16.9.09

You're worth it!?

The Emperor decrees that all wives should obey their husbands. Will Jewish Esther obey? She refuses to parade naked in front of her husband’s drunk friends.

It was the custom in most cultures of the world for women to be submissive. In the Ancient Near East women had fewer rights. They couldn’t inherit anything from their fathers and they had no property rights after divorce. If they were disobedient wives, they could be dismissed and would, in effect, be abandoned.

But God worked to change all that. Submission is reworked. It gets a 'make-over'!

I come across so many women who just don't understand how I can make the Bible the focus of my life. I think they feel sorry for me, like I must have half a brain and I must be living a kind of half-life. They are, pretty biblically unaware, but have presuppositions that the Bible is oppressive and legalistic. I am thinking through a few ways by which I might subtly go about reversing their thinking. It is taking time and it has to be done with a lot of humour but I think some of the areas for exploration with my group of friends involve redeeming a Christian view of the body. It is thought that Christians have a kind of material/ spiritual dichotomy going on, which, of course, couldn't be further from the truth. So sometimes they laugh when I talk to them about sex, I express that within marriage, this is something God has blessed us with. It is to be enjoyed. I hope also to reveal that there is nothing secular to God but sin. God is not just present in our churches, he is everywhere and his Holy Spirit knows no limits. I also want to reveal to them the mutuality and freedom that exist within a Christian marriage. In Christian marriages there is such trust. Each partner knows that the other is obedient ultimately to the Lord. This is a higher calling than any obedience to each other. If we act in ways that honour Jesus, it is impossible to dishonour one another. I want my friends to understand that there is nothing oppressive about Christian marriage.

In the Old Testament, the country where women had rights was Israel, under the law of Moses.  God gave his people rights (which came with responsibilities, of course).  Divorced women could keep their own property and they could remarry. A woman without brothers could inherit the family property and run it and even a poor woman couldn’t have the land taken away by a rich man. Marriages were arranged, but women could refuse to do what their father wanted and if husbands neglected their wives she could divorce him.

It is true that the Old Testament said that women should be submissive to husbands but this was in the list of curses which came on humanity when Adam & Eve fell.

Gen.3.16-19:
16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." 17 To the man he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it', Cursed is the ground because of you;  through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."

As a result of the Fall, everything in creation went wrong, as Paul says in Romans, food didn’t just grow; men had to expend sweat to clear to keep the weeds down and babies were born with pain and with danger to the mother’s life.

The relationship between a husband and wife was marred by domination -“your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you” (3.16)

Some interpreters regard these curses as punishments from God, which we should suffer. Others regard them as consequences of the Fall, which ruined the whole of creation, which we seek to improve as we co-work with God, empowered by his Spirit. Redemption hermeneutics and liberation theology often seek to explore the ways in which with God's Kingdom breaking in the fall's effects are lessened. We are living under the fall but we are new creations in Christ and he is redeeming and reconciling all things to himself. So, we help women having children, keeping them safe from harm and pain and we help farmers to defeat weeds with modern farming methods and we help relationships between husbands and wives by teaching mutuality in accordance with the gospel.

It is also important that people understand that the mutuality we are passionate about is not a result of our culture's feminist movement. We are in the world but not of it. We can espouse equality because it is a gospel imperative. In some ways our culture does not help us to teach this good news. Some denominations of the Church believe that Christian women are only interested in equality because they are products of their culture. Feminism can be very different to Biblical equality. In New Testament times, Roman women were demanding equal rights to money and to sexual freedom and were spending scandalous amounts on jewellery and hairdos and they were taking lovers just like their husbands had always been allowed to do. No wonder Paul had to exhort both the men and the women in these churches to order. Christian women are cautious today not to repeat the mistakes of those women. They are very clear that they are not following what their own culture might say to them: "You are worth it!" Clarins tells us. "Do what ever pleases you as long as you hurt no one else". No, it is Christ who makes us worthy. It is his immeasurable worth in which we are interested. Do what pleases the Lord. It is important for Christians to reject a form of feminism which negates responsibility or attempts to recreate woman in the shape of man or teaches that women do not need men. We do need each other. We were meant to partner each other. It is important to make others aware that espousing Biblical equality has often little to do with the teaching of our own culture, it just happens to coincide with some of it.

In what ways do you think Biblical equality coincides with our own culture's teaching about the genders?

In what ways do you think it departs?

Is it our job to help Christ bring in the universal restoration of this planet, wherein, united with Christ we see that God intended for humanity to share in joint rule, men and women together in multi-national, multi-ethnic equality?

Here's a good place to visit if you are interested in pursuing any of these ideas?

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.