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How does God really feel about women?

My first foray into the Bible, when I was a new Christian, was confusing and disheartening to say the least. Even before I finished reading Genesis I began to believe God hated women. It was hard to think otherwise reading story after story of men doing heinous things to innocent women while still being considered worthy and righteous men of God. I remember the feelings of anguish and being forsaken by the same God I was supposed to believe loved me and died for me. It didn’t make sense.

After several weeks I abandoned the Old Testament in favor of reading about the days and ministry of Jesus. It was obvious Jesus loved women and disapproved of the men who mistreated them. Though comforted by this, I still felt troubled by the recorded events of the Old Testament where women were concerned. Why would God allow it? Why would He not speak up or take action on behalf of the women? Why was there no rebuke of the men recorded in the Old Testament? If God is the “same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) how can I reconcile the silent God of the Old Testament with God, the Champion of women, in the New Testament?

It’s commonly held that God, Himself, ordained the power structures of society and by extension, the subjugation of women. Women were property. A woman’s only hope of keeping a roof over her head was to remain a virgin in her father’s house until the day she was chosen to be someone’s wife. After which, her welfare was only assured as long as her husband was pleased with her.

Read these stories and consider them for yourselves:

In Genesis (19:1-8) there is a story about two angels who encounter a man named Lot who was sitting in the gateway of the city of Sodom. Lot begs them to come home with him for the night. At first, they decline, saying they prefer to spend the night in the square. Hospitality was paramount in that culture so Lot insisted they come home for dinner and a warm place to spend the night. The two relented and accepted his invitation.

After they’d enjoyed a nice dinner and were preparing for bed, a crowd of men from every part of the city surrounded the house. They called out to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to reason with them. “Don’t do this wicked thing.” He said. “Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”  

No matter how you look at it, the virtue of the visitors is held to be more important than the lives and future of the innocent women being offered up in his stead. In the ancient culture the loss of virginity outside of marriage was the ruin of the girl. The two virgin daughters would have no prospects for a decent future and their father knew it. Her only options would be prostitution or slavery the moment she was forced from her father’s house.

In Judges (19:22-23) there is an old man living in the town of Gibeah who encounters a Levite traveling through town with his wife, a servant and two donkeys. The old man invites him to spend the night in his home rather than leave them in the town square where they might fall to harm during the night. Somehow word of the visitors gets around the town and some of the wicked men of the city surround the house. They pound on the door and shouted to the old man, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”

This was the owner’s response:

23The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. 24Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”

Horrifying! This man, who by all account is gracious and honorable, would prefer his innocent virgin daughter, who is wholly dependent on him for her future, be gang raped rather than risk the virtue of a man he’d never met before and will likely never see again..

Not wanting to be out done in graciousness, the Levite apparently refuses this generous offer and instead shoves his wife out onto the porch where “they raped and abused her throughout the night”

The next morning he finds her face down in the doorway. He, well rested from a good night’s sleep and eager to continue on his way, simply looks at her and says, “Get up; let’s go.”

She doesn’t get up though. She’s dead.     

 In Genesis (38 1:24) there is a story about a very famous man of God named Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. When Tamar’s husband died, Judah, promised her he would marry her to one of his other sons as soon as one came of age. He reneged on the promise and left her in social limbo for years.

 Tamar’s only surety for a future in the house of Judah was to produce an heir. When she realized Judah wasn’t planning on keeping his word she tricked him into getter her pregnant. Here is the story:

13When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.

15When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”

He had no money on him, apparently, so Tamar asked to keep his seal, cord and staff as pledge until the payment of a young goat could be provided.

Days later, when Judah sent his friend with a young goat to exchange for his personal belongings, the girl could not be found. When he inquired about the shrine prostitute he was told there wasn’t one. He returned to Judah with this report. Judah decided he’d rather lose the staff, cord and seal than be caught searching the streets for a prostitute.

