I have two young sons at home. They both have a high appreciation for women and girls, but the things they appreciate and perceive about females are vastly different.
One son seems to have given relatively little thought to gender distinctions. He likes to play wild, boyish games—swashbuckling on the high seas, ridding the earth of malevolent aliens, and beating down the bad guys. But he has always been just as happy to enjoy a meaningful conversation or quiet game with a young lady. To be sure, he’s singled out some girls as special crushes, but for the most part girls are natural buddies, companions, and peers just like boys…only prettier.
My other son appreciates girls too, but more for the alien wonder of their femininity. He sees them as soft, gentle, sweet, and beautiful. He likes them best in girlie trappings—dresses, sparkles, bows, and pastel colors. (He is forever trying to convince me that my favorite color is actually pink, and not green as I insist.) To him, girls are infinitely wonderful, but the notion that they ought to be viewed or treated the same as boys is absolutely wrong and absurd.
It is such a puzzle to me that these two fellas were born to the same parents, are being raised in the same environment, and are interacting with the same culture—yet their perspectives on this matter overlap so little.
The first son’s approach is obviously more culturally acceptable in this 21st century western world, but it has recently been brought to my attention that heaven’s culture might sympathize a bit with both boys.
What could I possibly mean by that?
Consider the nature of angelic appearances recorded in the Bible.
The way that men were engaged by heavenly visitors varied a bit. Sometimes the stranger’s appearance was so average and disarming that the man did not realize his visitor was other-worldly until after the stranger had vanished. Sometimes the angel had a chat with a fella in a dream. Often, however, men were terrified out of their wits by an angel appearing suddenly before their eyes, arrayed in full, imposing splendor. The shock and dread that this inspired is evident in the the men’s reactions.
“…And Joshua fell on his face to the earth.” Joshua 5:14
“…no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength.” Daniel 10:8
“Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him.” Luke 1:12
“…and they were terribly frightened.” Luke 2:9
‘The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.” Matthew 28:4
Do you know what the angels nearly always say after they cause grown men to shudder and faint with fear?
“Don’t be afraid.”
Don’t be afraid?! As if they didn’t know that their appearing in this manner would make these guys lose their cool. At least one of these angels is a repeat offender. And even first time messengers surely couldn’t be ignorant of the history of human/angel relations. They know they’re scary when they do that. This, along with the fact that they seem quite capable of tempering these debuts, has led some to reasonably conclude that the angels derive pleasure from frightening men half to death.
Go ahead, imagine with me the captain of the Lord’s hosts trying to suppress a mischievous grin while Joshua grovels and eats dust. Switches things up a bit, doesn’t it?
The story is different with women, though. There is a lack of recorded instances where women respond to angels with this level of alarm. A more feminist-minded person might suggest that this is owing to the relative stout-heartedness of the women, but a closer look at the angelic approach in these accounts shows it to be as different as the response.
This appearing-suddenly-in-dreadful-glory business is curiously missing. Even when God sends himself as the emissary.
The angel of the Lord appeared to Samson’s mom, but she only reported to her husband that he looked like an angel of God, very awesome. (Judges 13)
The angel of the Lord found Hagar. (Genesis 16)
Gabriel came into the house to greet Mary. (Luke 1)
The exception to this rule is the group of female disciples who came to the tomb to tend to the body of Jesus. Two angels do seem to appear quite suddenly inside the tomb and scare the women (Luke 24). Even here though, it seems like some of the women were amazed to look into the tomb and see the angels already hanging out there, while some of the women were startled by their sudden appearance very near them inside the tomb. Maybe it was more a matter of timing and perspective on the women’s part than intentional shock and awe on the angel’s part. Besides, abject terror is softened a little when you’re allowed to share it with friends, right?
Like the first son I described, angels seem to have no special reservations about engaging women. However, there is evidence that they may very well agree with son number two that you do not treat a woman the same way you treat a man. Of course it is nothing like conclusive evidence, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Men and women are different. God sets the culture of heaven and he respects differences. He responds to us differently according to what we know or understand, what we have been entrusted with, what opportunities we’ve been given, the make-up of our personality, our cultural and historical environment, and any number of other circumstances that set us apart from one another.
He meets us where we’re at.
That’s what the garden was all about. That’s what the cross is all about.
There is a vast chasm of difference between us and God. We are different than him. He tenderly and lovingly relates to us as the beloved creatures we are, and passionately offers to us all of the goodness we were made to experience. He certainly doesn’t treat us like we are him.
I don’t know exactly how, but we are different than angels. God’s response to our rebellion was different than his response to Satan’s rebellion.
To be treated differently because we are different is no insult. It is simply right, isn’t it?
All things considered, I won’t be offended if an angel or anyone else doesn’t treat me the same as they would treat a man.
But I still don’t like pink.