Tag Archives: #woman

Between Christianity and feminism: Where is a womans’ place now?

Continuing a theme from this week which started with Do we still need International Women’s Day and What are Christians to make of gender equity in the workplace, I wanted to explore this issue of where a woman’s “place” is. In my reading I’ve come across opinions that are pretty unequivocal in Christian writings on one hand and “Big F” Feminism on the other. A woman’s place is in the home, they say. Feminism has destroyed the family and puts pressure on women to be working when what they really want is to tend to a godly hearth and home. A woman’s place is wherever she wants, say others. Christianity has suppressed and oppressed a woman’s natural desire to do valuable work in the world.

Far out! What are we to make of that?

Well, OK, lets ask the question – is there a prohibition in the Bible on women working outside of the home? Not that I can see, although some would argue with that. Advocates of the “woman’s place is in the home” paradigm lean on Titus 2:1-5:

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

It’s important to see that this is not prescriptive – it is not a universal command but relates to the character of the people Paul is talking about. Why do I say that? Because scripture is littered with women who have a variety of occupations outside the home and Paul mentions no censure of them:

  • In the Old Testament, we see women with many jobs – not least of which is the famous Proverbs 31 woman who buys and sells land and goods ‘sees that her trading is good”
  • In the New Testament we see some women were servants (see Rhoda in Acts 12:13) and Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth (Acts 16:14-15)

In addition, in New Testament times, women worked in a variety of professions including artisanal work, shop keepers, fullers and dyers and many more. So women working was not at all uncommon and Paul is not talking to some Utopian ideal. He is speaking to character and a reverence for God’s created functional order (which can be observed in our occupations outside the home as I discussed here).

Women working has been a reality of life since the beginning. Women worked when there was a need. Through time, this has included many money making occupations within or associated with the home. For example, women were wool makers, carders and dyers, weavers, bakers, dressmakers – and yes OK, we might not find those terribly scintillating but theses were honest to goodness professions. As Dorothy L Sayers (who was a strong Christian and did not identify as a feminist) helpfully points out in her 1938 essay “Are Women Human?”:

“It is all very well to say that woman’s place is in the home – but modern civilisation has taken all these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the woman looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organised by men.” She continues, “It is perfectly idiotic to take away woman’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones

Part of the Christian focus on marriage is also a cultural hangover from the Reformation. The reformers (principally Martin Luther and Martin Bucer) exalted marriage to a status just below scripture itself. I am not exaggerating. They believed that the marriage relationship and family unit was where God’s work would be achieved and where culture would change. Bear in mind the culture they wished to change was built on the corruption of the Medieval church and which they felt needed to be revolutionised through a re-focus on scripture and the familial unit among other things.

As a Reformed Evangelical, I’m a mad fan of the reformers but this particular one created a hierarchy of purpose that echoes down to today. This exaltation of marriage has hangovers still in our churches, leaving many with the feeling that singleness is the entry level with progressive level-ups through “work”, and then “married-and-working” with the highest level at “married-with-kids-and-not-working” which is second only to paradise in the presence of God.

On the other hand, separate to the relentless onward march of progress, the women’s movement has opened doors to opportunities that were denied women for centuries. In so doing, women who would rather make their occupation in the home do feel under great pressure and can be made to feel as though they are wasting themselves, and somehow should be obligated to do “valuable” work outside the home.

This is a very poor outcome of feminism and I find that very disappointing. It is by no means an across-the-board reaction within the women’s movement but it can be a damaging by-product. Particularly because this leaves women in an impossible situation. Women already feel guilty if they leave their children to go back to work (even when they love their work and really want to). They also feel guilty when they don’t work and choose to support their children full time through the formative years.

The Bible does focus on the family to a certain extent. Partially this is cultural (the ancient near east was built on familial clans and tribes) and women’s work was more limited. But also God’s creation itself began with the man-woman relationship and their first command is to go do some procreating. God’s people is built on the idea of family.

In addition, God’s teaching comes through the parents. In Proverbs there is an exhortation to heed the teaching of both father and mother (see Proverbs 1:8 and 23:22 as examples). This is striking because in the rest of the ancient near east, the mother is absent from these kinds of wisdom exhortations. God sees this teaching in his ways as a joint effort – built through the family unit. So just as the Bible does not censure women who work outside the home, there is also a strong family component to biblical teaching – not at the exclusion of all else though. The Bible still illuminates the power and potential in young single people and widow(ers) and the church family to whom we are not biologically related, but to whom we are deeply spiritually related under Christ.

The point is that both/either is OK. The Bible does not censure women for working so if you want to (or for many of us, need to), then we should not feel guilty as Christians for doing so. And we can take advantage of the opportunities afforded us through the women’s movement – even more so now as flexible working conditions become more available to us so we can balance work and family far more readily (although this is not the norm yet). By the same token, a focus on the family is biblically good. We see this time and again in scripture. If you don’t have to work and would rather focus on home (which is a full time job in itself) and even volunteer in ministries at church, that is a great and wonderful thing – but there is no hierarchy of purpose and we should be clear on that, lest we fall into legalism. We know what pleases God and it isn’t the outward trappings of where we work and what we do – it is the demeanor of our hearts, curved towards Him.

So, as with many things, the reality lies somewhere in between the two extremes. Women being in the home is not prescriptive. Women being out in the world is not a command. What is important is how you build your house. A fall-back should always be Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” How do we build our home through the lens of God? How do we do our work through the lens of God? Do we keep a godly focus on the family even though we have/want to work? How do we build the work/home balance so we are still (to the best of our ability and among the realities of life) expressing obedience and humility to God?

Sometimes asking ourselves these questions might result in some changes being made so we can be more intentional in what we are doing. We also need to support the women around us who may be feeling the pressure both ways – whether they are working outside the home or within it. We should support women who – married or unmarried – don’t or can’t have children and so feel the extra pressure of not conforming to this “woman in the home” picture.

Both work and home can be done obediently and in humility. Both have value. Both can glorify God. And we should support each other to do this.

So the question as to where a woman’s place is needs to be shifted. We need to ask:

Whether at work, or in the home, or both, are we glorifying God in everything we do?

How are Christians to make sense of gender equity in the workplace?

