The narratives we hear and believe form us. We resonate with the stories of heroism and drama, finding inspiration for our own lives. We are a storied people. Cultural narratives of people achieving or fighting for the American dream, success, happiness and freedom are narratives that find their way into the stories we share and love.
Whether we realize it or not, we are characters in a great drama, one bigger than ourselves, and how we understand the story will determine how we play our part.
Worldview is one way of describing the grand narrative of life. Who are we, what’s our part in the story, what matters and what goal are we moving toward are all critical elements in a worldview – just like any good story.
Who’s the Author of Our Story?
The story we’re often told through media, educational systems, and the postmodern experience of our culture says that we are the authors of our own story. It is up to each individual to determine their character, role, gender, and purpose.
Without a rooted reality, with clear narratives woven within a larger story, it becomes easy to create boxes and lists of characteristics to categorize ourselves and measure them against cultural expectations. For example, boys like blue, girls like pink. Boys should idolize John Wayne, girls like Barbies. Such narratives strip individuals of the full freedom to express their unique personality without assumptions or shame. Autonomy sounds like freedom until one discovers the heavy burden of defining all reality for oneself.
Such narratives strip individuals of the full freedom to express their unique personality without assumptions or shame.
In her book Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcy tells the story of Brandon who felt the tension between cultural expectation and his personality. He enjoyed having conversations and quietly playing the games the girls played. Brandon’s awareness of relational dynamics and emotions made him feel more comfortable with his girl friends. He didn’t care to roughhouse or blow things up. He just didn’t fit in with the boys. Eventually the tension he felt between his personality and expectation of his character as a boy made him question his gender, which ultimately felt like servitude to the stereotypes rather than freedom to be himself.1
In a similar example of someone I know personally, Abby grew up playing cops and robbers, running barefoot through the mud, fishing and caring little about dolls or playing house. Though she wore dresses, her knees were always scuffed from climbing trees and jumping off things. Her differences made it hard to make friends with other girls. The adventure found in friendships with boys made relationships with them more natural, but it was looked down upon because she was informed that boys and girls can’t be friends. Not fitting in as a stereotypical girl, she felt isolated. That isolation created depression and that depression made her wish she wasn’t a girl.
Both Brandon and Abby experienced the struggle of trying to fit within cultural narratives and stereotypical male and female gender identities.
But what happens to those who don’t fit? The postmodern worldview encourages a story where they transition into the gender they most identify with. Ultimately underscoring and strengthening stereotypes rather than allowing for flexibility and freedom within the definitions of masculinity and femininity.
There is a modern Gnosticism at play in our the postmodern story. Gnosticism is an ancient Greek philosophy which pits the mind/internal reality against the body/biological reality. Gnosticism allowed for two extremes, either mutilate the body since it’s evil, or use it however you want since it doesn’t matter anyway. One’s conscious experience is upheld at the cost of the health and wellbeing of the body. This story ends with fragmentation. The human body and our mind/emotions are split apart and set at odds with one another.
One’s conscious experience is upheld at the cost of the health and wellbeing of the body. This story ends with fragmentation.
Such a dichotomy between emotion or internal experience vs biological fact influences transgender expression, which is on the rise in the U.S. In fact, 1.5 million individuals now identify as transgender, double what was reported in 2014.2
A Better Story:
Christianity’s worldview offers a far more beautiful and authentic story about gender and the human experience. Rather than pitting body and mind against each other, Christianity offers a holistic view of personhood. We will provide a brief overview of the biblical narrative which includes creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, to catch a glimpse of this reality.
God established the foundation of the biblical narrative and humanity’s identity in Genesis 1:26-28. Here, human’s identity is rooted in their relationship with God as bearers of his image. Bodies are good, equipped with everything needed to fulfill God’s purpose and engage in relationship with God, self, others, and creation.
Brokenness to the core. Things are no longer as they should be – this is most evident in Genesis 3:11-19. The ripple effects of sin touches all relationships that were once good. The first couple experience fragmentation in their intrapersonal identities, frustration in their relationship with creation, friction in interpersonal dynamics, and fracture in their relationship with God.
From that moment on, the story of humanity is one where people try to find identity in that which cannot provide stable and satisfactory answers. Through control, power, vengeance, sexual exploits and economic stability, the biblical story is honest with how humanity tends to legitimize its existence.
Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? These are the questions we all seek to answer as we create mismatched and broken ideas to answer them on our own.
From Genesis 3:21 until now (literally this very moment), God engages with the brokenness of the world in order to heal and draw near those who have been broken and lost (which is all of us).
