The Rosetta Stone of the Sexes

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Dear Darla,

I want to spend at least a little bit of time talking about the nature of the differences between men and women. This is important because we have something of an optical illusion going, and it runs in both directions.

If you were to travel to a foreign land, but one suitably exotic, you would be struck by all the differences, all the time, but struck in a certain way. You would be struck by striking differences, which would astonish, but they were striking differences that you expected to encounter, which is why you wouldn’t be that astonished. You wouldn’t be surprised because you expected to be surprised, and you were. But if you traveled to a country very much like our own, somewhere in the English speaking world, say, you would be constantly lured into thinking it was going to be the same, and then it wouldn’t be. What did that traffic sign mean? Everything was going swimmingly, and then there was that little twist at the end.

It is like this between men and women. Living with a man like visiting the UK for the first time, and for him, living with a woman is like going to New Zealand. The fact that men and women both speak English, and both live in the same town and drive on the same streets, and attend the same schools, gives them an awful lot in common. That is what lures you into complacency. But all of this information is being processed, by you and by him, on completely different operating systems.

Imagine that I, your dutiful uncle, have taken you aside, and I have said to you, “Darla, do you see those boys standing over there?” And you nod your head, indicating that you do. And so then I say, “That’s a whole different country over there. They do things differently there.” And someone else, my counterpart, could take any one of those boys aside, and say exactly the same thing about you and the your girl friends.

There are two things that are really necessary for you to grasp in order to be able to deal with this. One is an absolute confidence in the authority of Scripture, and a belief that this authority speaks to the differences between men and women. This life between the sexes was God’s idea, remember, and this means that He wants it this way. The second thing you need, and which I don’t think I need to develop, is a sense of humor. If you really trust in God, and completely rely on His Word, you will get the joke.

Now in saying all this about God’s design in the differences, we need to factor out things that are manifestly sinful—malice, anger, lust, hatred, and so on. Those are things that we Christians are at war with, men and women both, and which we must not in any way accommodate. So in speaking about differences, I am not referring to toxic differences. But I am talking about things that are simply bewildering to you, and not things that God’s Word flatly prohibits. All toxicity is different, but not all differences are toxic.

And so this is why you need to trust the Scriptures. Think of the Bible as a Rosetta Stone that will teach you how to interpret men, and not through a woman’s lens. And men must not interpret women through a male lens. Men must receive their instruction about how to treat women from the one who invented women. Women must read the instruction manual also, and learn from the one who first designed men. And yes, men were apparently done on purpose. I say this because God understands men better than women do. God understands women better than men do, and He is the one who tells us all how to behave. As He does this, we can trust Him.

I will end all this with a practical example or two, but I want to hammer home the basic principle first. First, it is okay to be a man . . . but with qualifications. It is okay to be a man provided you were born a boy. It is okay to be a woman provided you were born a girl. We didn’t used to have to go over things like this, but we do go over them these days.

It is also all right to be a man, but just not an arrogant man. A man is called to walk humbly with his God (Micah 6:8). It is also all right to be a woman, provided you are a humble woman. And what this means is that you accept that you need guidance from God on what men and women are for, what their respective roles ought to be, and how they should treat one another. In short, it is necessary for men and women both to have a shared theology of the sexes. Neither sex has the capacity to originate such a theology (which would either be male imperium or female imperium), and so in order to share a theology of men and women, we all must receive it from outside this world. We must therefore be Bible readers, and straightforward Bible believers. This means that the patriarchy is what it is for us because of God the Father (Eph. 3:15), and not because Christianity was invented by males doing their thing.

So bring this down to earth. What I am saying here is that it is necessary to have these bedrock assumptions underneath my earlier letter on “understanding guys.” That was simply a list of a number of the differences, along with practical advice on dealing them. This is what undergirds a proper understanding of those differences.

Suppose that a guy comes to town and asks out one of your friends. She declines. A couple weeks later he asks out another one of your friends. She goes out with him once or twice, but declines any further invitations. The third time he goes out with another girl who was very interested in him, but he doesn’t ask her out again. Now, a couple of months in, suppose that he asks you out.

This is where you might feel affronted, as though he had violated some kind of scriptural standard, when he has done nothing of the kind. You might think that he is being callused or mercenary, or desperate, or on the hunt, or something, and you are more than a little peeved that he asked you out fourth. But he is just looking for a wife, which is a fine thing for him to do. You are looking for a husband too, but not that way. You don’t like it being so obvious. But in that moment, you are thinking about it like a woman, not like a Christian.

Now granted, it could be possible for him to violate certain common protocols or manners surrounding this sort of thing. Suppose one of the girls who declined to go out with him again was immediately asked by him, “Well, do you think your roommate might be interested?” Okay, there he is thinking about it like an idiot, and not like a Christian. There is such a thing as acting foolishly in this area, as though any willing female will do. But take care that your reaction not be driven by a hidden doctrine of “the one,” the doctrine that undergirds so many chick flicks. If a man needs an apartment, no one faults him for looking for an apartment. And if a man needs a wife, there is no sin in him looking for one. He should take care to mind his manners, but he doesn’t need the women urging him to get off the dime, and then faulting him for continuing to try if two women turn him down.

And here is another example, and although it seems completely different than the first one, it is nevertheless shaped by the same foundational theology that I was writing about above. I want to take this illustration from congregational singing. We have worshiped at your church more than a few times, and one of the stand-out features of your worship is the singing. Your sanctuary has great acoustics, and your people really know how to sing. Moreover, on more than a few of your songs, the congregation knows how to break into parts, and there really is nothing like it.

One of the things I would encourage you to do, or to pray about doing, is this. In a fuging tune, for example, when the basses start the refrain by themselves, and then the tenors join them, while you are waiting to sing your part, thank God for the men. You should be proud of the men being men. Thank God for the low voices, in other words, and listen to them with pride and appreciation. And ask God to help you with your kvelling. And the men should be thinking that they can’t wait until the women join them, and the women should be glorying in the fact that the men are leading them.

This is a nice little exercise, where the men learn how to glory in their women, and the women learn how to glory in their men. You might be surprised at what hidden assumptions doing this might bring to the surface. And what you learn about yourself in such corporate interactions will transfer readily to an individual man when you eventually meet someone who is a genuine prospect.

All for now.

Your uncle,