The gender debate is everywhere these days and there are great discussions about many issues facing women. As Christians, many seem obvious to us in how we deal with them as the Bible provides us at least some guidance. Other areas are less clear though. What about gender equity in the workplace? Once we get outside of church and family, the Bible does not provide clear guidance, so how are we to apply godly wisdom here?

First, in the interests of full disclosure, I am a complementarian. That means I believe that men and women were created with equal value and dignity. Their complementarity is found in their functional difference – we complement each other. I believe this functional difference is expressed in male leadership and authority – but I do not believe that functional difference in any way diminishes woman. We are equal and different. I believe this functional difference is seen in the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal and ontologically the same (ie they are the same in their being) and yet have a functional difference.

I acknowledge that there are other views of the man-woman relationship and my declaration of complementarianism is in no way a slight to my egalitarian sisters. Because we are sisters in Christ and we will all be worshiping together in heaven.

As a complementarian though, believing in male leadership, how do we view the gender pay gap? How do we view female leadership in the workplace? Does that mean we can’t be project manager, team leaders, senior managers and CEOs?

Lets go first to the gender pay gap. The pay gap exists for a number of reasons and so is not easily explained or swept away. But lets take some of the reasons:

  1. If a woman is paid less than a man for doing the same work, that is not an expression of submission, it is an expression of outright sexism and is not just wrong, it is illegal under gender discrimination law. Women are called to submit to their husbands – not all men. There’s a lot in the submission issue alone and you can read more on it here in a previous blog.
  2. Women tend to drop back or out of the workforce after having children. Partially that’s by choice as our priorities change, but partially that’s because flexible working conditions don’t exist for many. Without the ability to work part time or work from home, women are left with lesser paying jobs. Again, while I fully support women’s changing priorities in support of the family (I’ve done it myself!), I find many workplace responses discriminatory – which is not biblical. Women tend to “submit” in this scenario because they have no choice.
  3. Women still carry the bulk of domestic work and primary care of the children even when working equal days to the partner. Again, this may be a choice and I fully support that. I also know many women who wanted to re-join the workforce after having their kids and found that their male colleagues could freely move around for work because they had wives to take care of the domestic scene. Women don’t have this fall-back, and so become restricted in their ability to contribute.

There are many other reasons for the gender pay gap but what I think can be seen is that it exists because women are functionally and biologically different (we have children) and because we are emotionally and mentally different (even without children, we make different choices, have different values and respond emotionally differently to things).

That said, those differences should not result in a lesser financial value of the female workforce. And this goes for the secular workforce as well as in churches and Christian institutions. Paying women less, financially, in fringe benefits, opportunities or resources, de-values her work and de-values her person. It says she is not as valuable as her male colleagues. It says that her work is not as important. And this is not a biblical picture.

It does not overturn God’s created relationships if we seek equal pay and seek to close the gender pay gap. Equal pay is about equality of being, not her function. In fact, if we see this kind of discrimination, we should stand up for those women. This shows clearly that they are of equal creation, value and dignity.

How about women leading teams and being in management positions? Because this speaks more to function, this would seem less clear. The Bible only shows two categories for male-female relationships – father/daughter and husband/wife. There is no category for women and men in the workplace. However, in Carrie Sandom’s Different by Design, she helpfully reviews biblical wisdom that can be applied in the workplace. We are going to be lawyers and doctors and vice-principals and cafe owners and project managers. We are going to be team leaders and managers with men under our authority. We should not feel compelled to remove ourselves from these situations. However, how we conduct ourselves is key. We can apply the servant leadership that we see in Jesus. We can approach leadership with missional motherhood. We can interact with people with gentleness and humility that means we can fulfill our work obligations (and excel) but is supportive to God’s designed creation.

There are many ways I think we can apply this in the workplace. It takes some thought on our part to think through how it would apply in our context. It takes prayer and intentionality. We think often about how we are building God’s house in our homes. How are you building God’s house at your workplace?

This takes wisdom, humility and great strength on our part. But Jesus never promised that following him would be easy. At the same time, Jesus also never said we should be meek women without voices.

Many things occur because we think they might upset our biblical responsibilities. Many things occur because we have been told that they will. But this is where we need to be clear about what is biblical, and what is just discrimination.

Biblical wisdom and humility must be our baseline. God must be our guide. Supporting gender equity in the workplace does not subvert His created order. If we apply our godly obedience in the workplace, we can even amplify His created order. Because we will look different to the world. People will see Him in how we conduct ourselves.

We need more men (and women) to be outraged

This week, Hannah Baxter and her three children (aged 6, 4 and 3) were murdered by being burned alive in their car on what was supposed to be a routine school run. The murderer was Hannah’s ex-husband and father to the three children.

Something like this happens every week here in Australia. In other countries it is more often. Here in Australia, this is relatively ubiquitous news but every so often, as was the case with this one, the country is shocked. There is a conversation about why our domestic violence statistics are so high. There is a vigil. Then nothing happens. Until the next time a woman is murdered.

As I read the opinion pieces, I feel myself swinging between sadness over such a senseless tragedy, anger and outrage that nothing ever seems to happen and so nothing ever changes, and heart-soreness and despair over the lack of voice for women. Are we so dispensable? Are we just to accept that this just the kind of thing that can happen to us?

Is verbal abuse, put downs, physical, emotional, sexual abuse and possibly murder, just something we have to accept as being part of the female existence?

How can this be? How can we be OK with this as a status quo?

The opinion pieces are largely written by women who are expressing their outrage. Unfortunately, outraged women can be sidelined easily – they are banging on again. Of course they are outraged, they are always outraged by this kind of thing.

Women’s anger is seen as un-womanly. It’s screechy and inappropriate. It apparently shows we are overly emotional, irrational and out of control. But women’s outrage and anger has been, throughout history, channeled to effect enormous social change. Women’s outrage has awarded women the vote, it has changed legislation that is discriminatory and unprotective of the disadvantaged, it has started charities, it has opened orphanages and hospitals.

But when it comes to the protection of women in society, women’s outrage can only achieve so much. We need the men to be outraged too.

Where are all the outraged men?

Seriously, where are you?

I need to be clear here – there are many outraged men, and there are many men working tirelessly in the background to make a positive and lasting change, in individuals lives and in our culture. We won’t hear from these people necessarily, but they are there. And many face this issue head on every day in their jobs. I can’t even imagine what they go through and how they process those emotions.

