By Carolyn Custis James
This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.
The Blessed Alliance, Week 3
One of the perks of living in Central Florida (as my family did for seventeen years) is the ability to witness space shuttle launches at the Kennedy Space Center without leaving home. When we first moved to Orlando, we were thrilled to discover that we could hear the boom of the rockets fire and watch lift-off from our front yard. I have to say it never got old. Every time we raced out our front door to watch, it was just as exciting and amazing as the first launch we witnessed.
At creation, God is launching the most ambitious enterprise imaginable and, we should be blown away to discover that we are in this story. The team he commissions to do the job of looking after creation on his behalf is male and female—human beings, his image bearers—together. Ironically, we are so familiar with this text, that we are no longer overwhelmed with a sense of awe over what God is saying about us.
The Blessed Alliance is one of the boldest, counter-cultural concepts presented in all of Scripture. It matters deeply to God. It is the Creator’s vision for us in the beginning and Jesus’ prayer at the end (John 17). It goes well beyond “wouldn’t it be nice” if men and women could work together. It is God’s kingdom strategy. It isn’t exaggerating to say the Blessed Alliance is the spiritual equivalent of a nuclear weapon, only the Blessed Alliance is not destructive. It’s constructive and powerful. It’s wonderfully counter-cultural in every culture and requires the best we all have to offer each other.
God isn’t making an optional suggestion. This is God’s kingdom strategy. It is also the way we each will be most effective in fulfilling his mandate. The job God commissions is monumental. It involves every square inch of the planet and every image bearer from cradle to the grave. No one can be spared.
“So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (1:27)
Notice how God meticulously separates males from females before assigning each group their respective responsibilities: males to “rule and subdue”; females to “be fruitful and increase in number.”
Oh wait! Read it again. God didn’t divide them. He addresses them collectively. Their mission is singular; their responsibilities are shared. To suggest otherwise is to superimpose something foreign on the text and distort the truth. God commissions all of his image bearers to represent him and look after things in the world on his behalf. It is a heavy responsibility and a call to leadership. This is no small matter. A lot is riding on how they respond. God mobilizes this alliance with his blessing. It is the Blessed Alliance. This is essential if we hope to grow in how we reflect God who is himself inherently relational—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Read God’s words again with that in mind. Here are important observations to ponder:
First, every command is issued jointly—to both male and female. Contrary to what some have asserted, both male and female image bearers are called to rule and subdue; both male and female are called to be fruitful and multiply. The text doesn’t distinguish responsibilities by gender, nor does it restrict these responsibilities to adults. All of God’s image bearers are called to this—from the cradle to the grave. So we have to think in bigger categories than adults in the prime of life. Little children are included; so are the elderly. No one is excluded. God’s image bearers are born to rule as God’s representatives, and we are in this together!
Second, the “rule” God envisions is outward over creation. We are not called to rule over each other. Nor is ruling on God’s behalf ever self-serving. God’s rule is driven by self-giving love. We are to rule that way too—for the good of all creation.
Third, the call to “subdue” is a heads up that this won’t be a cake-walk. The Blessed Alliance will face opposition and challenges. Already an Enemy is on the loose who will successfully mount a stealth attack on this Blessed Alliance that will bring deep division. So be on alert!
Fourth, to be “fruitful and multiply” certainly involves but is not limited to physical reproduction. That would exclude too many image bearers and certain seasons of all of our lives. Rather, it is a call to live fruitful, productive lives; a call to engage in every endeavor necessary to cultivate, ultilize, explore, and steward (not exploit) the earth’s resources. It is a call to the workplace, to education, agriculture, medicine, the arts, etc. And most importantly, it is a call to multiply image bearers of the living God—a call to the gospel.
It’s worth emphasizing:
“God isn’t calling men and asking women to hang back. He gives both male and female the exact same identity—to be his image bearers. He gives both the exact same responsibilities when he entrusts all of creation to his image bearers, calling them to be fruitful and multiply and to rule and subdue the whole earth (Genesis 1:26, 28). Words spoken here encompass every human being, every facet of human life, and every square inch of earth, and leave every other conceivable view of women (or of men) in the dust.”
—Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women (50)
But the Creator won’t leave the matter here. Before the creation narrative concludes, God gives us a close-up of the creation of male and female that reinforces the truth that men and women need each other.
This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track. Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.