She was beautiful. She was bright. And she was mad at God.
I sat across the lunch table picking at my salad, trying to digest Jan’s words. Her startlingly teal eyes were tinted with frustration at God, primarily because of how she perceived He felt about women.
“I don’t understand God,” she said. “It seems like He is against women. He’s set us up to fail. Even our bodies are weaker and that just invites men to abuse us. All through the Bible I see how God used men in mighty ways—Abraham, Moses, David, you name it; it is always the men. And polygamy. How could God allow that? Today, there’s so much abuse toward women.”
“Where’s God in all that?” she continued. “There are so many inequalities and injustices between how men are treated and how women are treated. What kind of God does that? I think the bottom line is that God just doesn’t like women.”
Is God against women?
Jan knew her Bible. She grew up in the church, had loving Christian parents, and accepted Christ when she was 8 years old. She continued growing in her little-girl faith and even felt a call to ministry when she was in the eighth grade.
But during her growing-up years, Jan felt she wasn’t good enough. She saw herself as inferior to her younger brother. Her parents favored him over her, at least that’s how she perceived it.
As is often the case with children, Jan’s perception of her earthly father colored her perception of her heavenly Father. She passed her spiritual interpretations through the sieve of the idea of male favoritism.
For far too long, I had looked at women in the Bible through the wrong end of the telescope, making them appear too small beside their male counterparts. But God was needling me to be a good student and take a closer look.
Women in the shadows
God created women as co-image bearers of Himself (Genesis 1:27). But a lot changed between the Garden of Eden and Garden of Gethsemane. By the time Jesus made his first cry in Bethlehem, women lived in the shadows. For example:
- A husband could kill his wife if she committed adultery. The woman was the man’s property.
- A woman was not allowed to speak to men in public. If she did, it was assumed she was having a relationship with the man and grounds for divorce.
- Rabbis woke each morning and said a little prayer: “Thank God I am neither a Gentile, woman, nor slave.” How would you like that for a “Good morning, dear?”
- The law prohibited women from:
- testifying in court, as they were seen as unreliable witnesses.
- mingling with men in social gatherings.
- eating with men at a social gathering.
- being educated in the Torah with the men.
- sitting under a rabbi’s teaching.
- worshiping with men. They were relegated to a lower level in Herod’s Temple and behind a partition in local synagogues.
- Community censuses and recordings did not count women as people. (For example, the feeding of the 5,000 men in Matthew 14:13-21.)
- A husband could divorce his wife on a whim. If she didn’t satisfy him or burnt the bread, her husband could write her a letter of divorce.
- Many considered women the dregs of society and inferior in every way.
Jesus broke all the rules about women
I asked God how He really felt about women because these Old Testament accounts didn’t sit right with me. Then He showed me through the life of His Son.
When Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father, Jesus answered, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as expressing “the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3 NLT). And while I don’t presume to know the mind of God, I can understand His character and His ways through the ministry of Jesus, His Son.
As I studied, I was struck by Jesus’ radical relationship with the women whose lives intersected with His during those 33 years He walked on this earth. He crossed man-made social, political, racial, and gender boundaries and addressed women with the respect due to co-image bearers of God.
The God-made man broke the man-made rules to set women free. Every time Jesus encountered a woman, He broke one of the societal rules of his day.
But Jesus came to change the rules. He didn’t speak out about the injustice; He simply went about His ministry ignoring the man-made rules.
He taught in places where women would be present: on a hillside, along the streets, in the marketplace, by a river, beside a well, and in the women’s area of the temple.
God invites them in
As we’ve seen through the lives of several of the New Testament’s leading ladies, some of His best students and most daring followers were women.
- Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. It was the longest recorded one-on-one conversation He had with any one person (John 4:1-30). She was the first person He told He was the Messiah.
- Jesus welcomed Mary of Bethany into the classroom to sit at His feet to learn (Luke 10:38-42).
- Jesus invited Mary Magdalene to join His ministry team (Luke 8:1-3).
- Jesus encouraged the woman healed from 12 years of bleeding to testify in the presence of all the people what God had done for her (Luke 8:42-48).
- Jesus welcomed (and defended) the sinful woman into a room full of men as she wet his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair and anointing them with ointment (Luke 7:36-50).
- Jesus called the woman with the crippled back to him in the synagogue to receive her healing (Luke 13:10-17).
- Jesus entrusted the most important message in all of history to Mary Magdalene and told her to go and tell that He had risen from the dead (John 20:11-18).
Jesus was willing to risk His reputation to save theirs. He was willing to go against the grain of religious leaders to liberate women from centuries of oppressive pious tradition.
He delivered women from diseases and set them free from spiritual darkness. He took the fearful and forgotten and transformed them into the faithful and forever remembered.
After Mary at Bethany anointed Jesus’ head with expensive perfume, He told His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26:13).
And now that brings me to you and me. Never, dear one, doubt your value to God as a woman. You were God’s grand finale of all creation—His workmanship whom He loves. And Jesus was willing to break the rules to prove it.
Copyright © 2019 Sharon Jaynes. All rights reserved.