What I mean by this is a call to action for men who could do something but might not be currently – for varied and valid reasons.

If anything is going to change, we need more men to be outraged by this status quo too. If its just women publicly outraged by the abuse and murder of other women, the whole debate can be put on one side as a “women’s issue”. By its very nature then, the issue can be largely ignored.

But this is an everybody issue. It’s a societal issue. It’s our sons and brothers and fathers and nephews and Bible study participants and co-workers and friends. This is not about women protecting women but everyone protecting women. It’s also about all of us together, and with men leading the charge, modelling and teaching other men what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour. It is about men calling out other men when they are saying words or displaying behaviour that is not OK. This is about men being real men.

This is even more so for Christian men. Let me explain.

The death of Hannah Baxter and her children, the death of those other women every week, the beating and violent oppression of women breaks God’s heart. It is contrary to everything He wants for us and it is an injustice that carries the full weight of God’s outrage.

God made men and women equal in dignity and value. This alone should make men feel equally responsible for their lives (and equally outraged at their murder). The Old Testament is full of God’s view of justice (Exodus 22:22 and Deuteronomy 10:18 are prime examples of God’s exhortation to care for the poor, disadvantaged, fatherless and alone). In the New Testament, men are to care for their women like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Christ died for the church. That’s how sacrificial the love of woman is in God’s eyes.

Many of our men are absolutely trying to live to these principles. My words are are a plea to those who may not be, or may not be thinking about it.

God gives men a higher bar. He gives men the bar that Christ himself stretched to – sacrifice of total self.

That being the case, how can we support outraged Christian men to act and to speak publicly as many women are doing? Many aren’t, for many reasons. I wonder if partially it might be that the news is ubiquitous. It might be that feeling that it’s someone else’s story and doesn’t really have anything to do with them personally. It might be a sense of “What can I do?”. I get that. That’s understandable. For all of us.

But it is your story. It’s all of our story. It’s your responsibility because God has called you to be a leader and protector. We can’t do this on our own. We need you.

I don’t know what you can do but perhaps, you could talk about it with your Bible study – just raising awareness and the level of discussion among men (particularly Christian men) would be a great start. Talk about it with your spouse – how can you parent or be friends in a way that starts to correct culture?

Can you start raising your own voice? Can you, as a group of Christian men, talk to your ministers and ask, as a community of God’s men, what you can do? What can your church do? Can you, as a church and as individuals, write to your local member? Exercise your democratic voice? I am going to start writing to my State and Federal members and anyone else I can think of. It’s only me and it’s a start. But what if we all did it? And what if it wasn’t just women but hundreds of men raising their voices too?

What can you do in your workplace? Can you be the one to ask if there is a domestic violence policy? Can you champion it? Can you open the discussion with other men in your business to talk together about what you can do to be aware, protective and supportive of women?

What else can we do? Do you, or your business, have any influence or contacts that could support channels of change?

I don’t know what the answer is. But the more men that make themselves seen and heard being outraged by this issue and willing to stand up against it alongside women, the greater the waves of change will occur.

But I know that something needs to happen. If Hannah Baxter and her poor children’s death goes the way of all others, we’ll be upset for a bit but then nothing will happen until another woman is brutally murdered. The only way things change is to show that men will no longer tolerate this, and are wiling to stand up and do something about it.

Anger that leads to the kind of violence we are talking about is so wrong. But anger that is channeled through outrage to effect change is so positive. We need all of us to express outrage publicly that I’m sure so many have inside. We need you to show it publicly. We need you to feel compelled to stand and act.

We cannot do this alone. Please – let’s work together to change what breaks God’s heart.

What makes a “good man”? (Or a good anyone?)

I was going to call this blog “Don’t high-5 each other just because you never raped anyone”. OK that’s a super provocative title, but I wanted to get people’s attention. The other problem with that title, is that it only relates to men and the issue that I wanted to talk about is actually an everybody-issue.

Let me explain.

I was reading an article recently. That’s it – not a madly exciting thing to happen, but its what it said. It talked about what makes a good man. As a mother of boys this is important to me. One of the criteria pulled me up short – “A good man will never abuse you”.

When did that become a criteria for being a good man? Have we become so used to despicable behavior that the mere absence of it is considered “good”?

So let me be clear:

Not hitting, stalking, raping or killing, or in any other way abusing someone, isn’t “good” behavior – its normal behavior. As humans, these are things we have, through time, collectively agreed are the opposite of good behavior. We have framed laws and protections against people who engage in them. To now be at the point in history that we would define someone’s goodness by the absence of abnormal behavior makes me heart-sick. And I am outraged on behalf of my sons and all the young girls out there that we would have them think that not being raped or abused by someone makes them a good man.

It would be easy to make this piece about culture-whinging and man-bashing but that’s not my jam. My aim with all these observations is to look at where we can get a course corrective that is positive and collaborative. The place always for this is the Bible. What does the Bible say is a good man?

Here’s some examples:

  • good man obtains favor from the Lord, but a man of evil devices he condemns Prov 12:2
  • The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways. Prov 14:14
  • for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Acts 11:24
  • And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” John 7:12

According to these passages, a good man “obtains favor”. How does a man obtain favor? Isaiah 66:2 says “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

A good man will be filled with the fruit of his (good) ways. This looks like its saying a man reaps what he sows, but there’s more to it. The word translated as “filled” is the same for the backslider and the good man. It is the Hebrew saba and can mean both “satisfied” and “paid back”. From the context it appears apparent that the backslider will be paid back and the good man will be satisfied. How is one satisfied? As famed preacher Jonathan Edwards said: The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. Check out some of the Psalms which give us a fuller picture of this:

As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. Psalm 17:15

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

The Acts passage describes Barnabas as he goes to Antioch. As a good man, he is full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And in John 7, we see that some saying Jesus is a good man being opposed by those who say he can’t be a good man because he is leading people astray.

This just starts to build a picture of what a good man is and gives me, as a mother of boys, a foundation for building my boys in character. We see a definite pattern here of being in God, knowing Him, seeking Him, having faith, humility, integrity and strength.

