not omniscient and, yet, we are compulsive lawmakers, unremittingly making decisions that have been sifted through our moral grids. And we are not private about it. We are evangelists, forever trying to convince others of our views, forever trying to encode our views through legislation, forever trying to shame others into conformity. Consequently, in the realm of morality behavior gets a little sticky. If we were truly in God’s image, if we were not in many ways broken, there wouldn’t be disagreement about the meaning of morality, there would be no individual generating of moral systems, there would be no need for persuasion, and there would be no need for coercion. We would all know the Law of Love and would live accordingly.
So we must also take into account the fact that humans are shaken and disturbed. In the book of Genesis this is explained as the Fall, or the disobedience of Adam and Eve that lead to a break in the relationship between humans and God. Theologians describe the consequence as original sin. Original sin does not mean that humans are basically evil, and it is not an argument against those who like to think of humans as being basically good. These positions are irrelevant. Rather, original sin means that all human thoughts and actions are tainted by sin. While we all remain capable of good, some are more committed to doing good than others. But no matter how committed we may be, we are incapable of acting purely. We are wonderful, and we are horrible. This is us.
In God’s Image 2
The Gospel message, among other things, addresses the problem of the horrible us. There is a Way back to the wonderful, but that is a discussion for another day. Today we are talking about what we were designed to be in the first place, which leads to another aspect of being made in God’s image.
We are made to represent him on the earth. All our actions are to be flavored by this idea. Whatever transactions we may find ourselves in, I am to represent God from my side of the issue, while you represent God from your side. When this happens, transactions are characterized by respect, fairness, kindness and love.
Moses oversaw the writing of the book of Genesis. As a man brought up in Pharaoh’s court, he would have been exposed to the idea of emissaries bearing the images of kings or pharaohs. An Emissary would often carry a literal likeness of the king on official business. To make a point, many of the emissaries were chosen for their obvious physical deficiencies. They might have been a dwarf, have had a speech defect, or in some way been grotesque. The deficiencies served as a dare to the subjects: “Go ahead and mock my representative”. To defy the image-bearer was to defy the king. To defy the king was to reap swift and brutal repercussions. The emissary was to be honored, respected and obeyed because he was the king’s image-bearer. The image was a reminder to the bearer, as well. His job was to represent the interests and will of the king.
It seems very likely, then, that Moses, when he spoke of us being made in the image of God, was not merely talking about how we are, in many ways, like God. He was also thinking about our purpose as representatives. Genesis One has God telling humans that they should fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over it. This is sometimes interpreted as license to exploit it. The opposite is the case. God demanded that Adam and Eve cultivate the earth and act as stewards. Their rule was to be characterized by nurture and wise husbandry. No election-cycle thinking permitted. Their job was to act with the health of the earth in mind, as well as the interests of the living, and the millennia of humans yet to come. In order to properly image God they would need to understand his thinking and act accordingly in their ministrations. Furthermore, they would be publicly clear about whom they were serving. They would be sure to give him proper honor. This was their calling. It was fundamental to their identity and purpose.
This has not changed. This is who and what all humans are.
Efforts to break free of this identity do not produce the romanticized, Frank Sinatra-I-did-it-my-way-individualist but, rather, the uncontrollable, shrill-voiced brat throwing fits and food in a crowded restaurant. And it produces the exhausting adult who dodges responsibilities and who is self-serving in all matters private and public.
“Our value and dignity are rooted in the fact that we are created in the image of God, with the high calling of being His representatives on earth. In fact, it is only because humans have such high value that sin is so tragic. If we were worthless to begin with, then the Fall would be a trivial event. When a cheap trinket is broken, we toss it aside with a shrug. But when a priceless masterpiece is defaced, we are horrified.” – Nancy Pearcey
Adam and Eve were assigned an exalted position, and they turned their back on it. Why? Because they failed to trust their maker. I’ve heard many times that the fundamental human sin is hubris. I doubt it. In the first place, I doubt there is benefit to ranking sins. And think on this: Jesus taught that salvation comes of believing in him. In other words, trusting him. Condemnation comes from the failure to trust. And so it was with Adam and Eve. They failed to recognize the wonder and beauty and delight in all he had given them. Instead, they decided that he was holding out on them. It’s like the child, fed, clothed, housed, and hugged all his life, who screams at his parents that they hate him because they won’t let him stay out late on a Friday night. The wise child would recognize that the same love that provided food, clothes, shelter, and hugs was at work in the Friday night restriction. Adam and Eve profoundly damaged their relationships with God for a bite of fruit and some benefits promised by the original snake oil salesman. Where you place your trust is a key to life.
Trusting the Deceiver was not unique to Adam and Eve. It was a catastrophic error repeated numerous times in biblical history and, frankly, is repeated in various ways in every person’s history. Perhaps the character, Esau, is the best biblical example of trading something of great value for something of little value. Jacob and Esau were twin sons of Isaac. Esau was the elder, which meant he was to be assigned the lion’s share of his father’s legacy. Jacob was a bit of a deceiver who effectively stole his brother’s birthright. Part of the reason he was able to get away with it, though, was that Esau considered his birthright with disdain. This was made evident when, after a long day of physical labor he came home, famished.
Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25.29-34).
No doubt, Esau had a hard day at the office, and he was really hungry. But starving? Please. He was a hardy man who could have survived for many days without eating. So he wasn’t honest with Jacob or himself. And he wasn’t particularly bright, either, trading his birthright, which we can assume was worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s expensive soup.
But this passage is not really talking about financial stupidity. Esau denied the value of the covenant between his grandfather, Abraham, and God. God promised to bless Abraham and his descendants, multiplying their numbers, making some of them kings, giving them the land of Canaan as an everlasting inheritance and, most importantly, remaining their God forever.
Painting with a broad brush, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which became the name of the nation—the nation God delivered out of Egypt, the nation to which God gave the law and the prophets, and the nation to which God sent his Son, the Savior of the world. The Church is called “the New Israel” and it is the nation of all those people into whom God has put his Holy Spirit. In contrast, Esau became the father of Edom, a minor nation located in the southern area of modern Jordan. Edom was overrun by the Babylonians. The people moved westward into southern Israel and, over time, were absorbed into other cultures. Edom disappeared, while Israel expanded (and continues to expand) into an everlasting kingdom. Esau scorned his inheritance. When he did so he also scorned his progeny, his ancestors, he scorned God, and he lost his identity.
Esau is the prototypical rebel. He is the humanist archetype. He represents the line of humans who have sought their salvation in a bowl of lentil soup. That soup has been cooked up in numerous forms, whether religious (Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.); economic (capitalism, socialism, communism, etc.); ideological (humanism, scientific materialism, existentialism, etc.); racial (Nazism, colonialism, equity politics); or sexual (all the alphabet soup reimaginings of human nature).
The Bible does not dedicate many of its pages to sexual deviance. It gives far more attention to condemning the love of money, for example. This should not be construed as a kind of permission, however. The Bible repeatedly condemns all sorts of sexual deviance, including adultery, which it assigns not only to extramarital sex, but premarital sex and serial monogamy.
You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion. Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. (Lev. 18.22-25). The Old Testament God is sometimes reviled as being war-like and not at all like the gentle Jesus, but this is a false characterization. The only time God led the Israelites to war was in the context of the clearing the Promised land. And why were the natives so readily displaced? Because they had become sexual perverts. Their most serious crime, however, was that they would offer up their own children to the gods, most notably Molech. They did this to appease him, and to persuade him to grant them prosperity. The parallel between this and today’s “justifications” for abortions is striking. Sexual perversion has always been closely linked to abuse of the young. This comes of creating a mental disconnect between the wonderful pleasure of sex and its greater glory, which is the new generation. We should not imagine that God has changed his attitude about how society treats the young. God will replace nations that practice injustice and, ultimately, he will destroy all who cling to perverse and abusive practices.
For this reason [suppressing the truth] God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. (Romans 1.26-27).
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality…will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6.9,10).
But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. (Gen.19.4-9).
…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7).
These verses are not specifically about the practice of transgendering. One obvious reason is that neither hormone therapy nor plastic surgery were available during the centuries the Bible was written (though castration was practiced, with many dying in the process). But this does not mean the issue of transgendering is not addressed in the bible.
A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 22.5).
Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (I Corinthians 11.14-15).
From the very beginning when God created humans he established that there would be male and female. This was his design and the entire Bible assumes the design as appropriate for humans. There aren’t many verses that specifically address gender confusion, but those few verses are clear that males are to be males and females are to be females. The two verses listed here are cultural and relative in nature. It’s not altogether clear what distinguishes a man’s garment from a woman’s cloak and, certainly, different times and different cultures have dressed in different ways. The point remains that God doesn’t want men to pretend to be women, nor to give the impression of being women, and vice versa. If he condemns even the misrepresentation in our clothing, he is certainly outraged at the medical practices that provide a more radical but still superficial presentation of men and women. Broadly understood, God seems to be saying, “Do not pretend to be what you are not; be what I made you to be; be who you are.” And why is that? It is because what he has made is good, while alterations are not.
Transitioning, whatever other underlying psychological motivations may be involved, displays a sense of self-dissatisfaction and even self-hatred. There are other manifestations of this in our culture. To see the front of a person’s house or the inside of a person’s house that looks like a garbage dump, this indicates a person with little respect for others and even less respect for himself. Tattoos and body piercings can be cute, I suppose, but even the cutest ones and the ones making passionate, personal statements suggest that the bodies God has given are insufficient and in need of improvement. (Buy the tee shirt.)
More disturbingly, there are individuals who graffiti their bodies with tattoos, who run them down their arms and legs and up their necks and onto their faces. There are individuals who put rings and pins in their noses and in their ears and in their tongues and in their cheeks. The more radically a person revises his body, the more grotesque the person looks. Altering your body through amputations and plastic surgeries is evidence of self-hatred. It is a cry for help, or an attempt to escape. God never intended that we should hate ourselves or our bodies.
