As I continue to explore the implications of a historic understanding of Genesis 3:16, I want to review again the ramifications it has for the church’s perception of feminism, especially among those who identify as complementarians. In review, God created the woman in His image, to reflect in particular His example as a strong helper. For more on how the woman’s creation to be a helper reflects God, see this post. Furthermore, God charged the woman to be fruitful – all while in perfect communion with Him. The curse on her after the fall reflects a perversion of each of these things. In perfection, she was to be fruitful. But after the fall, childbirth (and childrearing) is fraught with pain and suffering. In perfection, she was created to be a helper to her husband. After the fall, she becomes the needy one, clamoring for something from the man that only God was supposed to provide her. In perfection, Adam was created first, and we know from NT commentary on the order of creation that this reflected his call to leadership – hand in hand guidance and direction. But after the fall, instead of offering loving guidance, the man oppressively rules.
This is why feminism is attractive to so many. In my humble opinion, feminism is a learned coping mechanism for dealing with the curse. The formal definition of feminism is simply the movement for social, political, and economic equality between women and men. If you’ve bought into the Bill of Rights at any level, you can probably embrace that general idea. But feminists are perceived by non-feminists as seeking more than equality – they are perceived as seeking domination. Note: I’m mostly using the term feminist in a stereotypical fashion, and frankly, I know many humble godly women who have “feminist” views that don’t fit this stereotype. The term is imperfect and imprecisely defined. Nevertheless, I think that the following discussion fits a strong portion of women who identify as feminists–women who are neither seeking dominance over men or simple equality with men. In my opinion, what these women long for is INDEPENDENCE.
Independence – freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others. www.dictionary.com
My suspicion is that most strong feminist women were at some point likely seriously wounded (abandoned, abused, used) by a man they trusted somewhere along the way (father, brother, teacher, pastor). For such a woman, feminism isn’t her living out the curse – feminism is her response to the curse. If you meet a woman who is strongly advocating her personal independence from men, I recommend that you don’t challenge her on her views or engage with her in debate (at least not if you actually love and care about her). I recommend asking her about her earlier experiences with men. Who hurt her? Who abandoned her? She may easily admit that her pursuit of financial, spiritual, and emotional independence is a result of some guy seriously hurting her (or hurting her mother). Or maybe it’s simply a result of the universal abandonment of her by the men in her life. Her dad, her boss, a former boyfriend, husband, or pastor–someone hurt her or abandoned her and exposed to her a weakness in her that she hated. Feminism is her coping mechanism.
Why is feminism attractive? Because weakness in women IS a problem. Paul affirms this in 2 Timothy 3:6. Scripture never calls women to weakness. Weak women attract abusers. And a feminist’s hatred of weakness in herself and others is not her problem! The problem is when feminism points to the wrong answer to weakness. Independence from others and sole reliance on ourselves is not the long term answer to abandonment or oppressive rule by men. It’s simply a coping mechanism.
As Christian women, do we have anything better than the coping mechanism of insulating ourselves from a need for men by cultivating self-reliance at every level? In Christ, we certainly do! It’s counter cultural and maybe doesn’t seem insulating at all. You could argue it actually makes you more vulnerable. But there is strength to be had in Christ that allows you to remain in a place of vulnerability—to remain open to those who have the power to hurt you because you have embraced your role in their lives. You stay vulnerable because God has called you to help them. You lay down self-protective manipulation and endure uncomfortable, faith testing situations because, simply put, you are called to be like Christ.
How do we do this? Why do we do this? In Ephesians 1-3, Paul peels back the multiple layers of all Christ has accomplished for us on the cross. The gospel is both simple and deep. You can sum it up simply (while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us). But there is also great benefit to unpacking the depth of the gospel –what Paul calls our spiritual blessings in Christ which he details in Ephesians 1.