Of course the person who exemplifies these characteristics is in God himself, in His son, Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice for us, washes us clean and we get to start again, rebuilding a new life in Him. He sent the Spirit to help us in this growth in Christ-likeness and we are to be led by Him. This is what Paul discussed in Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

This. THIS should be the criteria that defines a good man – and a good woman.

We must always remember that the air we breathe can influence the course of our thoughts and beliefs and attitudes. This cultural air proliferates everything in our lives through TV and radio, music, film, advertising and social media. As Christians we have a bigger picture than that and our God is bigger. And we are His image-bearers.

If we are to live in the light of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must assess ourselves against these criteria – not the absence of despicable behavior, but a passionate pursuit of God above all else, and the deliberate growth in Christ-likeness.

And if we are deficient or immature in these areas, we need each other as Christian brothers and sisters, to help each other grow. We must ask each other – what would gentleness look like in our contexts? What would self-control involve? Are there things to repent of in these areas? If we truly look at ourselves, are there things we need to change, develop, mature? This is the higher bar. It takes courage, self-reflection, honesty, humility – a big God, and trusted Christian friends.

God commands us to be different to our culture. And looking at our culture, our sons and daughters need us to be different too.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:22-25

Does the Bible oppress women or not?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. A while back I wrote a blog on sexual coercion in marriage  followed by a live Q&A on the same subject with GuruNow  (you can watch it here). There were a lot of questions and a lot of discussion afterwards – it touched a nerve for a lot of women. What was apparent was many feelings of frustration, feelings of being treated differently – not in the “equal and different” sense but in the “equal but inferior” sense. What it brought up for me, was a tangle of doctrine and culture that had apparently become intertwined over the centuries and that desperately needed to be untangled.

Over the years, the church has been accused of oppressing women and allowing abuse to happen. There has been an equal push of denial from the other side. The result is each camp has been pushed to opposite extremes with one side pushed into an (apparently) increasingly conservative corner and the other pushed into feeling they actually have to fight for their corner. The result is women feeling further ignored, frustrated and oppressed. The result is also the church feeling under attack from within. Neither of these is a good outcome.

To find equal ground we have to strip away centuries of cultural barnacles and try and get to the truth. When I say “truth” I mean the truth as communicated to us by God Himself. What did God say? What did Jesus communicate? Are we equal and different? Or equal and inferior?

Much is made of Genesis 2:18 in which God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” For a long time, the assumption has been that as man was created first, he is more important. Women were created second and are merely helpers. What this ignores though is the ontological equality – that is, as image bearers, men and women are equal in being. One is not inferior to the other.

What it also ignores is the nature of the term “suitable helper”. The Hebrew word that has been translated as “helper” is ezer and it is used elsewhere in the Bible in a context that challenges our understanding. In Psalm 89:17 “For you [God] are their [the Israelites] glory and strength.” The last word here has been translated as “strength” but is ezer. God is Israel’s ezer.

John McKinley* notes that “the issue in ezer is neither equality nor subordination, but distinction and relatedness. She is to be for the man as an ally to benefit him in the work they were given to do. Just as ezer tells of God’s relatedness to Israel as the necessary support for survival and military perils, the woman is ally to the man, without which he cannot succeed or survive.”

For me, as a woman, that’s pretty huge. I am to man what God is to the Israelites. Someone without whom the other party can’t do what they need to do. So our function is ezer. How that is expressed in our lives is as unique and varied as our individual contexts (and there is is a lot to be said about this – perhaps a blog for another time!)

We are meant to be different so that what man is missing is supplied by woman, and vice versa. This is not oppressive. That feels liberating to me.

BUT – it also seems clear to me that this has become part of a cultural attitude to women that feeds the idea of inferiority. Even by Jesus’ time there was a large cultural divide between men and women. Some of this is (in every culture) based on our obvious differences – we are physically different, we (generally speaking) think differently, communicate differently, approach issues differently, respond differently (remember I said generally speaking!).

For the Jews, a biological difference (menstruation) created a ceremonial difference. A time of menstruation was niddah where a woman was considered un-clean and was not “clean” until menstruation was over and a ritual cleansing had occurred. What is important here is that “clean” and “unclean” have no moral judgement attached to them. It is not “good” or “evil”, it is solely a diagnostic for a person’s state and ability to be in the presence of God. Many things could cause a state of uncleanness and Leviticus is chockers full of how a person becomes clean again. What is key though is that, since people in a state of uncleanness couldn’t stand before God, and menstruation occurs regularly but in changeable cycles, the chances of being in a state of uncleanness regularly and unknowingly was too high. This meant that women could not take ceremonial roles in the tabernacle. By the time we get to temple, a biological difference has become entrenched in the cultural consciousness.

Of course there are many other factors at play but the entanglement of religion and culture is what can make things problematic. When we strip this away, what does God say? The story of the bleeding woman in Mark 5 gives us a clear window (there is a Bible study on this here). This woman had been ceremonially unclean for years. Jesus shouldn’t have gone near her let alone engage with her. What Jesus’ simple action does is remove the barriers of clean and unclean for women – women became liberated to be disciples in whatever physiological and biological state they were in at the time. By his actions, Jesus affirmed functional difference in a variety of settings, he freed them to follow him.**

So we are to men what God was to the Israelites. We are ontologically equal and functionally given a specific and different role as ally, but without which men cannot succeed. And Jesus up-ended any ceremonial barriers – while recognising biological difference, we are freed to be disciples and engage in religious and faith matters.

So lets turn to Paul’s letters which have caused much controversy and pain over the years. Firstly, he talks about women submitting to their husbands. This is uncomfortable and feels wrong. But again, we forget the context:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:21-28)

There is whole books written on this subject (and rightly so) but here’s some takeaways:

  • Submission is mutual – we submit to each other. The emphasis is not on the woman alone.
  • Submission is voluntary – we submit to God willingly and voluntarily. Submission cannot be forced or coerced in any way. If it is, it is NOT submission and husbands cannot expect or demand it. God does not expect or demand it. Husbands must be the kind of person to whom submission is willing and voluntary.
  •  Submission is a response – The onus is actually on the husband. He must love his wife as he loves his own body and as Christ loved the church (Christ died for the church). Our submission to God is a response to this great truth. So it must be for women. Our submission can be faked to break an impasse, but the onus is not on us to forever be submitting to make things right. It should be a response to the love and sacrifice of the husband.

