First, because this post involves a lot of personal interpretation of scripture, I must point out that I am not an official spokesman for the Church. This is my own thoughts on conclusions I have come to while studying and pondering my own challenges. With that said…
One result of having severe gender issues is that I have thought a lot about gender and what it means—particularly in the context of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Last night, I went to the Temple, and some things I’ve been mulling over quite a time came a little more clearly to my mind. Now, there are things in the Temple that are too sacred to discuss on a blog, but what I am going to share here is all knowledge that is to be had outside the Temple. I just understood it more clearly there.
I also note that to many, it may seem unusual to speak, as I will, of gender and sexuality as sacred and holy things. This is particularly true as I can see from my logs and the searches that bring people here on occasion that those who happen upon this site are not, I think, even in the majority, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. So I will reiterate here what I have said elsewhere: That I am a member of the Church, and I will not apologize for its teachings, because they are true, and the purpose of this site is not really to be a debate forum about them. I will encourage those who see this who are not members of the Church to look at, for example, mormon.org or lds.org and see what it is that we believe and test the truth of it for yourself. In particular, for those both inside and outside of the Church who may be uncomfortable with my speaking of human sexuality as a Sacrament, I note that I can hardly take credit for the idea. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, while he was President of BYU, gave a marvelous and extensive talk on the very subject entitled, “Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments”, which he later, as a member of the Twelve, revised and summarized in a General Conference address.
So with that introduction, I move on to my personal reflections on the meaning of gender. A good place to start is the The Family: A Proclomation to the World, which has one of the most direct addresses to the issue of gender available in the entire corpus of Church doctrine. The statement is both simple and profound:
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
The truths implicit in this statement are profound. First, that both men and women are created in the image of God. How can this be, though, if we believe that God is in the form of a Man, our Heavenly Father? The answer is in the next sentence. We are sons and daughters of heavenly parents—not just a Father, but an Eternal Mother also. She is an integral part of God the Father. We learn, then, that womanhood and motherhood is integral to God’s plan for us; that there is no Father without a Mother. This is important, for it tells us that if ever we see a symbol or a doctrine involving a father, we ought always to look for the balancing representation of a mother. The one cannot be without the other.
This doctrine is hardly astounding, or if it is, it shouldn’t be. We are told in Genesis 2: 21 — 22:
21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a awoman, and brought her unto the man.
The Hebrew word here rendered as “rib” is tsalah, the feminine form of tsela, which derives from a root meaning “curved,” and implies both a “rib” or a “side” or “plank.” So Adam, after the Creation, was not whole. There was missing from him a whole side—more than a minuscule member. Or in other words, there was within Adam a part missing, and since the Creation, man has yearned to be bound to his missing member (the woman), even as woman yearns to be bound to her missing member (the man). Neither alone is complete. So it is not surprising that in the Lord’s Plan, the highest blessings can be received only by a man and woman, bound together in the holy order of marriage. So shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24). In that sacred act of sexual intercourse between husband and wife, man and woman come nearest to that perfect and final state that is the ordained purpose of man, wherein the man and woman, though retaining their identities, are bound by so complete a union that the heart, mind and will of one is that of the other. Indeed, this is why God declares serious consequences for those who would trifle with the sacred powers of sexuality and procreation. It is solemn mockery for a man to partake of the flesh of a woman when he has not bound her to him by covenant. The mockery is compounded when a man has bound himself to a woman by covenant, and then partakes of the flesh of another whom he has not bound to himself by covenant. Indeed, there are but two sins greater than this, and those most dreadful that the perpetrators thereof, in the lesser of the two cases, may have but limited access to the Grace of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and in the greater, appear to have none at all except in the bare power of Resurrection of a tormented body.
In this light, it is not so abnormal, I think, for me to have these feminine yearnings. Perhaps I just feel more strongly the absence of that part that was taken out of man, and as I, through the grace of God, grow ever closer to my wife in mind and spirit, I will continue to grow and progress until that great day of resurrection and judgment, when all shall be healed, and when the union shall be made perfect, so that there can be no longing, for there is nothing now lost.
Now, as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is overwhelmingly full of symbolism, I would like to turn to two more aspects of the relationship between husband and wife that are symbolic of higher things. The first is the relationship between God the Father and Jehovah, in which the husband is symbolic of the Father, and the wife of Jehovah. The second is the relationship between Jesus Christ (who is Jehovah) and His Church, in which the husband is symbolic of Jesus Christ, and the wife and mother is symbolic of the Church, or sometimes in a broader sense, of the Covenant People.
