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Two Friends Debate God's Roles for Women
By Nancy Parker Brummett, Alice Scott-Ferguson
David C. CookCopyright © 2006 Nancy Parker Brummett & Alice Scott-Ferguson
All rights reserved.
Wondering Who We Are
The Essential Woman
There is in every true woman's heart a spark of heavenly fire.
What Is a Woman's True Identity?
"I AM WOMAN, hear me roar/In numbers too big to ignore...." The words of Helen Reddy's famous song that reigned at number one on the Billboard charts in 1972 were a rallying refrain for many women seeking to establish a clear identity in that era. In more recent times, who can forget seeing the moving TV footage of women in Iraq forming long and patient lines waiting to vote for the very first time. We certainly heard them "roar" and in numbers way too many to ignore. A woman's identity is certainly classified and defined when she finally finds her voice—whether in a repressive regime, in a rocky relationship, or in a career change. However, regardless of place, time, or circumstance, there is something more to the identity of a woman.
Beyond any other designation, a woman is an essential, integral part of the expression of God. She is made in the image of her Creator. The Bible declares that we were made in his image, male and female (Gen. 1:26–27). Man reflects the masculine side of God and woman reflects the feminine component of our Creator. God made us what he is—equally male and female. That is the image of oneness that he wants to show the world.
When men and women are at odds, trying to prove superiority (such as which gender is smarter in the sciences) or going it alone (as reflected in the growing notion that women do not need a father other than to implant the seed), we are living far beneath the original intent. When we insist on narrowly defining a woman according to her biology, her physical uniqueness, and feminine traits, we have failed to see the bigger picture. When religion conveys that one part of the Godhead is bigger, better, or more dominant than the other, we represent a distorted and lopsided representation of the One whose image we bear.
The first male and female humans each enjoyed secure mutual identities before the fall. When sin entered the system that all changed. Renowned worldwide missionary La Donna Osborn sums up and supports this opinion so very well. "In the fall, we saw dignity perverted into shame, purpose interrupted and absolutely shattered because of fear, and equality destroyed. Separation came to describe the human family. Separation resulted in men ruling women, the strong ruling the weak, the rich ruling the poor. Everything about fallen humanity depicts that separation."
The fall maligned our identities, but God's remedy for the rift was already in place in the far reaches of eternity past (Rev. 13:8). In the fullness of time that plan became visible to humankind and we witnessed the heart of God that gave us healing hope: one Person died to take on the sin that the first humans caused (Rom. 5:15). This action abrogated the alienating effects of the fall. The result was personal reconciliation with our Creator, the breaking down of the wall of enmity and division between men and women, and an entire new identity—a grand slam of justice and reconciliation.
The apostle Paul declared that the divisions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female were rendered null and void (Gal. 3:28). In fact, redeemed people are designated an entirely new status, that of a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
What is a woman's true identity? Quite simply, she is in Christ.
IMAGINE A BEAUTIFUL, pristine garden lush with every kind of tree and plant. Sparkling waters run in rivers through this perfect sanctuary where Adam, recently created by God in the image of God, sets about his work of naming all the animals. From aardvark to zebra he names them, but as he does, he realizes that unlike the animals, he doesn't have a mate. He doesn't have another living creature who is like him, created in the image of God. He has no one with whom he can talk, or walk through the lush garden, or snuggle with under the stars.
God sees Adam's need. "But for Adam, no suitable helper was found," we read in Genesis 2:20. "So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man" (Gen. 2:21–22).
Imagine Adam waking after his surgery at the Master's hand. Through the mist he senses God is approaching again. The task of naming the animals demonstrated that God gave Adam authority on earth. He no doubt wonders what God will ask him to do this time. But then Adam rubs his eyes and sees that God is not alone. With him is the most beautiful creature he has ever seen. Her body is soft where Adam's is hard and curved where his is straight. With serenity on her face and smoothness in her walk, she is perfect femininity. She is woman.
Continuing his task of naming, Adam first names this new creation woman. After the fall, he names her Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living (Gen. 3:20). He takes her into his life and into his heart as the creature God made from him, for him, and brought to him to be his helper and his completer. She was and is the perfect gift, the part of God's handiwork that he saved to be its very crown. For it was not until she was made that God looked over his entire creation and deemed it very good.
Within this amazing creation story is everything we really need to know about who we are as women. But the question I have to ask myself every time I read this is whether the men in our lives today find our presence as welcoming as Adam first found Eve's. When we enter a room, do our husbands' hearts leap at the very sight of us? God would have it be so.