But sadly culture has not used this passage that way. It have been taken out of context and used by people who will use whatever tool will get them what they want, or feel they deserve. This is a gross misuse of scriptural truth.

We see this particularly in 1 Corinthians 7 – another passage that has become misused and even weaponized.

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)

Firstly, what is this “marital duty”? It sounds old fashioned, like we’re supposed to “lie back and think of England”. The original Greek that “duty” is translated from is opheilo. This word is usually used to translate a commercial debt and the only place it is used in a non-monetary sense is in Romans 13:8:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

This “duty” is love! The husband owes a debt of love to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. This is different to how we imagine it to be – and how it has unfortunately been used in the past.

What about bodily autonomy? In the women’s movement this has been such a key issue. As physically weaker (generally speaking) and culturally subordinated, there has been centuries of our bodies being used and abused without our consent or permission. Culture in fact, has perpetuated it. In Australia, marital rape was not made illegal until 1981 (and not in all States and Territories until 1992). As recently as 2018 in the UK, a study found that “more than a third of over-65s” do not consider forced marital sex rape, along with 16% of people aged 16 to 24. Overall, one in four Britons believed that non-consensual sex within marriage did not constitute rape.”***

In 1 Corinthians 7, it looks as though the Bible is saying that our husbands have authority over our bodies in just this kind of fashion. Except it doesn’t say that. Look again:

“The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”

Neither person has authority over their own body but choose to yield it to each other in an act of mutual giving. It doesn’t say that the woman doesn’t have authority but her husband does. No. It says she doesn’t but yields it. So who does have authority? If we don’t, and the husband doesn’t – who does?

Just prior to our passage, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul says “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

God has authority over our bodies.

This obviously will be hard teaching for some, especially because bodily autonomy is such a key pillar of the women’s movement. And I understand why. Issues of permission and consent are so profoundly significant for anyone, particularly women who, culturally, have been subordinated for so long. But Christianity has always been counter cultural and the comfort that I (or rather the Bible) gives, is that God deserves this authority because we were created as His image bearers, and He cares so deeply for us (body and soul) that He sacrificed His only son for us. What is also important – and so central to the reason for the fight for bodily autonomy – is the man/husband doesn’t have authority over it. And if they claim it, this is also a gross misuse of scripture.

Of course, Paul in various texts talks in ways that seems to diminish women. I’m not going to explain that away or pretend it doesn’t mean what we think it means. In various places, we are told to wear head coverings (1 Corinthians 11:2-6), we are told to be silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34) and should be silent and not teach (1 Timothy 2:12). This is not the place to exegete all these passages, but what I will say is that these letters are responses to pastoral issues. These letters are the pastoral outworking of Jesus’ teaching in the context of what is. This teaching is descriptive, not prescriptive. That doesn’t mean that we should disregard it as being only relevant to Paul’s time, there are still biblical truths to abide by. So no, we don’t cover our hair, but there is still teaching on humility that is relevant.

Where does this leave us?

Well, there is an awful lot to unpack in here, but I hope this is a neat summary of some of the issues I think have been misused by our culture over centuries. The Bible places equal dignity and importance on men and women. It also shows that we have some key differences, and crucially a functional difference. But that functional difference does not diminish us. The Trinity shows the ontological equality of the godhead, and yet they can have functional differences that in no way makes one superior or inferior to the other.

Further, I hope we, as women, can have confidence in our standing before God. When scripture has, or is, used against women (and sadly even weaponized against women sometimes) it is a gross misuse. There is a reason for it (pride, greed, arrogance) but no excuse.

Culture has twisted what is God’s good creation. In a broken world, women have been treated as “equal” (in a theoretical sense) and inferior (in the practical sense). This is not what I see in scripture. What I see is a massive gap between what God intended for us, and what we have made. That will always be the case with everything until the last day. Until then, know that scripture, when stripped of culture and its use for personal gain, is pure and clear and beautiful. Until then, embrace that we have a God-made functional difference with a specific purpose – we are to men, what God is to the Israelites.

But because of our cultural advance, so many cultural icons and views are embedded to such a degree that there is still a subconscious bias, sometimes even a conscious decision, to view women as inferior. It’s not just the views on marital rape. Until the 1980s in Australia, a woman couldn’t get a passport without her husbands permission. In the last 40 years, a woman was still sacked if she got married and/or got pregnant – and it was an expectation. To fight it as unfairness got you a soft smack on the butt and a wink at best. In 1997 in the UK, new Labour leader Tony Blair presided over a new government that included over 100 female politicians. They were called for a group photo and the headline was “Blair’s Babes”. If that wasn’t patronizing enough, in 2014, new Conservative leader David Cameron was photographed with his 80 female politicians and they were tagged “Cameron’s cuties”. And that’s just in first world countries. Our culture is so far behind treating women as equal.

Of course, in response, we can run the risk of swinging the pendulum too far the other way. This is understandable from a group of people who feel they have been silenced for hundreds of years. We must be guided by scripture though – not what our gut says. Our gut will send us into freeze, flight or fight. We need to train our instincts to send us to God’s word.

So, until the last day, know that God did not create you to be, nor does he see you as “someone’s babe”. Until then, know that if you see a misuse of scripture, or an injustice in the name of scripture, have confidence to use your voice. Speak to your pastor. Speak to a Christian friend. Speak up. Don’t be guided by hurt, be guided by scripture. If we hold fast to that, we will avoid pushing the pendulum too far the other way in reaction and will hopefully, under God, find the truth again expressed in our culture.

The gospel is not the issue. Sadly, as with everything, people are. Let us equip ourselves with the truth and build our confidence and our identity in that.

 

* John McKinley, “Necessary Allies: God as Ezer, Woman as Ezer,” lecture, HIlton Atlanta, November 17, 2015, mp3 download, 38:35, http://www.wordmp3.com/details.aspx?id=20759 quoted in Aimee Byrd, No Little Women, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2016, p25-26

** Ben Witherington III, Women in the Ministry of Jesus, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p117

***https://www.theweek.co.uk/98330/when-did-marital-rape-become-a-crime

 

 

 

Towards a better understanding of sexual coercion in marriage and how Christians can respond

A week or so ago, I wrote an initial piece on sexual coercion in marriage, looking at what it is, whether it is actually a problem and how we should deal with it as Christians. You can read it here:

Sexual coercion: what is it, does it happen in marriage, is it justifiable and what do we do with this information?