In the first symbol, we have God the Father, Elohim, who is represented in the marriage relationship by the husband. And we have God the Son, Jehovah, Jesus the Christ, who is represented in the marriage relationship by the wife. Here, just as God the Father presides over the Godhead (which consists of Himself, Jehovah, and the Holy Spirit), so the husband is to preside in the counsel that is composed of husband and wife. Now I must hasten to point out, since God’s command that Adam should rule over Eve (Genesis 3:16) has been the sorry excuse that wicked men have, for millennia, used to subjugate, dominate, subdue, mistreat and abuse women, that the Lord’s command did not make Adam greater than Eve or give him authority to misuse her. Indeed, I am confident that Adam, being a righteous man, did no such thing. Rather, God appointed unto Adam and his male posterity to preside in righteousness. In fact, the Lord has proclaimed calamity on any man who would abuse his wife or offspring (see the Proclamation I mentioned earlier) and has taught that when any man seeks to impose his will by virtue of his presidency for its own sake, he is stripped of the authority he seeks to exercise unrighteously (see D&C 121:41 — 44).
So what does it mean for a man to preside? Understanding the symbolism of the husband representing God the Father is instructive here. Jesus Christ Himself enlightened us in John 5:19. “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” The Father led the Son by example. So it is with husbands and fathers who are to preside over their families. It is their role to go before, to prepare a path for those who will cross over after them. They are to lead by loving example. They are to learn the will of God and to do it. They are to ease the road of righteousness and persuade others to follow it by gentleness, meekness and love unfeigned. When the husband and father is acting thus, his wife and children learn to trust him, and so they need not fear to walk the paths that he walks. This relationship, of all human relationships properly ought to be the most tender, loving and self-sacrificial. It is unfortunate that so many men shirk this duty to preside, for it is a source of much evil in the world, and the situation is aggravated a hundred fold when he who fails to preside takes it upon himself to domineer.
And what of the wife’s role in this symbolic relationship? As I said, the wife is symbolic of Jehovah, or Jesus Christ. This is hardly commensurate with the ignoble station that has been conferred on her by men and societies for so many ages. Indeed, when we see her in this light, we ought to honor and revere woman as God’s crowning creation. Remember that just as man is not complete without woman, so God’s plan is not complete without a Savior. God could not carry out the plan Himself, just as a man alone cannot bear a child. God is immortal; He does not die, and so cannot give His own life to redeem man. He must needs have a Son, one who inherits His Godly character and power over death, and yet is half mortal, thus empowered to die. It is thus, by the provision of a Redeemer, that God gives life to His own seed, His spirit sons and daughters. Jesus Christ descended into the valley of death and sorrow to bring life unto mankind. In the marvelous Plan of Salvation, He alone had that unique blend of mortality, inherited from his mortal mother, and Godly power, inherited from His immortal Father. He alone could bring life to those who without him had none. And is not the wife and mother strongly symbolic of this role that the Great Messiah played? For man alone cannot bear a child. Man alone cannot give life to his children. It is the wife—the mother—who must bear this tremendous burden. It is she who must descend into the valley of death and pain to bring life to those who, without her, could have none. And like the Messiah, she does this for the great love she has for them. She knows that she must suffer pain and sorrow to bring them forth, and yet billions upon billions have done so, for they love their children. And when the moment comes, even as the Messiah bore His load alone, she must bear her burden alone. None can bear it for her. At that moment of crisis, she may feel to plead, as did the Savior, that this bitter cup must pass from her. But for the love of her child, she endures the pain, facing darkness, to give life. Indeed, many throughout the ages have very literally given their lives to bring children into the world (Rachel comes to mind, and even in this day of miraculous modern medicine, it still happens at times, though thankfully, it has become rather rare in developed countries).
This symbol was brought home to me very strongly with our last child, for unforeseen circumstances forced my wife to have him without an epidural. And the care she was given by the hospital was less than adequate, so she suffered, in essence, alone. And to take the symbol to its full extent, I think of that terrible moment on the cross, when the Savior cried out to His Father, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The Father had withdrawn even His holy presence, that the Son might be glorified the more, that none may claim that He endured only because His Father made Him endure, or bore Him up. The Savior completed the Atonement utterly alone. I think of this because, as chance would have it, I had left town for a short 24 hours. And of course, this is when our son was born. So I was absent, unable to lend even what little support I could with the other two. She bore him alone, without my help or even the aid even of a doctor or a nurse (in fact, my mother had to push an anesthesiologist and a nurse out of the way so she could catch the child as he came out; this is a long, unpleasant story I won’t recount here). At such a moment, is it possible to miss the strength with which a wife and mother typifies the Savior? Indeed, I submit that there is nothing on this mortal Earth that typifies the suffering Christ more strongly than the selfless act of child birth; the process by which woman descends below all things to give life to the helpless. And forever thereafter, her watchful eye typifies the watchful care that the Lord takes of His people.
I mentioned above that there is another great symbol in marriage—that of the Savior to His Church. I think I have waxed prolix long enough. I will have to save that topic for another day, though he who would understand it has only to read a little Isaiah or look at Ephesians 5:22 — 28. In any case, the symbol is hardly an esoteric one. It is well-known and used throughout Christendom. So I will come back to the topic later and give my own reflections on it.