However, you also know the rest of the story. Perfection wasn't to last forever. Evil entered the garden in the form of a serpent who beguiled Eve, opening the door for her and Adam to sin by doing the one thing God asked them not to do. Once Adam and Eve bit into the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were no longer perfect, nor would their offspring be.
When you continue to read through the Old Testament you understand the extent to which women fell from their perfect, created state. Women and children weren't even counted when a census was taken, and were often considered possessions along with the cattle and the clay pots. Women were considered "unclean" when they were having their menstrual periods. In Genesis 19:6–8 we are horrified to read of a father, Lot, who, with no apparent qualms, was willing to hand over his virgin daughters to strange men with evil intent. The horrors go on and on.
But that is not the end of the story. The redeemed woman of Christ is free to be all that God created her to be because of his death and resurrection. Rather than take her cues from feminist literature or afternoon talk shows, she can find within the whole counsel of God's Word a complete definition of her redeemed purpose.
Let's focus on what we know for sure. Woman was created from man, for man. Her created purpose was to be his companion, his helper, and his completer. Without her, he couldn't be the man God wanted him to be. Without him, she couldn't fulfill her created purpose. Her body perfectly complemented his and so did her attributes. Together, they became one flesh.
It's also clear that woman had work to do beside her husband. It's no coincidence that man was created from the earth to work the earth and woman was created from the man's side to work by his side. Both man and woman were created in the image of God and both were given the mandate to "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28). She had a domain to manage.
We also see that all human life was to enter the world through woman. Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel and heartbreak resulted, but then Seth and his siblings followed. Ultimately, as God promised when he cursed the serpent at the time of the fall, Jesus came through a woman, Mary, to defeat sin forever. Through the messianic line and up to today we see women fulfilling their roles as lifegivers whether through bringing babies into the world or by giving birth to the culture, the beauty, and the quality of life that makes it worth living.
What we see in the creation story is that woman's purpose and her identity are as closely entwined as the vines in the garden of Eden. In Song of Songs 4:15 a woman is compared to "a garden fountain, a well of flowing water." The image brings to mind beauty that is tended and protected so the woman can produce and bring life to the next generation. Yet the feminist movement would strip away this protection for women by convincing them they don't need it—and our culture is damaged in the process.
The types of women are as numerous as the stars in the sky. You need only attend one exercise class to see we come in all shapes and sizes, and with a myriad of gifts. We need to explore verses in both the Old and New Testaments to discover all the God-given roles of women. But it is within the realm of our created design that we find our true identity—and our best opportunity to leave an eternal legacy.
Is She Equal to Her Male Counterpart?
"NOT A MAN in sight." That was my very first thought as I watched the TV footage of the many McArtney sisters from Northern Ireland visiting the White House on St. Patrick's Day 2005. The ardent pursuit of justice for their brother slain by the Irish Republican Army had propelled them across the Atlantic to get the ear of the president. While I admired their guts and determination, I felt sad that, for whatever reason, no men accompanied them.
While the complementarian camp could create a case from this to support its fear that unprotected "petticoats" might render men redundant, the radical feminist faction could seize on it as the epitome of womanpower with no need of its male counterpart. I believe that God's original intent was not for unilateral action, but for mutuality and equality between the sexes.
A constellation of factors contends against this God-ordained equality, and we are often quite unaware of the subtle inequities implied even in everyday parlance. The name of the game of golf, for instance, is reputed to be an acronym for gentlemen only, ladies forbidden. While that may come as an amusing surprise, other disparities carry more gravitas. Alvin Schmidt observes in his expansive treatise on how culture shapes society, Veiled and Silenced, "The theological enterprise has no choice but to use cultural forms to express its various teachings. No teachings, meanings, or messages can be communicated to human beings apart from given cultural forms and expression." Without a doubt, culture shapes theology and male dominance and female inferiority has deep and tenacious roots in ancient cultures. The church unthinkingly absorbs the mores of the milieu in which we swim.
From those deep and murky waters, women have, over the centuries, been extracted and labeled variously as evil and inferior. Even the seemingly innocuous practice of seating her on the left of the man has significance. The word left in Latin is "sinister" which in turn connotes wicked or evil, leaving man on the right—and right. The more serious monikers of witch, harlot, and temptress were common to both the Greek and Roman cultures. Greek men believed that Pandora was the bearer of evil to the world. Even in the biblical account Adam was quick to blame the woman for the evil that befell in the garden.
