Mysteries hidden from eternal ages have been made manifest to God's people by Scripture's use of magnificent types, stories, and parables. Through the "manifold wisdom of God" prophecy, poetry and history have been enriched with deeper hues and more intricate texture by the symbolic motifs woven into the fabric of common language. Deep spiritual lessons may be taught that reach the heart, not just the mind. Truths made mysterious to us by our fallen natures may suddenly open to our understanding when an intriguing figure is presented.
For instance, the Old Testament presents the sanctuary and its services as a type of the plan of redemption. The panorama of salvation is laid out from the inception of sin till the great consummation and final atonement. This magnificent parable was acted out in the lives of the Jewish people for centuries. It intended to teach them about the nature of sin, acquaint them with the character of God and prepare them to receive the Messiah as a personal Savior.
In God’s created works and the duties of everyday life may also be found lessons which teach deep spiritual truths. Jesus Himself used these principles when he taught in parables. He opened to the listeners lessons which His own hands had imparted at creation. “The wisdom of God alone can unfold the mysteries of the plan of salvation.” Christian Education p 79.
Symbols are meant to change our perception of the seemingly mundane by creating associations between the physical world and spiritual world, the seen making clear the unseen. Symbols speak even when we are unaware. Symbols are meant to teach continual lessons.
There are questions which men have pondered for ages which seem veiled in mystery. The nature of God, the nature of man, the purpose of life, and the reasons for suffering are only a few. The reason for gender as it relates to the image of God for me is a mystery. Yet it appears that Scripture speaks of a mystery unfolded in three stages which reveal certain aspects of the nature of Christ and His eternal purpose for mankind. This has shed light on the reasons God created gender.
We begin with I Timothy 3:16,
"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh”
The Incarnation of the Son of God, the act of laying aside His divinity and taking upon Himself human flesh, reveals to us the mystery of godliness. What does it mean to be like God? The answer begins with the Incarnation. The profound, even breathtaking revelation of an eternal selfless love had only begun when God laid aside His magnificent robe of divinity to assume the humble garb of humanity. (The Incarnation itself is a great mystery, but that we cannot even begin touch.)
We then read of another mystery,
"According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” . . . “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:” Ephesians 3:11, Colossian 1:26, 27
"But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” 1 Corinthians 1:30 “Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
‘Christ in you’ means the transformation of man into a new creature. ‘Christ in us’ is the only hope we have of ever experiencing the glory of being made new. Encapsulated in these words we find yet another mystery. Scripture reveals that long, long ago there existed a time before the entrance of sin into the world, an eternity past when all was peace, beauty and perfection. Yet these words also allude that from eternity it was known that there would someday come a time when man would need transformation, recreation, and redemption. There would be a need of grace - a mysterious concept for created beings to understand. This redeeming love could only be accomplished through Christ, the incarnate God, God with us.
Eternity itself is a difficult concept to grasp, but it is wonderful to contemplate that our need of His grace has been in the heart of God from eternal ages. He would provide Himself, and in so doing give us wisdom, righteousness and sanctification. Scripture teaches that the Incarnation had been purposed for our redemption from eternal ages. These words speak of an eternal purpose in Christ though hidden for ages but would now be made manifest to the saints, His redeemed ones.
And the final mystery . . .
". . . and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Ephesian 5:31,32
Then we are told in Matthew 22:2,
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.”
We know that “they two shall be one flesh” is synonymous with marriage - the union of lives for the purpose of revealing the love of God. The kingdom of heaven, salvation, redemption is marriage to the Son of the King.
The mystery hidden from eternal ages began with the mystery of the Incarnation – that the Majesty of heaven would lay aside His splendor and become one flesh with humanity was a marvel to the onlooking universe. Christ would become incarnate, but to what purpose? That another mystery might take place, the union of the human with the divine, Christ in us - the transformation and recreation of the soul of man into the image of God. These new creatures, transformed into image of God, form His body, His church. The creation of His church triumphant will culminate in the final mystery when “they two shall be one flesh” - the union of Christ and His church, the final atonement, the marriage of the Lamb to His bride for eternal ages. (1)
The mystery of the incarnation was purposed from eternal ages to reveal the mystery of redemption, that an aspect of the glory of God which had been hidden might be revealed.
So we have
The Redemption of the Church
The Marriage of the Lamb to the Church – the Final Atonement - Mankind Eternally one with God
Breathtaking in its scope is the revelation of the love of God.
“He brings the human into union with the divine, that He may communicate to the world the mysteries of incarnate love.” Counsels to the Church, p 59
We understand human love to some degree, but what is the quality of an “incarnate love”?
“Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love [is] strong as death; jealousy [is] cruel as the grave: the coals thereof [are] coals of fire, [which hath a] most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if [a] man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” Song of Solomon 8:4-7
God’s love for His people is as strong as death, jealous, sealed in His heart with all the strength of His mighty arm, impassioned by a most vehement flame, can never be quenched and is of such value that all earthly possessions are contemptuous by comparison.
Yet we have learned that, “He brings the human into union with the divine, that He may communicate to the world the mysteries of incarnate love.” How will this mystery be revealed to the world?