Paul tells of the Spirit in us who is God’s deposit that assures us God will not default on His promise of these spiritual blessings to His children. He tells us we have the same power transforming us that raised Christ from the dead. And though we were dead in our sins and by our very nature deserving of God’s wrath, in Christ we are now God’s adopted children with the full rights of sons and daughters in His household. We are fully reconciled with God and can boldly enter His presence to find help for everything we need.
Paul is clear in Ephesians on the solution to the curse. In Christ, we are finally equipped to deal with the effects of the fall. We are equipped to apply the ultimate weapon against the depravity in others – gospel grace. And that same grace also equips us against the depravity within ourselves. The Spirit within us works outwardly what He is doing inwardly. We can become holy because He is making us holy. We can work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God is working in us to give us the desire and ability to do His will.
Paul then begins Ephesians 5 with the exhortation to be imitators of God. He calls us back through Christ to what God created in perfection when He made us His image bearers. In particular, all of us are called to love sacrificially like Christ (5:1). And all of us, male and female, are called to serve one another out of reverence for Christ (5:21). After setting up this foundation, then and only then can we hear the classic instructions to husbands and wives.
What does marriage look like between believers who are IN Christ and being conformed to the image of God? Though all of us are called to love, the husband is called to give a particular example of sacrificial love in marriage. And just as all of us are called to serve one another, the wife is called to give a particular example of submission in her home. The husband in Christ stops either lording his authority over his wife or disengaging altogether. The wife stops being so needy OF him that she can’t be a help TO him.
The answer to the curse is not self-reliance. It’s God reliance. It’s not self-protection. It’s tucking ourselves under the wing of the Almighty. And it’s not staying engaged just to be run over. It’s standing strong in our identity in Christ and helping our husband using God’s example as our strong helper as our guide. The answer to the need presented in the curse of Genesis 3:16 and well articulated by feminist movement is to put on the image of God. It is enough that the servant be as her master. “Be like Christ” is the sum and substance to the answer of the curse for women.
* I have inadequately addressed the single woman who feels she must learn independence simply because God hasn’t brought her a spouse. That’s a long subject, and if there’s interest, I’ll post something else in the coming weeks.
Thanks for unfolding in detail how being in Christ and like Christ frees us from the curse. Food for thought and worship. I would be interested in your application for single women since I am one. Although I do have to accept more independence than I would wish for, at the same time it makes me all the more dependent on the Lord to protect me and to provide for me.
I'd be interested in that post too, Wendy!
I expect you don't have to have personal experience of abuse at the hands of a man to want independence – the history of womankind is generally one of abuse. We can be wounded on a corporate/historical/global level too because the problem is more than individual men – it's also systemic.
Wendy, I hope you will make clear that if a woman or her children are in current danger of abuse, then safety comes first, even if it means the independence of separation or eventually divorce. These women certainly need reliance on Christ to make it through
Absolutely, Virginia. Thanks for bringing that up. I wrote about that here.
You have hit the nail on the head in my opinion. I should have you guest write something. 🙂
Good point, Tamie.
Wendy, speaking from personal experience, I grew up with two parents telling me that I can do/be anything (career-wise) that a man can do and that I should not let gender get in my way. I fully believed that point-of-view…until I became a Christian at 21. I joined a complementarian church when I was about 25 and was shocked (and angry) that women were not “allowed” to teach men. I was in a small group that was of mixed gender and the small group leader said something like “who wants to teach next week” and I raised my hand only to face a silent room. It took me quite a few years to come to terms with both points of view – complementarian and egalitarian – and while I'm still not sure which camp I'm in, I can quite easily live with a church that goes either way. When asked about this issue from women in my bible study, I explain both points of view and then state that while the issue is an important one for today's society, it is not that important to me – meaning that I could go either way. That answer, though, is not what they want to hear. They want a definitive answer when the issue is clearly a divided one. All of this to say that I appreciate you addressing the issue with humility and clarity.
I'd love to see the follow up post on single women too!
Thanks for the post!:) Will really love to see the post on single women!