The story of redemption in the Old Testament specifically starts with a people formed by God whose life together points toward the goodness he originally desired. Within that story we find that our physical bodies matter. Leviticus 13-15 outlines various laws pertaining to care for the body. Even the fact that burial was so important to the Jews points to a value of the physical body and an expectation of a future hope (Gen 25:8; Deut 32:50). God’s people were to use their body and life together to reorient themselves toward mending the relationships broken as a result of the fall.
In addition to becoming a people identified by God, the Bible also gives examples of men and women who don’t fit classic gender stereotypes. They’re accepted for the strengths and uniqueness they bring into their identity as a man or woman.
- David loved music, poetry, and beauty while also being a warrior and king (1 Sam. 16:17-18)
- Deborah was a wife, but she was known as the leader of Israel. She held court and administered justice (Judges 4:4-5), prophesied to the nation as to what the Lord would do for them and she instructed the Israelite military during battle even going to the battlefront with them (4:6-10).
- Jesus broke every stereotype of Israel’s expectations of their coming king. He also resonates with features most would not associate with traditional masculine expectations: Jesus weeps (Jn. 11:35), he has compassion (Matt. 9:36), and he desires to gather his people like a hen does her chicks (Matt. 23:37).
Not only does Jesus shatter stereotypes and expectations but the fact that he came in the flesh is revolutionary. The incarnation of Christ provides redemption in a way that was so unexpected, even by even those who were anticipating a messiah. That God would become a human with a physical body was unimaginable and is still beyond comprehension. Gregory of Nazanzus, the 4th century Bishop of Constantinople, spoke out about the vitality of Jesus fully assuming the whole human experience and existence. His argument: what Christ did not assume, he could not redeem.3 Thus, Christ’s incarnation ensures our access to full redemption, not just for the spiritual part of us but the body too—the whole human is raised from its fall in Christ.
What Christ did not assume, he could not redeem
Paul goes into great detail in many of his letters about the implications of our identity in Christ. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal. 26-27).” Now, our most important identity is not gender, race, or socio-economic standing but Christ.
Our postmodern culture claims the opposite of scripture: gender, race and socio-economic standing are the main sources of identity. Are you and your church offering the truth of this better story and having compassion for those who are trying to find their identity?
What’s the most important thing about you? I asked this question to my youngest niece Willow. In her cute little 4 year-old voice she exuberantly said, JESUS!
Willow understands the depth many of us still don’t–the most important thing about who we are is our relationship with Christ. Justification is the theological term for this reality. We are put in right standing with the Father on the basis of Jesus’ faithfulness. All other identification markers we have fall under him and pale in comparison to the identity Christ gives us.
In a world that sexualizes basically everything and reduces the complexity of the human experience and personality down to their sexual identities, the biblical worldview offers hope and wholeness.
The resurrection of Jesus provides hope that our broken bodies will experience a recreation that does not strip us of our identity but makes our humanness whole.
In the coming Kingdom there is a new reality for our bodies. A reality where all that was broken in the Fall is mended in the consummation of God’s story. Here, everyone will experience an identity that is made new and mended in God’s restoration. Stereotypes created in a fallen world, which place limits or shame on people are totally removed. Men and women are united as the Bride of Christ in Revelation 21. There is a power and strength, victory and rule, striking beauty and perfection in this bride, the church.
In the coming Kingdom there is a new reality for our bodies. A reality where all that was broken in the Fall is mended in the consummation of God’s story.
The biblical story recognizes the goodness of gendered bodies, the reality of brokenness in every relationship that was once good, and the intention of God to mend and restore us. The most important feature of the story is not us but God. Our relationship with him is the most important thing about us and it is the one thing that should define us above everything else. Cultural stereotypes do not need to force us into or exclude us from our gender. A man can have feminine characteristics without transitioning. It’s ok for men to be compassionate, caring and emotional just like it is fine for women to be more like Deborah with strong, assertive leadership. The story of scripture offers room for people to be diverse, but it’s also honest with how our stories are broken. We all experience brokenness and sin in the world and in ourselves, for some it may be transgender tendencies or desires, for others it’s the fight against pride, shame, or gossip. No matter the experiences we’ve had or the struggles we face, God is working to make us into his worthy and beautiful bride.
Natasha Smith is a lover of Scripture, nature, adventure, truth and deep conversation. She is an experienced speaker, producer, and writer and is the co-author of the book Unplanned Grace: A Compassionate Conversation on Life and Choice. Her academic background is in Communications and Biblical Theology and is currently seeking a Masters in Old Testament from Denver Seminary. One of her greatest delights is helping people recognize how the Biblical narratives connect to their own stories and how God’s relentless love and goodness forms a consistent thread throughout the whole story.