A Theology of Gender: Julian of Norwich and the Image of God

Gender is a big topic in general and there has been lots of discussion about how we should approach it from a Christian perspective. As a cis gendered straight dude, I am hesitant to give my opinion but I hope that this reflection can shed some light on this topic nonetheless. I would like to start the discussion with a little scripture and then talk about what Julian of Norwich had to say about it.

In Genesis 1:27 we are told that humanity has been created in the image of God. We are also told in the same moment that humanity has been created with two genders. It seems clear to me that both genders together form the image of God.

Here’s what it says:

God created humanity in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

If you keep reading in the story you will find out that God created Adam first. Adam is a Hebrew word which really means human, either an individual or all of humanity. The first human was created fully in the image of God, with no separation of gender – or more accurately, embodying all the aspects of both genders.

When God divided the human into two genders, God did so by the same means the rest of creation was brought into existence – separation.

God separated light from dark, then God separated sky from water, then earth from water, then Eve from Adam. Before light was separated from darkness they existed together, that’s why they were separated. You can’t separate two things which weren’t already joined.

This separation between the genders means that neither gender is complete on its own. The image of God with which we have been endowed is more than any one person can embody in themselves. And so, community is made stronger and healthier by the diversity which gender allows.

While this is true of humanity as a whole, it is also true within each individual. We have both male and female energies within our souls and there is a playful, and perhaps sexual (or creative), dynamic between them.

This dynamic found within the human condition can also be found within the Trinity, which makes sense since we are created in God’s image. Just as we have women, men, and the dynamic between them, so God is a Mother, a Father, and the Love which flows between them. The dynamic of both genders interacting becomes more than the sum of both parts.

Julian of Norwich talks about the relationship of the Trinity and movement of the Spirit between the Father and the Son. In her vision from Christ it was revealed to her that we have a marriage like the trinity imprinted in our very being. This is how she described it:

I saw and understood that the great power of the Trinity is our father, and the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our mother, and the great love of the Trinity is our lord; and we have all this by nature and in creation of the substantial parts of our souls.

God is the ground, he is the substance, he is the same thing as kind nature, and he is true father and true mother of nature. And all the kinds of nature which he has made flow from him to work his will and shall be restored and brought back in him again. Here we can see that we are fully bound to God, by nature, and we are fully bound to God by grace.

Julian is saying that the mystery of the Trinity, who is both one and three, is also found within us, and all of nature. This division is a part of the divine plan, but it is not a final resting place. For we will be brought back to unity in God again. This is like that famous line from Galatians which says that there is no male and female for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

As we are separate beings, doing finite mortal things, we have separate genders but we actually have both energies within us and at our core those energies are really one.

Therefore we should not find our identity in our gender, since no person is fully one gender or the other anyway and who we are in our deepest core unites and transcends gender altogether. We can play with the male and female energies and the love and dynamic between them and create beautiful things.

This is why God has given us the separation of gender, so that we can learn and grow from the dynamic. In that dynamic we experience the world of separation which is also the world of creation. Because creation is an act of separation and this world of genders, species, and endless diversity is a glorious work of art.

We learn about light and darkness only when we experience them apart from one another, and when we understand them both, then we come closer to knowing the truth, which is always unified and one.

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