Since then, I have also taken part in a live Facebook question-and-answer session. We ran over time because there were so many questions but hopefully we helped start a conversation.

We talked through 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 and what some critical terms mean – like “marital duty” and “authority over the body” mean. These can be particularly difficult terms for us to wrangle with and have been the source of much damage and distress in the past.

We explain what sexual coercion is with far more depth and nuance – including things like context, intentions versus reception, whether it is a repeated pattern of behaviour and so on.

We tackle tricky questions like “Is it all abuse?” and “Should we submit anyway?”

We talk about how it is damaging to women and to men and to marriages and in what ways.

We start to look how we can continue a collaborative conversation about this – seeking a positive and godly way forward that is biblical and supportive of our bodies, mental health, motions and ability to give joyfully and voluntarily (spoiler alert – its not an easy fix, but its possible if we have a language, have courage to communicate and have humility under He who gave us the picture of what marital intimacy should look like).

I hope you can engage, ask questions, take the conversation to your churches and ministers.

The Q&A session can be accessed here from the Facebook page:

Sexual Coercion in Marriage with GuruNow with Ruth Baker

If you have any questions, thoughts, comments, concerns please feel free to contact me. the work on this will continue so the more input the better. Send me your stories, your observations – anything!

If you feel you are in need of help, please speak to a trusted friend, pastor or professional.

GuruNow is the platform by the way – check them out on Facebook because the cover all manner of subjects from worry and anxiety, to bullying in the church, to Christian leadership and beyond.

 

Sexual coercion: what is it, does it happen in marriage, is it justifiable and what do we do with this information?

I tinkered with lots of clever and pithy titles for this blog, but in the end, I decided to go with the basic rule of advertising – “It does exactly what it says on the tin”. It’s obvious, but it’s clear. The reason for that is that this is something we don’t talk about much except in high profile cases. When it comes to sexual coercion in marriage, it’s something we don’t really talk about it at all. I wanted the title to be clear so people could engage with it straight away. Because sexual coercion is real, it happens in marriage all the time and it’s horrifically damaging. Which means we have work to do.

But here’s the thing. We have work to do together – men and women together. Sexual coercion is generally an issue that is visited upon women, but women can not solve this problem alone. This is not a women’s issue. This is an everybody issue. So please, let’s engage in this together.

Before we get into it, it’s important for us to be on the level. I know that sexual coercion happens. I have spoken to so many women who struggle with this. Most think it’s something they just have to put up with. Others know it’s wrong, but don’t feel they can do anything about it. Some don’t even know it’s wrong and have suffered for years without realising it was not OK.

How can this be? Well, for starters here’s a conundrum. I’ve heard Christian sexologist Patricia Weerakoon speaking once about how women are like slow cookers – you turn them on and they need to warm up. Men are like toasters – generally you turn them on and they pop up almost immediately. This being the case, if a woman isn’t “in the mood” when her husband is, does that mean we are heading for sexual coercion? Not at all, or at least not necessarily. Getting in the mood is part of the intimate experience. How people do that is very individual. The problem arises when “encouragement” becomes coercion.

I think some men may not realise that they’re doing it. And that’s a problem of awareness and communication.

Some men may realise they are adding pressure, but may not realise it’s wrong. This is a problem of awareness and accountability.

Some men, at the more extreme end, know it’s wrong but feel justified, and that’s just a problem.

But because this isn’t talked about, neither men nor women are equipped to communicate about it – with each other, or with other trusted Christians and pastors. Women can’t raise awareness that the behaviour is not OK, which means they can’t communicate how they feel to their husbands. Men can’t keep each other accountable, or talk honestly about what is appropriate behaviour in marriage, and where the line is.

It’s time to address that. So let’s start with being clear about what sexual coercion is.

What is it?

The U.S. Office on Women’s Health says sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens after being pressured in nonphysical ways that include:

  • Being worn down by someone who repeatedly asks for sex
  • Being lied to or being promised things that weren’t true to trick you into having sex
  • Having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors about you if you don’t have sex with them
  • Having an authority figure, like a boss, property manager, loan officer, or professor, use their influence or authority to pressure you into having sex.*

The Australian national group 1800Respect includes sexual coercion under sexual assault and violence and describes it as “when someone pressures or tricks you into doing sexual things when you don’t want to. It involves behaviour that may not always be criminal, but is usually abusive in some way. Sexual coercion can include someone:

  • Saying they’ll leave you or have sex with someone else if you don’t have sex with them
  • Trying to get you to drink more than you want to so you’ll agree to sex
  • Making you feel guilty for not having sex when they want
  • Telling you it’s your duty to have sex with them
  • Saying that you owe them
  • Making you feel scared to refuse because of what they might do. This might be a fear of physical violence, but can also include fears of them saying bad things about you to others, sharing private or damaging information about you on the internet, or taking away support, money, children or pets.
  • Saying they will get you out of debt, provide you with drugs, let you stay at their house, or help you with a problem if you have sex with them
  • Holding you down, yelling at you or trying to scare you into having sex**

Some of these seem more overtly “abusive” than others and so the less apparently “abusive” behaviours could be down played.

They shouldn’t be.

Firstly, because individually these behaviours are wrong. Secondly, when taken over many occurrences over weeks, months or even years, the damage this causes to a woman cannot be overstated.

The damage to the relationship can be irrevocable. There is loss of trust and loss of love that can erode a marriage or make it implode.

The damage to the woman can last a lifetime. Once is bad enough. The real problem is if there is a pattern and especially if this becomes the “normal” approach to intimacy in a relationship.

There is trauma. And with trauma comes nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, fear, hyper-vigilance, panic attacks, a deadening of any interest in intimacy (which can then exacerbate the issue), a problem being touched at all….it is akin to having a major car smash where every bone in the body is broken and which then requires intense medical intervention, healing, time and rehabilitation. Untreated, the woman is just such a car smash victim but has never had any medical intervention or healing and the injuries continue to be inflicted. She exists. Broken.

Perhaps this is part of the issue facing men and women. Given that men and women treat and experience sexual intimacy differently (generally speaking, of course), it is next to impossible for a man to understand the effect of broken sexual intimacy on a woman. Again this is highly individual, but there is enough research to show the effect on women as being highly damaging emotionally and psychologically and traumatic.

