Another major theological point that derives from Genesis 1, and one which I only addressed in passing in my previous post, is that of the image of God within each of us that makes humanity the pinnacle of creation. But what exactly is the image of God? Theologians have speculated and debated over this for millennia without ever reaching a solid consensus. Various attributes of God have been proposed, but in the end it would seem that it's more important for us to know that we are created in God's image than it is for us to understand what that entails.
Some Christians would insist that gender is an integral component of that image. After all, Genesis 1:27 says "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." The wording of the verse opens the possibility that members of each gender hold a different half of the image of God and that each of us must unite with a member of the opposite sex to fully reflect that image. That is, however, an extrapolation from what the text actually says, and a questionable one at best. In fact, there are four major problems with the assertion that gender is part of the image of God.
First, it makes sexual intercourse a religious activity that draws its participants closer to God. Most of the societies surrounding ancient Israel would have agreed with that assessment; their view of sex as a sacred act is a reason they made it the centerpiece of so many of their temple rituals. But given the almost obsessive amount of attention that the authors of the Old Testament focused on condemning those religions and all of their practices, how likely is it that those same authors would have found common cause with the objects of their ire on such a major theological point?
Second, gender is not a unique trait to humanity; animals possess it as well. Few Christian theologians would argue that the image of God is present in even the most intelligent animals, yet that is precisely what we argue for if we assert that gender is a component of the image of God. And given the reverence that some Pagan religions hold for some (or even all) animals, this would once again muddy the lines that the Old Testament authors were trying to draw.
Third, if male and female must come together to complete the image of God (as they must if gender is integral to that image), then celibacy must necessarily be an inferior state to marriage, if not inherently sinful. Given the high regard that the New Testament authors and the early Church had for the celibate lifestyle, this seems implausible.
Finally, the New Testament authors suggest that gender is primarily a temporal concern. In Matthew 22:30, Jesus says "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven," and in Galatians 3:28 Paul says that in Christ there is "no male and female." Though these statements fall short of suggesting that gender is meaningless, they do imply that it is of limited importance when it comes to spiritual matters.
Some would argue that Paul was merely establishing spiritual equality for men and women without abolishing gender roles, just as Paul made slaves the spiritual equals of their masters without abolishing the institution of slavery, but that's a separate debate. The point to be made here is that if we accept that race ("Jew nor Greek") and social class ("slave nor free") will be irrelevant in the eternal state, the most consistent conclusion we can reach is that the third pairing in that verse ("male and female") is equally temporal.
Given that one would reasonably expect any aspect of the image of God that resides within us to be as eternal as God is, that creates a dilemma. If marital union completes that image in this lifetime, it's not unreasonable to expect that couples would remain married in the next - and that those who remained 'incomplete' in this life would find a partner of the opposite gender waiting for them in heaven.
And once again, there remains the problem created by the existence of intersexed human beings. Do these individuals reflect the image of God more perfectly than the rest of us, or are they spiritually marred in a way that implies that not all people are equal before God? Can a human surgeon correct any such spiritual deficiency by choosing which gender they will outwardly appear to be? Conversely, does the doctor's knife have the power to distort God's image within a person?
There are many other attributes that one can make a better case for as aspects of the image of God within us, including dominion over God's creation, spiritual immortality, the capacity for rational thought, creativity, and the need for community. And again, the fact that we bear the image of God is more important than the details of what constitutes that image.
So why mention gender in the same verse that confirms we are created in the image of God? Taking the worldview of the ancient peoples Genesis was written for into account, one very revolutionary point stands out: both men and women bear the image of God. Given the inferior status women were relegated to in most ancient cultures, the radical significance of this point cannot be overstated. The idea that women are the spiritual equals of men is accepted even by some Christians who still hold a patriarchal view of the world, but it would have been all but unheard of in Old Testament times.
Does this negate the fact that women are different than men in significant ways, or that there is something special and mysterious about gender? Not at all. But it does help us put things back in perspective by dethroning an idol that many Christians today treat with a reverence that only God Himself deserves.
Every one of us reflects the image of God from a slightly different angle. As such each of us is equally important to our efforts to put together a more complete picture of the One who created us, regardless of gender, talents, spiritual gifts, social class, race, sexual orientation or any other consideration.
How people so vastly different from us could be of equal value to God may be a mystery to some, but perhaps that's for the best; whenever we get ahold of what we think is a moral absolute, we immediately wield it like a club to beat down those who don't conform to our visions of perfection. And that's more disrespectful of the image of God that lies within them than anything they could do to themselves.