For quite a while, I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts on a very complicated and controversial issue. I appreciate the challenge, but—as anyone who’s paid attention to the recent conversation around Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and transgender identity could tell you—there are more facets to be discussed than can adequately be covered in one piece of writing.
I’m not going to attempt to cover them all. However, I do think every aspect is important to consider, because issues like these are not just a matter of human rights, the way advocacy groups tend to treat them. Along with reading my reflections on this issue in light of Scripture, I ask you to carefully consider the following:
- Transexuality is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental disorder called Gender Dysphoria, comparable (in the patient’s view of his or her body) to anorexia and bulimia. A number of major hospitals don’t offer gender reassignment surgery because of its ineffectiveness in meeting the psychological needs of patients.
- Society is working to remove the stigma around transsexual identity, while ignoring its status as a mental disorder. Meanwhile, the stronger stigma that surrounds mental illness is largely untouched.
- What exactly differentiates a “woman’s soul” from a “man’s soul”?
- If “feeling like a woman” means you are one and should have surgery to make yourself look like one, what if someone feels like a different race, nationality, or species? Does surgery actually make them what they imagine themselves to be? If you take away the lines of biology, how can you know where to redraw them?
- Why do most transsexual women (born men) treat pampering and cosmetics as inherently female, when many women don’t even embrace those things?
Now, putting all of these items aside, let’s train our focus on the core issue. Identity.
The western world talks a lot about identity. At graduation ceremonies across our country, young people are told to go out and find themselves. Go to a new place, try on a new you, reinvent yourself, get to know you. Figure out who you are.
It’s a legitimate problem, not knowing yourself, certainly of the first-world strain—since most other populations around the world have more pressing issues like starvation, lack of clean water, militant groups, etc.—but a legitimate problem just the same.
However, if you look at nature, humans are the only creatures who face this problem. Birds construct nests and hatch eggs, beavers chop down trees and build dams, bees suck nectar and pollinate plants, and platypuses do . . . whatever it is platypuses do. When it comes to identities, the animal kingdom is set. Even those creatures that seem to plagiarize others do so consistently—the mockingbird is all about mocking.
So what’s the deal with humanity? What big secret are we missing out on that the entire animal kingdom knows?
To find out, we have to go back to the beginning.
In Genesis 1, we’re given the creation account that tells us, at the outset of human history, everything was good. We’re also told in Genesis 1:26-27 that God made humankind in His image.
And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Carrying God’s image has huge significance. As image-bearers, we are not merely part of His creation—we also have the ability to join Him in His work. The ways we take after our Creator demonstrate this:
- A passion for creative projects (for those who don’t think they’re creative, we now have Pinterest)
- A soft spot for nature (you couldn’t possibly hate a tree, could you? What about a baby beagle?)
- An ability to bring life (read: reproduction)
Another aspect of being made in God’s image is our innate need for community. God is trinity, three persons in one being—this radical, beyond comprehension community within Himself. And when He made man, He gave him the need for community, setting Himself up for this problem: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Which he solved with Eve.
Along with our need to be in community with other people, being made in God’s image also means we need to be in communion with God. How can we properly reflect God’s image to those around us if we don’t spend time with God, Himself? We can’t.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve had perfect communion with God. I can’t even imagine what it was like to walk with Him through the Garden “in the cool of the day.”
But then, as we know, sin entered: both Adam and Eve ate of the fruit God had forbidden, stepping out of His design, out of His will, and as a result out of His presence.
Leaving God’s presence, man robbed himself of the most important piece of his identity: his relationship with God.
Mankind has never been the same. For centuries upon centuries since the Fall, people have been born without something. And we’ve felt the hole. It’s gaping on our insides, aching to be filled.
So we try to fill it.
We try them on for size, give them our best shot. They’ll provide our lives with meaning, right?
We need meaning. We crave meaning. But all those things we try on as saviors . . . we can tell they’re hollow. Not at first—that’s why we dive so deep, nearly drowning ourselves in this or that at the expense of everything else.
Addiction. It’s the result of latching onto a false savior.
Depression. It’s the result of failing to find a true savior.
