Be Glad for Binaries

Note: This article is part of a series on terminology related to homosexuality.

God loves binaries. In creation, he separated light from darkness (Genesis 1:4), the waters above from the waters beneath (verse 7), the sea from the dry land (verse 10). We should be glad for each of these binaries. A cycle of day and night is better than endless dusk. “Water everywhere” is only good news for fish; the rest of us want “water on earth as it is in heaven.” And hiking and sailing are both better than wading through mud all the time.

The Gender Binary

The noblest of God’s binaries, though, is found in humanity. God crowned us with the honor of bearing his image, uniting a physical body and a rational soul (Genesis 1:26, 2:7). Then he split the man into “male and female” (1:27, 2:22), forming a greater whole through the union of the first man and woman, and through every subsequent union of a man who leaves his father and mother and holds fast to his wife (2:24).

God’s binaries ennoble both the pair and each part. As an illustration, consider the binary pair of an electrical cord and a wall socket: one cord might be better than another, but cords cannot be “better” than wall sockets. In the same way, who could say whether they prefer heaven or earth? Birds must nest in trees, and earthlings must gaze at the stars. No one prefers the land or the sea absolutely, but everyone appreciates the beauty of a coastline and the safety of a harbor. In the same way, men and women cannot be “better” than each other. One man might be a better man than another. A particular woman will excel a particular man in some particular respect. But men in general cannot be “better” or “worse” than women. Each is a good and indispensable part of an even better whole.

God’s binaries are about union, not division. The sex binary does not separate humanity into two halves, each going their own direction. Rather, it enables a deeper union than would be possible otherwise. Without the sex binary, each of us as individuals could go our own way as a full representation of the human species. In fact, though, no one person can actually represent the fullness of humanity, because no one possesses all the human sex characteristics or a functioning reproductive system. Only the union of a male and a female presents us with humanity itself, and not merely one or more humans. Individually, a man and a woman are just two people; together, they are a family, a race, perhaps the beginning of a royal line.

The Most Basic Binary

The binaries within creation illuminate the relationship between God and his creation. The “Creator-creature distinction” sounds like it is all about keeping God and creation apart, but it is actually about keeping them together. God is not the highest part of creation, present only to the top layer of a massive bureaucratic ladder; he is present to the whole creation, as the Sun gives life to the whole world, or as a husband is wholly joined to his wife.[1]

The Creator-creature binary is also ennobling. God is not different from his creation as goodness is different from evil, or as something better is different from something worse. Recall that wall sockets cannot be “better” than electrical cords. If sockets are good, so are cords. In a similar way, God is infinite goodness itself, and his creation is likewise “very good.”

To clarify this point, consider a question: would you prefer that God exists, or that you exist to worship him? If you choose the first answer, it is because you exist to worship God. If the second, it is because God exists and he is worthy. Because this is a binary, there is no competition here. To worship God is not to despise creation or ourselves, but rather to find new meaning in the world and in our own lives. A mariner does not despise the sea by smiling at the sight of land. A bride is not diminished in the presence of her bridegroom. Staring heavenward exalts a child (Psalm 8:2-3).

Rejecting the Gender Binary

Now we can see the deep significance of the crusade against the “gender binary.” Sex and gender, we are told, exist on a spectrum. Dispensing with the binary in this way opens many avenues for sheer self-determination. Homosexuality is just as valid as heterosexuality, since there is no binary requirement for complementary parts joining to form a unique whole. Expectations of lifelong monogamy, or even of one-at-a-time exclusivity are without foundation, since there is nothing definitive about the organic union of male and female aspects of the human reproductive system. Nor is there any foundation for a stable gender identity in individuals. In practice these identities are often quite fluid; genders differ as items on a menu, rather than as a distinction between night and day.

To reject the sex binary is ultimately to reject the Creator-creature distinction. Despising our binary sexuality, we exalt ourselves to the position of creator. We seek to author and determine our own lives, acknowledging only the limits of our own preferences. Yet in reality we are not on any sort of spectrum with God. He is God and we are not, and he sets the boundaries of our life, and marks out paths of righteousness for us to walk in.

To reject the sex binary is also to reject the goodness of our own existence. By refusing to acknowledge reality, we view our bodies not as a good gift to be received with thanksgiving, but as either an option to exercise or a problem to overcome. Acknowledging the sex binary as something good leads us to affirm the value and goodness of ourselves and others. It also leads us to appreciate that the universe is good, not in spite of the Creator, but precisely because the Creator and creation are sharply distinguished and forever joined in a binary relationship.

Broken Binaries Healed

The binaries that began with creation were all disrupted by human sin. “People loved darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19). We have set our affections on things below, not on things above (Colossians 3:2). Our earthly marriages fracture in a reflection of our fractured relationship with God. Our bodies will soon rest in the grave while our souls enter the gladness or horror of the life to come. With the whole creation, we groan for the restoration of the universe’s proper order, rhythm, and harmony, and for the “redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:20-23).

At the last day, broken binaries will be put back together. Heaven and earth will be reunited (Revelation 21:2), body and soul rejoined in resurrection, either to life or to judgement (John 5:29). Those who have trusted and served Christ will be freed from the misery of sin—including the misery of trouble with our sexual desires and gender identity. Bodies harmed by rebellion against the gender binary will be renewed.

We have some hints at the end of Revelation that some of the binaries of this present age will give way: there will be no more sea (21:1), and no more night (22:5). The best part of all is especially clear: the gender binary will reach its full significance when human marriage gives way before the reality it signifies (Ephesians 5:32). Christ’s people will be “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2), and welcomed home to live with him forever.

Calvin Goligher is the pastor of First OPC in Sunnyvale, California. He and his wife Joanne have five young children.

Related Links

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution by Carl Trueman

"Courageous Christian Sexuality" by William Boekestein

"Identifying Our Identity" by Jared Nelson

Revoiced Spirituality by Jonathan Master

Biblical Personhood & Gender Confusion, with Derek Thomas, Richard Phillips, and Rosaria Butterfield. 


[1] Notice how these last two go together in Psalm 19:5; the same Psalm also mentions binary pairs of heaven and earth, day and night.

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