Schmidt continues in Veiled and Silenced, "Where and when the male picture of woman as the one who introduced evil, even death, really began may never be known for certain.... [It] appears to be virtually as old as recorded history, but is also deeply woven into the cultural fabric of many societies."
The lingering legacy of Eve as the originator of evil is well-known in Hebrew history. It persists in its pernicious influence in the liberated church of Christ manifesting in the inequality of the sexes and the misperception that women need to be kept in line, covered, and silenced lest they should continue their nefarious activities and corrupt man, the church, or both. The room or gallery called the michetza that separated the women from the men in the synagogue morphed into the less physical, but nonetheless effective, dividing of function and status that we still experience in the church today.
Even in the earliest times the stigma of inferiority was widespread, insidious, and contributed to inequality with her male counterpart. Ancient cultures were unconsciously entrenched in the belief of female inferiority. For example, high mortality rates for women in agrarian societies were interpreted as a sign of weakness rather than as the result of hardship and frequent pregnancies. Women were also rated lower on the scale both intellectually and spiritually. The Old Testament record is replete with instructions, privileges, and positions that apply only to the male.
From these illustrations, it is not difficult to see how disparities between male and female came about. The prevailing thought of the time colors the interpretation and the practice of Christianity, and these accepted practices evolve and change almost as imperceptibly as they developed. A graphic example is evident in the evolved thinking about slavery. The past acceptance of this practice in the United States—which we now consider abhorrent—was endorsed from president to preacher and declared to be a decree of almighty God and sanctioned by the Scriptures.
But glorious good news, the Liberator has come! He turned the law on its head. He came into a world top-heavy with patriarchy, ensnared with impossible and erroneous standards that stretched beyond the parameters of even the law given to Moses, and he turned religious thinking upside down.
From speaking to a Samaritan woman to permitting a bleeding, unclean woman to touch the hem of his garment, Jesus proved that God considered men and women equals; he also made sure that the balance was well and truly redressed.
No more poignant nor definitive a demonstration of shattering unequal status and affirming women is found than in Jesus' attitude towards the patriarchal view of adultery. His response when presented with a woman caught in the act was not to stone her, as the law required, but to forgive her. But he first challenged her accusers to consider their own hearts before they exacted the punishment. One by one they slunk away without a single stone thrown (John 8:1–11).
When we revert to the old covenant, or when we let culture conform us instead of the indwelling life of Christ, or when we substitute tradition for the truth, the outcome is division and disparity in the body of Christ—a community of which we are all equal members.
A WOMAN IS absolutely equal to her male counterpart in every way. She is equally created in the image of God. She is equally saved by the blood of Christ who went to the cross for all, male and female. She is equally valued by her Lord and is coheir, with her husband if married, of the "gracious gift of life" (1 Peter 3:7). But being equal does not mean that she isn't made differently with uniquely feminine contributions to bring to the world and with certain assigned responsibilities to fulfill.
Many women don't understand this distinction. Their desperate desire to "get their fair share" of everything the world offers has fueled the failure of many marriages. I should know; it con-trib-uted to the unhappiness in my first marriage.
When things were particularly contentious between us, my first husband told me I was on "the leading edge of the feminist movement" then sweeping our country with social, economic, and political changes. I scoffed at this. After all, I was a stay-at-home mom until both boys were in school, and then I worked only part-time so I could be home when they were. I was a Sunday school teacher and a Cub Scout den mother. Surely I was far from the leading edge of such a forceful, angry movement.
Yet looking back, I realize there was some truth to what he said. It was my heart attitude that was misguided. Ours was not a marriage based on faith—submission wasn't even in my vocabulary. Both of us could have been card-carrying members of the "me generation." My desire was for everything to be 5050, for everything to be "fair," and to keep my emotional and economic independence apart from my husband. It didn't work.
Through my study of biblical gender issues I have come to understand equality as never before. Freed from the need to challenge men in order to achieve equality in every arena, I've become comfortable in accepting that men and women are equal in their humanity, but different in their sexuality and gender. I no longer have to struggle with whether the differences are merely cultural, because both the equality and the differences predate all cultures—they are rooted in creation itself, as revealed in Genesis.
Excerpted from Reconcilable Differences by Nancy Parker Brummett, Alice Scott-Ferguson. Copyright © 2006 Nancy Parker Brummett & Alice Scott-Ferguson. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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