It hurts women. It breaks women.

I realise there are impacts to men too. Facing unwillingness to engage in intimacy can feel like rejection. It can feel hurtful. It can be disappointing, frustrating, and, given the right emotional environment, can feel damaging to a man too. And I am not talking here about withholding sex as a deliberate leverage of power over a man which is totally wrong on so many levels. That can be deeply damaging to a man.

I think the difference we need to focus on though is this:

Men don’t need sex. It might feel like they do, but not having is not going to kill them, like the removal of air or food and water will. Yet the importance placed on it can be disproportionate. However, there are deeply felt and real emotional needs and these need to be brought into the light and taken seriously. But there is an opportunity to communicate about these, and that’s as it should be.

Women, when having sex without wanting to, feel violated. That is not a feeling that goes away. Ever.

Is it really a problem?

Unfortunately, yes.

A recent study of 122,000 women found that over a third had been in abusive relationships. But of those 65% of remaining women who said they hadn’t been in an abusive relationship, almost two thirds had experienced problematic, harsh and potentially abusive treatment from a partner.***

A study as far back as 1997 found that over a third of married women had been sexually coerced by their husbands.****

A survey undertaken in 2018 revealed some scary results including:

  • Almost 20 per cent are not aware that non-consensual sex in marriage is illegal (just in case there is any doubt – it is!)
  • 1 in 7 believe non-consensual sex is justified if the woman initiates intimacy (so if a woman tries to get in the mood so her husband can have sex, but then cannot go through with it, 1 in 7 people believe the man would be justified in forcing her to go through it it)
  • 1 in 5 Australians believe domestic violence is a normal reaction to stress, and that sometimes a woman can make a man so angry he hits her without meaning to
  • 1 in 8 believe that if a woman is raped while she is drunk or affected by drugs she is at least partly responsible.*****

What this shows is an alarming number of people who do not see or understand that sexual coercion is wrong, damaging and traumatic. This being the case, it is easy for a husband not to know where the line is if culture largely remains silent on this. Equally, it is easy for women to never know they are being abused even though they feel all the feelings and responses of an abused person.

Let me be clear here. I’m not advocating for creating abuse where there is none. What I’m saying is that the abuse is happening already, we just don’t know to speak into it. Just because the abuse is not understood, does not make it not abusive behaviour. It’s still not OK.

A woman can feel traumatised and damaged, experience panic attacks and irrational fears – and think that it’s her own fault. If we speak into this issue, we can free women from this added burden and actually be clearer about what is appropriate behaviour.

We can equip both men and women.

So what do we do?

First, let’s approach this issue together. Remember, this is not a women’s issue, this is an everybody issue.

Second, we need to bring this issue into the light. There is a lot of fear and anger on all sides, anticipating blame and confrontation. So there can be a tendency to want to ignore the issue because perhaps women have just decided to raise it now. We need to be clear that women have never been OK with this, and it has never been acceptable behaviour – we just haven’t been able to talk about it before. It can also be driven by an assumption (coming from a place of hurt) that the woman is withholding, not because she is feeling damaged, but because she is making a power play. These kinds of assumptions are especially dangerous. So all assumptions need to be put to one side.

At the same time, this should not be an excuse for man-bashing. The only way to deal with this is to tackle it together. Many men have no idea that this is not OK and we need to equip men to understand the effect of certain behaviours. In fact, we need men desperately in this endeavour. We need men to be talking about it with each other, exploring it, even weeping over it. We need them to feel empowered to grow in gentleness. Biblically speaking, such gentleness is having enormous power, but using it for the care and protection of others. We need our men to grow in this Christ-likeness. To explore and mature in biblical gentleness is critical to this.

We also need to recognise and acknowledge that this is not a blanket issue. Not being in the mood can most of the time, become being in the mood, as part of the honest, trusting and loving intimate experience. What we are talking about here is the genuine cross over into coercion where one party (usually the woman) has sex without wanting to because they feel pressured into it – once, or as a repeated pattern.

So, men and women, start with reading the definitions of sexual coercion. Understand what it is, and what it isn’t.

Recognise and accept that it is what it is, and there is a chance that you could be experiencing it, or perpetrating it.

Here is where we need our God, and our Christian brothers and sisters. We need humility to recognise there may be some things to repent of. We need the courage to speak with our trusted Christian friends. We need to call each other out, gently and lovingly if we see behaviour or hear words that raise red flags. We need to be able to talk about this issue in the light – understand it, change it.

And we need to support and enable husbands and wives to talk to each other about this. Do a temperature check in your relationship. This may not be an issue for most of you, but talking about it cannot be a bad thing – it is a deeply intimate but profound issue of trust to be discussed. It may help you as a couple to support another couple for whom it might be an issue.

We need to not dismiss each other’s feelings or experience. This is an area that is extremely difficult and what will make it worse is being confrontational. We need to approach this as far as is possible in the most collaborative and positive way possible.

That said, if this is an issue in your marriage, and it is in any way repetitive, seemingly justified or escalating, please seek help. Immediately. It is not OK and you must be safe. At least seek the guidance of a professional and trusted Christian pastor or friend.

Most importantly, we must lean on God. This is where we need him most. Intimacy can be so broken. Experiencing it is traumatic. Recognising it can be equally traumatic. Seeking to rectify it can be challenging. It is us humans at our most vulnerable.

We need Him. Through and in Him we can seek the best – which is a bringing this issue into the light, talking about it openly and honestly, facing our issues humbly, supporting each other and keeping each other accountable.

Dealing with brokenness. Together. In Him.

* https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/other-types/sexual-coercion#7

** https://www.1800respect.org.au/violence-and-abuse/sexual-assault-and-violence/

*** https://www.businessinsider.com.au/two-thirds-of-women-dont-realise-they-experience-abusive-behaviour-2018-5?r=US&IR=T

**** https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/12477095/ and https://truthout.org/articles/its-time-to-confront-sexual-harassment-within-marriage/

***** https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/violence-against-women-survey-shows-concerning-attitudes/10568638?smid=Page:%20ABC%20News-Facebook_Organic&WT.tsrc=Facebook_Organic&sf203239950=1

The only person who could save her was him (Mark 5:21-43)

Sometimes it seems impossibly hard to be a woman. I have no doubt that its hard to be a man too – but I can only speak for those females among us. For us females, it can feel like an up hill climb all the way sometimes. We have uniquely female medical issues – which are never dignified. We have hormonal fluctuations and emotional swings (that aren’t even hormonal). We have anxieties and paranoias, we have hidden fears and brooding worries that we are, or will, or have, failed. And we carry on. Even when we feel like we are a complete outsider. Even when we feel like we are completely alone. Even when we feel like life will never get any better. We carry on.