24About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”

Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

All three of these stories underscore a malignant lack of regard for women in early biblical culture. A woman had no right to defend her virtue but was put to death if for any reason she’d lost it.

It was no disgrace for men of God to use a prostitute for their own pleasure, but she could legally be put to death by the same “godly” men who made prostitution her only means of survival.

We’ve come a long way baby…but

A hierarchy that holds men in authority over women is alive and well within the culture of the Christian Community.

If men were inherently better leaders or had more integrity or were more moral than women it would make sense. But they don’t.  Not by a country mile. Morality is not a gender trait. Integrity is not a gender trait. Not even mental or emotional strength is a gender trait. There are amazing leaders in both genders. There are incredibly talented, worthy people in both genders.

So why the gender bias? Why has male dominance survived in the church when it’s been all but vanquished elsewhere in our culture?

Because God said so? Are you sure about that?

Most of us were raised on the narrative that God created man in His image and women as his lesser helper. God created the man first which clearly means men matter more to God. Eve was the one who was deceived in the Garden of Eden so it follows that man must keep her under tight control in order to protect the Church. No matter how talented or spiritually gifted a woman may be, she must be under the authority of a man. Any woman who desires something other than this is a usurper with an unnatural and ungodly desire for power that God ordained be given only to men.

Seems clear enough. Except for a couple of things.

  • When God gave the command to not eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Eve hadn’t been created yet (Genesis 2:16-17).
  • It wasn’t God who told Eve, but Adam, and he was standing right next to her when the serpent deceived her. Not only did he not do anything to stop her, he ate the apple too! (Genesis 3:6)
  • Yes, God created Eve to be a suitable mate and a helper for Adam. But it is a very slippery slope to say this implies a hierarchy. God is our Helper (Psalm 79:9, Psalm 60:11, Psalm 70:1, Psalm 121:1, Exodus 13:19, 2 Kings 6:27, Matthew 15:25) and no one would ever claim God is lesser, weaker or in any way subservient to man.

Blame Eve for the fall of man if you want to; Adam certainly did (Genesis 3:12). But there is still one more Biblical fact that undermines the idea of male hierarchy being God’s intended order. It wasn’t established in creation but as a consequence of the fall. It was a Curse.

“To the woman He said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” Genesis 3:16

This was God’s curse…not God’s will for humanity. This was the consequence of sin…not God’s perfect plan for His creation.

Once sin entered the world nothing came easily to men or women ever again. Men lived by the sweat of their brow and women often died giving birth. Men learned how to succeed by using their authority, power and control. Women learned how to succeed by being desirable to the men who had authority, power and control.

Greed and inequality are the manifestations of a sinful mankind. Generation after generation male authority and female submission persisted. After thousands of years it is no surprise that the men who wrote the Bible honestly believed they were righteous in the way they viewed women. In the very same way many wrote of slaves as though owning another person was their God given right.

Don't we believe Jesus came to redeem us from the curse? (Galatians 3:13, Romans 8:2, 1 Corinthians 15:22, Romans 5:15-19)

Holding onto this curse AFTER God has already redeemed us from it makes no sense. Jesus said “It is finished.” (John 19:30) He didn’t say, “I’ll finish it when I come back next time. “

Why would we continue to embrace the curse as though it were good? Who benefits from that?

I’ll tell you who doesn’t benefit from that. The Church. The World. The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you’ve been trained up to believe male authority is an essential and incontrovertible fact of God’s order to the world I doubt this post will change your mind. I do hope it will give you pause to consider it though. Not for me or even my sisters in Christ, but for the sake of the Gospel and message we send the world.

As for me, it's enough to know God was never okay with the way His daughters were mistreated and abused. 

We were created to make manifest the glory of God by using the glorious gifts He imparted to us - regardless of our gender.

 

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Sharon Bollum
Sharon Bollum, producer of the 40 Churches in 40 Weeks book and documentary project is committed to finding ways to elevate the health and reputation of The Christian Community in the United States

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