The first chapter of the Bible forms the basis of the Christian understanding of the nature and dignity of man—and woman: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27).  The next verse contains the first command given to the man and the woman: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”

If we look closely at the first chapter of Genesis, we notice that this passage fully and thoroughly specifies the great and fundamental difference between man and the animals.  With respect to fish, God says, “let the waters swarm,” and, likewise, with birds; with respect to animals, He says, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds.”  This language suggests an indirect creation or formation of nonhuman living things and may be compatible with the concept of biological evolution as a process (but not as the ultimate explanation or First Cause).  But man—male and female—is created through what theologians call God’s “deliberate determination”—“Let us make man” and, in a particular relationship to God—“in our image.”

Philosophers and theologians have long speculated about what it means to be made in the image of God.  One of the more fruitful suggestions is to focus on the meaning of “male and female,” where there is unity of essence or nature but a clear distinction between the sexes.  This relationship reflects the triune nature of God, where the three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—share the same nature and are equal in power and glory but differ in their personal attributes.  As early as the fourth century, Gregory Nazianzen argued that the equality and distinction of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is paralleled by the equality and distinction of man and woman.

Thus, Genesis states two very significant realities that, today, are overlooked or distorted.  The first is that man and woman are complementary forms of human being, without whose conjoined activity, as Salvador de Madariaga wrote, life would be neither possible nor enjoyable.  They are equal, and that is important; they are fundamentally different, and that is also important.

Today, men are often beaten down and intimidated by charges of male chauvinism and sexism.  Residual chivalry prevents them from asserting themselves by force, and, as a result, many young men act with a strange combination of timidity and coarseness, scarcely exhibiting those qualities that the ancients called “virtues.”  Intimidated and cowed young men will increasingly fail to fulfill the role in family and society for which God intended them and without which both family and society will continue to degenerate.  And women will be the ultimate losers if the social order reverts to a bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all).  As an instructor of young men in a Protestant seminary, I sometimes cry out like Confederate Gen. George Pickett in the movie Gettysburg as he watched his division march into the Union guns: “What’s happenin’ to my boys?”  It is alarming to note how many young men in their 20’s seem unsure of themselves with regard to calling, purpose in life, or even sex, marriage, and family.

Genesis 1:26 and the verses following offers us the truth we need to resist the pressures of those who would obliterate the distinction between men and animals.  It is not the possession of a soul or the quality of soul life that divides us from the animals.  After all, humans, too, are animae, and the animals have that name because they seem to possess a kind of soul life.  It is the image of God that distinguishes us from the rest of Creation.  But what are we to make of our duality of being—male and female in one human nature?

In Genesis 2:4, we first encounter the sacred covenant Name of God, YHWH, which pious Jews refuse to pronounce.  We know that, when we encounter it, we are in the presence of God’s special, gracious purpose—whether for man and, later, woman as in Genesis 2, or for Noah, Abraham, Moses, or the sons of Israel, in later chapters.  In Genesis 2:7, we read that man is formed, by the hand of God as it were, from the dust of the ground—no special material, but a special destiny, for God Himself breathed into the man’s nostrils the breath of life.

After presenting to Adam the beauty of Eden, God again revealed his particular attention by saying, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an helpmeet for him.”  All of the animals were brought before him, but not one would suffice.  Then the Lord God “caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, took one of his ribs . . . made a woman, and brought her unto the man.”

This account makes three things very clear.  First, the woman is made of finer stuff than the man: He is of the dust of the ground; she, of the man into whom the Lord God had personally breathed the breath of life.  Second, the woman was conceived and formed as a helper “fit for him,” not as a subject or a servant, but as a completion, without whom the man himself would have been defective.

Third, as the Lord God brought the woman to Adam, he cried out: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: and she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”  The English word woman preserves the pun of the Hebrew: ish (man) and ishah (woman).  Bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh parallels the Nicene Creed, when it states that the Eternal Son, who was to become incarnate in Jesus Christ, is “consubstantialis Patri” (of one substance with the Father).

The first divine command “Be fruitful, and multiply,” requires what Madariaga called “the conjoined action” of both the male and the female, and this establishes both a divine and a natural-law principle for the establishment of the family, namely, that both father and mother are needed.  At the Creation, men and women were present in equal numbers (one of each), and this equality of number, more or less, persists up to the present day—a natural-law argument for monogamy.  It is however, in chapter two, when God is called the “LORD God,” that we see more clearly that the divine purpose is monogamy.

Marry a wife, man; marry a husband, woman; be fruitful; be faithful.  This is the human covenant that parallels the divine covenant, first, with the people of Israel and, later, with the Church, a fact emphasized by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians.

A grievous problem in medical ethics and the growing field of bioethics is the failure to consider the message of the first chapter of Genesis—that every human being, including those most recently conceived, is made in the image of the Creator and, accordingly, possesses a dignity superior to every other creature that God has created, as well as to all of the institutions that man has formed.

In the field of family and social ethics, however, another problem arises when we fail to consider the message of the second chapter of Genesis—that the woman and the man were made for each other by a special provision of the Creator.  If we combine Adam’s joyous cry (“Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”) with the Creation Mandate (“Be fruitful and multiply”), it becomes evident that the monogamous marriage, with children as they may be given, is God’s purpose for us—man’s divine creative mission on this planet, as Pitirim Sorokin put it.

The covenant of the natural family—a man and a woman, with children—is part of the divine plan and a basic element of society as God intended it.  No human alterations can change this fact.

What then shall we say of “the family in America,” as it now exists, under the assaults of a society that has forgotten its origin and its Creator?

Solzhenitsyn said it at Harvard in 1978, again in Moscow in 2000, and the Pope said it in Krakow last August: Men have forgotten God.  In the United States, where religious traditions had a strong hold, the first great obligatory forgetting came in the early 1960’s, when the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited prayer and the reading of the Bible in public schools.  Following that, with an amazing rapidity and consequentiality, astonishing to all except those who have read and believed Romans 1, the United States began to dispose of the dignity of man and the covenants of marriage and the family.  Although contraception had long been possible, it was the development of the birth-control pill from the later 1950’s onward that began to rupture the connections between sex and marriage, and between sex and reproduction.  In the 1960’s, we had the flowering of the “sexual revolution” and the rise of homosexual activism.  Even as unnatural sex was being practiced by many and tolerated by more and more, the connection between normal sexual congress and children was severed by the rise of abortion-on-demand, made into law by Roe v. Wade in 1973, and reinforced and elevated to the role of a nearly sacred rite by the subsequent decisions of our imperial Supreme Court.

There is a remedy for this situation—or, actually, there are two.  We can remind ourselves—individually; in small groups, congregations, and fellowships; and, perhaps ultimately, in states and nations—of what we are told in Genesis 1 and 2: We were specially made, with a divine plan and purpose for one another and for our children.  The second remedy is not a proposal, but rather a treatment: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether for good or for evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).  If we are the products of chance and necessity, we need not concern ourselves with marriage, children, homosexuality, terrorist attacks, White House dalliances, or any other thing, great or small.  But that is a very big risk to take.  If we are not the products of chance, but creatures of the Creator, made in His Image, then it is up to us to form our covenants with one another in the light of our great Covenant with Him, for “It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3).