The 21st century movement to force subjective self-actualization on society, in defiance of biology, is an attack on human sanity. But the attack strikes hardest on the true believers and the true practitioners. If you are a person who believes in transitioning as a means to self-actualization, you are saddled with a number of very serious problems:
- What is the explanation for perceiving yourself as being of a different sex than the one exhibited by your body? Why are you confident about your perception, particularly since you have never lived as a person of a different sex?
- Do you know that most people who feel they are persons trapped in a body of the wrong sex eventually stop feeling that way?
- How do you deal with the fact that, though you can be changed to look more like a person of the opposite sex, the full change is not possible?
- How do you deal with the fact that transitioning will leave you neither fully male nor fully female?
- How do you deal with the fact that, becoming neither male nor female would put you into a sexual category that further alienates you from the vast majority of society?
- If the spirit is independent of the body, why is it important to change the body?
- Are there other explanations for your body discomfort? If so, would it not be wise to face those explanations squarely before subjecting your self, your society, and your body to the alterations necessary to transition?
This essay has been an argument against sexual deviance. However, I want to make it clear that becoming or remaining heterosexual will not deliver anyone from life’s trials. Neither is it a means of salvation. Salvation comes of repenting of sin, trusting in Jesus as the one who delivers from sin and death, and submitting to him wholeheartedly on a committed basis. There are plenty of heterosexuals who would not touch such a commitment with a ten foot pole.
But to embrace transsexuality is one way to reject Jesus. It is a commitment to the idea that his creation is unsound. Following Jesus is the Way. Following the transitioning “guides” is like looking to a five-year-old passenger for driving tips on how to get to Mariupol. You won’t get there; you can’t get there; and your best hope is that you don’t get there.
In God’s Image 3
If you are a human, your identity is defined and determined by God. We have seen that being made in God’s image bestows upon us wondrous capacities, which give us joy. These capacities, used properly, enable us not only to live abundantly but to bestow blessings on all of society, as well. This is the benefit of living in a way that represents him.
But this is not the complete story of living in God’s image. When we recognize that we are made in God’s image we also understand that we are well made. We may struggle with our self-image, we may suffer when others treat us with contempt, or we may struggle with the fact that we have been horribly abused, or abandoned. We may feel lost and alone in an apathetic world. We may struggle with addictions or destructive habits, or with repeated failures. But God’s message is: “You are precious to me. You are precious to me. I did not mis-make you. Yes, you are scarred by this broken world, and I know you struggle with your own deficiencies, but these are not the end of the story. The real you remains and I will liberate you completely, physically and psychologically. Do not despair. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11.28-30). These promises are for now. To be made in the image of God is to rest in the reality of having been well made by the brilliant, loving Creator of the universe, who loves you better than any love you have ever experienced.
The idea of being made in the image of God is the most important concept in all education, whether it is being taught to kindergarteners, or to students in pursuit of advanced degrees, or being presented as reminders to seniors who have heard it a thousand times. It is the Great Comfort. All the disciplines are in desperate need of this assumption. Interactions between students and teachers, between students and students, between teachers and teachers, between teachers and administrations must be built upon the foundation of this idea. When this is idea is abandoned or forgotten, students are miseducated. Without this idea they cannot understand their exalted value, or the exalted values of those around them. Without this idea they cannot understand the critical value of the work that they have been put on the earth to accomplish. Without this idea they cannot understand that, however intimidating and dangerous life can be, the heavenly Father rules over all and brings good results out of circumstances that seem hopeless.
Being made in the image of God also implies the promise that we will be reformed to be like him spiritually. Imagine what it would be like to live in a society of beings who are pure. No locks. No lies. No meanness. No apathy. Instead there is love, patience, truth, gentleness, cooperation, encouragement, sharing, joy…all those good things that God has told us there is no law against. The chains of evil that we drag about, like Jacob Marley’ ghost did, will be lifted off of us, leaving our hearts feeling light as feathers.
And unlike scientific materialism that calls on all of us to die, living in God’s image is a call for us to live. God calls Death the last enemy that he will destroy. We cannot live forever in our current feeble bodies, nor could we bear to live forever in our current soul-confused state. But freed of sin and provided with incorruptible bodies, we can. This, too, is part of the call to be creatures made in God’s image. This is the birthright for which we have been made. All the dysphorias are the beans.
The narratives that frame our lives are important. They become the lenses through which we experience our lives. C.S. Lewis said this about Christianity: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Neither he nor I are talking about an option for experiencing the world; we are talking about reality. Reality is solid and marvelous. The counterfeit realities, on the other hand, lead to destruction. We must not stumble into the ways of destruction, nor ought we ever be complicit by affirming the paths of the deceived. Nor are we allowed to be apathetic towards those who choose false paths, for all who are human are called to live according to their calling, which is to live as one created in the image of God.