Maybe this is you. Maybe you where a face to make everyone think you’re doing fine,  but on the inside you’re wracked with doubt and pain. Or maybe it’s been weeks, months, even years, and you feel like you just can’t get things to go right. You’ve tried, you’ve fought, you’ve endured, but the battles you’re fighting are on every front and feels like its never going to end. And maybe this follows you to church. You sing the songs, you pray the prayers, you listen to the sermon, but you just feel somehow separate to everyone else.

One of the characters in today’s passage was completely separated.

In Mark 5:21, we see Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee again into Jewish territory and as the crowds press around him, a synagogue leader called Jairus pleads with Jesus to come and save his dying daughter. On the way, Jesus has an encounter with a woman:

“A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.” (Mark 5:24-29)

This story is in the gospels of Matthew and Luke also, but Mark provides the most insights into the woman. Even so, we get precious little about her. We don’t know her name, her situation or even her specific medical condition. What we do know is that she has been bleeding for 12 years and, under the Levitical laws, that means that she has been ceremonially unclean for all that time:

“When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Anyone who touches them will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.” (Leviticus 15:25-27)

What we need to remember is that all purity laws (male and female) were linked to the temple system – what that means is that the temple, the priests, temple gifts and so on had to be guarded from ritual impurity. Nothing tainted by impurity could be offered up in the presence of God. Just touching, or being touched by, someone who was unclean, communicated the impurity to the other person.

And as an unclean person, you had to keep away. Its interesting that the Hebrew word for “menstruation” here is niddatah, which has as its root ndh, a word meaning “separation”. An unclean person could not go to temple, and couldn’t really be around other people in case of making them unclean and they would have to be purified.

So this woman must have been lonely – and paranoid. Given the separation from people and temple, her condition must have been very public. Everyone would know. Nobody would want to touch her or be near her. She was an outsider (ceremonially speaking), and would have been made to feel like an outsider in every other cultural and social way.

On top of that, physically she must have been supremely debilitated. Bleeding constantly for 12 years. And without modern hygiene products or pain killers. She may have experienced anemia, dizziness and a number of other physical ailments. She must have been exhausted, depressed and emotionally drained.

The gospel says she had suffered greatly at the hands of various doctors and instead of getting better, had got worse. To give us an idea, Adam Clarke’s 19th Century Commentary on the New Testament quotes 17th century Dr Lightfoot who had studied the medical machinations of 2nd Century Rabbi Jochanan.* What Rabbi Jochanan outlined was a series of treatments (if you can call them that) for just such a complaint:

  1. Take of gum Alexandria, of alum, and of crocus hortensis, the weight of a zuzee each; let them be bruised together, and given in wine to the woman that hath an issue of blood. But should this fail:
  2. Take of Persian onions nine logs, boil them in wine, and give it to her to drink: and say, Arise from thy flux. But should this fail:
  3. Set her in a place where two ways meet, and let her hold a cup of wine in her hand; and let somebody come behind and affright her, and say, Arise from thy flux. But should this do no good:
  4. Take a handful of cummin and a handful of crocus, and a handful of faenu-greek; let these be boiled, and given her to drink, and say, Arise from thy flux. But should this also fail:
  5. Dig seven trenches, and burn in them some cuttings of vines not yet circumcised (vines not four years old); and let her take in her hand a cup of wine, and let her be led from this trench and set down over that, and let her be removed from that, and set down over another: and in each removal say unto her, Arise from thy flux.

And apparently there were many others to try if this last one didn’t work either!

Can you imagine? On top of the physical, emotional and mental burden, she had been poked and prodded and no doubt with each prospective cure, her hopes had been raised. And yet, the Bible tells us, she got worse.

And then she hears about a man who can heal.

She doesn’t even approach him face to face. Shame? Possibly. After 12 years of being an outcast I can imagine she’d want to remain as invisible as possible. Of course Jesus realises he’s been touched.

Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”” (Mark 5:33-34)

This is such a beautiful scene. He could have turned round and called her out for touching him – for making him unclean too. But he doesn’t even mention it. Elsewhere in Mark we have seen Jesus changing the understanding of the old covenant law (the sabbath laws in chapter 2 and later food laws in chapter 7). His refusal to rebuke her – his complete lack of attention to purity laws in fact – is a stunning omission here. And this was liberating, for all Jews and particularly women.

Whats also interesting here is the Greek word for “healed” here is the same as “saved”. This is complete restoration. Complete. Restoration.

Who else could give her that?

Who else could give us that?

The doctors could not heal her. The purity laws could not save her. Only Jesus could heal her. Only Jesus could save her. Only Jesus could give her her life back.

Just after this, Jesus completes his journey to Jairus the synagogue leaders house. Jairus’ daughter has died. But Jesus brings her back to life. He gives her her life back.

Who else could give her that but God?

Who else could give us that but him?

I’m not saying everything in our lives will miraculously get better. I’m saying Jesus sees us, saves us and restores us. In the middle of our mess, Jesus restores us. And we follow. We follow because he saved us first. He loved us first.

When you feel exhausted and disappointed and frustrated and hurt and betrayed and confused, when the rest of the world feels relentlessly difficult, the one safe place we have is in him. We are cleansed in him. We are perfected in him. We can find our peace in him.

 

* https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/mark-5.html

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  2. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  3. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  4. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  5. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  6. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12
  7. Week 7: Jesus made us a new family – does church really feel like that? Mark 3:13-35
  8. Week 8: Is fruitfulness something we do or something we are to be? (Mark 4:1-20)
  9. Week 9: What will the kingdom of God be like? (Mark 4:21-34)
  10. Week 10: Jesus goes out of his way to specifically find you (Mark 4:35-5:20)