In one of the skits in the early days of Saturday Night Live, Laraine Newman played a child psychologist. The gag was that she was not a psychiatrist who treated children. Instead, she was a little girl who practiced psychiatry.
The Bible contains twelve shorter books that are collectively called the Minor Prophets. The phrase does not refer to child prodigies in the Jewish religion whose work was canonized. Instead, it is an indication that their length is much shorter than the lengthier prophetic works such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
I happened to be reading through the Minor Prophets recently. I came across an interesting verse in Zechariah, the longest book of the twelve Minor Prophets. This verse, which I had never taken special notice of before, makes a clear statement about the relationship between God and how people are given their innate inner nature.
The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him. – Zechariah 12:1
The opening phrase of this verse is a common way in which another prophecy is introduced. So it is not surprising that previously I had missed the final phrase. I was focusing on the prophecy to come.
The remainder of the verse uses a writing technique that is common throughout the Bible. Rather than merely mentioning “the LORD”, it adds some descriptive phrases that reveal something about the LORD: His nature, His characteristics and/or His works.
For today’s topic, we can focus on that final phrase. Let’s look closer at the three key words in the last phrase, starting with the nouns.
“Spirit” – This is the Hebrew word “ruwach”, a word of frequent usage in the Old Testament. It can either refer to the Spirit of God or spirit of man. When referring to mankind, it can either refer to the breath of life or the inner nature and qualities of people: their abilities, temperament, emotions, moral character and so on. In the discussion of man’s creation in Genesis 1 and 2, both of these usages of “spirit” are described.
In Genesis 2:7, God breathes the breath of life into Adam, transforming a lifeless body into a living soul. Earlier in Genesis 1:27 (a key verse we will be looking at in the future), God creates man in His own image. We are going to take note of some very significant concepts here. First, we are not talking about an exact duplicate. Humans do not possess the quantity of God’s powers and abilities. (His ways are far above our ways.) But as in any copy, we display many of the same qualities. We can see, think, create, feel, and so on. Second, while God who can do anything is able to appear in corporeal form, the Bible tells us that He is spirit. Therefore, created in His image, we are given a spirit that corresponds to our human nature along with one that is the breath of life. Finally, while Genesis 2:7 clearly talks about the creation of the first man, the instructions provided in Genesis 1:28-29 indicate that this is for not only the first two people but to their descendants.
Just like Certs is both a breath mint and candy mint, “spirit” can be taken as both the breath of life and our inner nature. God gives us the breath of life and He fashions our hearts.
“Man” – “‘adam” is the Hebrew word used here, and while it can be used to refer to the first human created, it’s more frequent use in the Old Testament is mankind in general. This is fitting, for Adam was the prototype human.
A look at the verb in this phrase will give us an indication of the meaning of “man”.
“Formeth” – The Hebrew verb “yatsar” means to form, fashion or frame. When God is the subject of the sentence or phrase, it can refer to original creation, creation in general or humans at the moment of conception. Let’s look at the verb form to get a better understanding.
In this case, “yatsar” is an active participle. Active merely means that the subject of the sentence is the actor (as opposed to the passive voice, where the doer of the action is the direct object of the sentence). A participle represents an action or condition in its unbroken continuity. Therefore, without the presence of a time-related modifier, we can interpret that the formation talked about here is an ongoing activity of God. It follows that “man” in this phrase refers to mankind in general.
Thus, we have a verse that supports and strengthens the concept we saw in Psalm 139:13, that it is God who creates and gives us our innate inner nature.
Those who decry our transsexualism as being sinful try to place us in a Catch-22. On the one hand, they take a position that is in accord with that of the medical community, that if we come upon an awareness of a non-conforming gender identity late in life, it must be seriously questioned. It is more likely a mid-life crisis, an experiment, an emotional reaction to some major negative life event or delusional thinking. (Caution: ceasing denial of gender identity or trying to fix it is not the same as having an initial awareness of it.)
But then they try to lock out the portion of the lifespan most closely connected with human development, by also discounting gender awareness at an early age. Confronted with testimony of non-conforming gender feelings from a time of early awareness (let’s say at age three), they might respond with something like this: “How can you know anything that important when you are so young? I didn’t even know how to tie my shoes at that age. I thought babies came from the stork at that age.” Or they will give other similar examples of what they did not know.
The difference is that they are referring to concrete knowledge. Concrete knowledge can occur at any age. Areas of concrete knowledge that require motor skills will be easiest to learn as the child gets older, but also very difficult to learn in old age. Foreign languages, on the other hand, are much easier to learn when a person is young.
Gender identity is more abstract than concrete. We may be told that we are a boy or a girl, but those terms can refer to either biology or identity. It doesn’t take long to learn the anatomical differences, whether we asked our parents or an older sibling, played doctor or picked up information from our peers.
No one can teach us our gender identity. Not only is it abstract, it is also personal. In our early years, we get clues about gender from the cultural norms of gender expression. For the vast majority of the population that is born cisgender, they accept the gender label given to them because, based on the understanding they have acquired of gender, the label fits with their inner nature given to them in the womb. They have no need to make a conscious decision to be identified as male or female. Just ask any cisgender person when they decided to become the gender in which they live.
But for the transgender, once one becomes aware of what it means to be a boy or a girl in terms of gender identity, that person knows instinctively that it feels wrong. The exact timing of that awareness will vary depending on various factors, but the overwhelming evidence is that it does occur at an early age (on average at age 7 and almost always by age 13). And despite the buffeting of an inhospitable society against having a non-conforming gender identity, the overwhelming evidence is that it does not go away.
Our personal gender identity is part of the inner nature that God creates within us before we are born. Therefore we have it, and can know it and connect to it at any time in our life, even at an early age. It does not need to be taught to us. In fact, numerous failed attempts to try to teach gender identity (e.g., boys raised as girls after a botched circumcision) provide ample evidence that it cannot be taught.
Transgender people do not make a decision on gender identity any more than cisgender people do. The decision we have to make is when do we stop denying the gender identity that we KNOW to be true and stop trying to conform to the label affixed to our identity (mental) solely by reason of our anatomy (physical).
It is very revealing that the same Christians who discount the ability of young children to know their gender identity, have no problem accepting the salvation testimonies of people who were saved at a similar period of one’s life. I would be quickly corrected by most Christians if I discounted that someone else was born again at age seven because I wasn’t saved until I was thirty-six.
To conclude today’s post, we will take a brief look at one other verse that supports another key idea we saw yesterday in Psalm 139. This relates to Satan having a limited ability to interfere with God’s creation of us in the womb. The meaning is fairly self-evident and doesn’t require much discussion. But it is something that Christians should not lose sight of when they are rejoicing at the concept of being “fearfully and wonderfully made”. If nothing else, it will help keep us humble.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. – Psalm 51:5
This topic will be continued in the next post. There are a few more verses to consider.