Suicide. We decide searching for a savior isn’t worth it, we’re tired of coming up empty, so we empty ourselves of life.
Where’s transsexual identity in all of this? Neglecting its classification as a mental illness and focusing on those who undergo surgery with the expectation that looking more like what they feel will solve their problems and make them better people—transsexual identity is a symptom of the greater problem of sin infiltrating everything, even our perceptions of ourselves. And surgery is an attempt to fill the hole that only God can fill.
Jenner’s surgery was not an attempt to be more like God or to reflect God’s image better. Jenner’s surgery was an attempt to make himself after his own, imagined image. He’s looking to this change for fulfillment it can’t provide.
He may right now, early on, feel that “Caitlyn” is a different person from who he was before, but no matter how many surgeries and hormone pills, he will still be the person he was at birth. And he still won’t be whole.
“Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus said in John 15:5. And He was right.
If our purpose in life is to reflect God’s image, His glory, back to Him and to the world He created, it’s impossible for us to live out our purpose without Jesus Christ.
Moses was one of a few people before Christ’s first coming who experienced God’s glory in person while he was on this earth. In Exodus 34, we’re given the story of Moses going up on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments for the second time. There, Moses was in direct fellowship with the Creator, and God’s glory was so great that when Moses came down from the mountain, the Israelites couldn’t look at him—he had to wear a veil when he was with them, God’s glory shone so brightly from his face.
Beginning in the tabernacle back in Moses’ time and continuing through Jesus’ time in the temple, Jewish high priests had to follow very specific instructions to prepare to enter the Holy of Holies, where God’s spirit was present. The priest only entered once a year on the Day of Atonement and no one else could enter the Holy of Holies—direct access to God was exclusive to the high priest. To catch a glimpse of God’s glory on the other side of the veil was an instant death sentence to anyone else—even the high priest if it was the wrong day or he had missed a step in his purification.
This can seem harsh, right?
Keep in mind God’s holiness. He knows what a full glimpse of His glory does to sin-infected creatures like us. It’s like shooting coal to the sun—incineration is guaranteed.
But God made us to be in His presence. He wants us to catch the full glimpse of His glory—and live to tell about it.
That’s where Jesus comes in. God the Son came to earth as a human, lived the perfect life, took the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross. And when Jesus surrendered His spirit, “the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom” (Mark 15:38). For the first time since the Fall, humanity was given a way to access God directly.
All for the purpose of reflecting God’s glory.
In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul points to the glory on Moses’ face in Exodus 34 and says if the administration (or giving) of the law was so glorious that “the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses,” the administration of righteousness—God placing Christ’s righteousness on us—would be even more glorious.
And since the administration of that righteousness begins at salvation, Paul goes a step further, saying those who accept Christ as their Lord and savior, “who with unveiled faces behold the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
The same image—meaning they are beginning to look more like God. And this is happening because they are spending time with Him. Because they know Him.
For those of us who give ourselves to Christ today, the same thing happens. When with unveiled faces (and hearts) we behold God’s glory, His glory does a transforming work on us so that we begin to reflect Him.
Life isn’t made perfect at salvation, but the closer we grow in our relationship to God, the greater our hope grows for the life beyond this one—where we will be whole, entirely free from sin and living in the fullness of His glory.
Two weeks ago, Jenner stepped out in a new, self-made identity, and the world did what it always does when another false form of salvation is flaunted: applauded.
I’m not okay with that. I can’t be. Because if I am, that means I’m okay with people accepting false forms of salvation and leaving Jesus hanging on the cross for nothing.
We all have this hole-in-the-heart condition, we’re all looking for who we’re meant to be. But we’re looking in the wrong places. Who we’re meant to be cannot be found in the stuff of this world. It can only be found in Jesus Christ. He alone can make us whole.
I don’t judge Jenner for doing what he did, but it breaks my heart. Because he fell for the lie that changing his appearance will bring him happily ever after. And it won’t. It can’t.
The only way to be at peace with who you are is to be in an authentic relationship with God. And you can only find that at the foot of the cross. Only in Jesus are we whole. Only in Him can we find rest for our souls.
If you’re a Christian wondering how to approach transgender individuals relationally, this article provides a decently balanced perspective.