Recently someone pointed out that the description of the woman in Proverbs 31 was written to a son. I think most men want a strong independent woman. I know that my husband of 47 years depends on me a lot as I depend on him. I wrote a blog about my mom being a woman's libber and that Jesus was one too. He spoke to women when men didn't speak to women in those days. Jesus treated women like he would treat any man! Each person has something that we need to work on. Maybe some women need to learn to be more independent and some men need to be less aggressive or the other way around. You are right–we should strive to be like Christ.
I would love to see a post on single women.
Yes, I would love to hear what you have to say about single women and independence! (…as a soon-to-be single college graduate.)
Good thoughts, Wendy.
I've also noticed that some women who fit the stereotypical definition of feminist are still seeking male approval, but they are seeking it in the masculine rather than feminine sphere.
Wendy, I find this post concerning. I do not believe that feminism implies seeking to remain independent from men. In my personal life, and in the lives of the many compassionate, religious, strong women with whom I interact and admire, feminism means seeking equality and mutual respect within the context of relationships. Similarly, I do not believe that “equal but separate” roles for men and women, as you have described, are adequate. “Separate” inherently implies “inequal.” I want to share similarly in the responsibilities, decisions, and burdens of my husband, just as I want him to share equally in mine. I do not believe that Christianity calls us to relegate certin roles based on gender, but rather to a much more difficult calling: to share symmetrically in the duties that construct relationships, whether they be platonic or romantic. You mentioned in one of your other posts that you defer to your husband because respect is his love language. Well, what if my love language is equality? I am very eager to hear your thoughts.
Thank you for interacting. You called it separate but equal, but I see it from a different paradigm. In Genesis 1, God created male and female in His image. It apparently took two genders to fully reflect His image. Though God is mainly spoken of in male terms and characteristics, there is this specific piece of His character that is often spoken of with the Hebrew word ezer that woman in particular seems uniquely created to reflect. I talked about the strong nature of this aspect of His character and its particular relevance to women in this post.
About “this specific piece of His character…ezer that woman in particular seems uniquely created to reflect”:
Can you explain, how woman seems uniquely created to reflect this character (ezer) of God in a way that man is not? What does this mean? Does ezer have a broader meaning and/or connotations beyond the English word “help”? Do you see ezer in relation to God's purposes as set out in Ge 1:26 and Ge 2:15? What implications does kenegdo have for ezer?
I appreciate your thoughts.
Angie, I've written a good bit on that subject. Here are some thoughts.
Wendy, thanks for your timely response.
I checked out the article and remember reading it earlier. The thing is “the defining characteristics of the first woman” that you point to are not “utterly unique” to women. “The defining characteristics… inextricably tied to the character of her Creator” that you mention in that article: help, comfort, counsel, defend, protect, rescue, comfort, support,shields, and care for are things men do as well. We would not say a man helping, comforting, protecting, etc. is not bearing God's image. Would we not hold in contempt a man who fails to bear God's image by not offering appropriate help, comfort, support, etc. to his wife, daughter, sister, mother, or sister in the Lord? There doesn't really seem to be anything unique to women given in either posts, and that's what I am wondering.
Also, to clarify. My questions about ezer kenegdo had to do with the Hebrew definitions and connotations, not English, but thank you for pointing to your post.
I'll just say that the words “in general” and “tend” are helpful. Certainly, not EVERY man oppressively rules his wife. God forbid. Not every wife desires a man to the point of idolatry. And not every man's work is always toil. Not every woman is a compassionate, comforting helper, and many men are. Yet the way Scripture talks about those certain characteristics makes them valuable trends by gender to recognize and evaluate, either positively or negatively, in light of Christ's redemption.
After much searching, I've found a community which articulates very well what I tried to convey in my post- I especially recommend the “comments” section. I would like to reiterate Mrs. Held Evans' commitment to loving discourse between groups holding different opinions, and want you to know, Wendy, that I sincerely appreciate many of your posts and the work you do to spread an understanding of God's word.