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife [see] that she reverence [her] husband.” Ephesians 5:25-33
Marriage was a gift from the Creator to mankind in every age. The marriage relationship was intended to make known the tender eternal love of Christ for His church. Marriage was to “reveal to the world the mysteries of incarnate love” - the husband a symbol of Christ and the wife a symbol of the church. The world desperately needs a symbol of incarnate love, that symbol is found in marriage.
From the days of eternity the Godhead intended that the mystery of the profound love of God for all created beings was to be revealed by the incarnation of Christ. God anticipated and provided One who would eventually need to give His life for a lost world. This quality of love had been hidden from eternal ages because it was not needed by the unfallen worlds; the gift of self-sacrificing love was not necessary for sinless beings. But it was to be revealed in Christ by His incarnation.
Christ, a blending of the human and the divine, was sent to be the Savior of His bride, the church. He left His family in heaven to be joined to His wife that they might become one flesh. He must become one flesh with her hence we have the incarnation. She would become bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh. (2)
“Divinity needed humanity; for it required both the divine and the human to bring salvation to the world. Divinity needed humanity, that humanity might afford a channel of communication between God and man.”--The Desire of Ages, p. 296. The Father sent His Son into the world to save the world and the Son submitted, for even heaven was not a place to be desired while we were lost. What love, what incredible love!
In order to understand the mysterious love which the Godhead would bestow on the human race, the marriage relationship was created. Godly love was to be revealed by the human couple exhibiting a similar quality of love, devotion, reverence and submission. In order to understand, to fully grasp this mystery, the relationship of husband and wife must remain sacred and immutable. For the love between a husband and wife was intended to be an acted parable in the lives of every human being born into this world, and as such would give continual glimpses of the love of Christ for humanity and the relationship we are to have to Him.
Could it be that the loss of this quality of love in marriage has obscured our ability to understand the gospel? Homes destitute of the quality of incarnate love make the concepts of heart surrender difficult to grasp and incline us rely on an intellectual assent in spiritual things. But we may reveal the mystery of incarnate love in our homes. By the union of the human and the divine we may have continual demonstrations of sacrificial love and reverential surrender. The heart is a synergistic fusion of mind and emotions. By thousands of nuanced acts of love that are revealed in marriage we may reach the hearts of our loved ones and affect the inmost life for eternity.
I conclude with an observation of C S Lewis.
“One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures. ... With the Church ... we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge.” (3)
The family and the church are forever intertwined by the symbols of Christ. Gender finds an exalted purpose in the revelation of the love of Christ to the world.
1) The meaning of atonement is “at – one – ment”.
“Meaning of the Word Atonement” http://emp.byui.edu/satterfieldb/quotes/Atonement%20Page/Meaning%20of%20the%20Word%20Atonement.html
James E. Talmage
Through the atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ--a redeeming service, vicariously rendered in behalf of mankind, all of whom have become estranged from God by the effects of sin both inherited and individually incurred--the way is opened for a reconciliation whereby man may come again into communion with God, and be made fit to dwell anew and forever in the presence of his Eternal Father. This basal thought is admirably implied in our English word, "atonement," which, as its syllables attest, is at-one-ment, "denoting reconciliation, or the bringing into agreement of those who have been estranged." (Jesus the Christ, p.23)
Boyd K. Packer
Atonement is really three words: At-one-ment, meaning to set at one, one with God; to reconcile, to conciliate, to expiate. ("Atonement, Agency, Accountability," Ensign, May 1988, p. 69)
Russell M. Nelson
... let us now ponder the deep meaning of the word atonement. In the English language, the components are at-one-ment, suggesting that a person is at one with another. Other languages [such as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and German] employ words that connote either expiation or reconciliation. Expiation means "to atone for." Reconciliation comes from Latin roots re, meaning "again"; con,meaning "with"; and sella, meaning "seat." Reconciliation, therefore, literally means "to sit again with."
Rich meaning is found in study of the word atonement in the Semitic languages of Old Testament times. In Hebrew, the basic word for atonement is kaphar, a verb that means "to cover" or "to forgive." [We might even surmise that if an individual qualifies for the blessings of the Atonement (through obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel), Jesus will "cover" our past transgressions from the Father.] Closely related is the Aramaic and Arabic word kafat, meaning "a close embrace"—no doubt related to the Egyptian ritual embrace.
I weep for joy when I contemplate the significance of it all. To be redeemed is to be atoned - received in the close embrace of God with an expression not only of His forgiveness, but of our oneness of heart and mind. What a privilege! ("The Atonement," Ensign, Nov. 1996, p. 34)
2) “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” Ephesians 5:30
Please note that we, the church, are of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, not the other way around. Even though in a technical sense Christ incarnate came after the church was created, it is Christ who is the great source of life for the church. The church only came into being because of Christ. Perhaps this gives new meaning to the phrase “Ye must be born again”. Just musing here, but this is quite interesting. The church, Christ’s Bride, is flesh of His flesh. Just as Adam’s bride came out of Adam and was of his flesh, so the Church comes out of Christ and is of His flesh. It could also give some indication why Eve was created from the flesh of Adam. They were a type of the Christ and the church, since Christ was to become the second Adam. Christ as the second Adam stands at the head of the human race. )
3) “Priestesses in the Church?” by C. S. Lewis. http://www.episcopalnet.org/TRACTS/priestesses.html