Stepping out of the Shadows
“To the outcast on her knees, you were the God who really sees…
And by your might, you set your children free.” (Michael Card, “El Shaddai,” as recorded by Amy Grant)
Growing up in church, I can remember meeting many beautiful women.
As a little girl in rural and suburban Texas, there were so many ladies that you just wished you could be.
Not all of them, though!
Most of the church ladies were…just moms. Overweight, dumpy moms.
(I had no idea, then, that I had already internalized so much sexism).
But every now and then, you would sit next to a truly beautiful lady.
Blonde, with blue eyes. And pretty clothes. And she would be so nice to you.
And you would go home, feeling like you met Cinderella. And wish that you could be her.
And, over many years, in many churches, I accumulated a lot of these role models.
My role models were, of course, culturally determined.
The more someone looked and acted like Cinderella or Grace Kelly, the more I admired them.
And it’s cool to be beautiful. And kind.
But I think, looking into the Scripture, that something has been lost here.
Because the Bible didn’t leave us any portraits.
Not of hairstyle. Or eye color.
And God could have emphasized anything he wanted to.
What he chose to record were acts of courage and faithfulness.
That were potentially costly. And reflect real leadership.
So God chose courage, faithfulness and leadership.
And while we certainly value those things, and I have heard a lot on faithfulness, I haven’t heard much on courage and leaderhip taught, very often, in Southern women’s meetings.
And I don’t mean to be a critic; I have loved my church life and all of the leaders, teachers and other men and women I have worked with.
What do we value, in women, as a culture? Passivity. Personal appearance. People pleasing.
None of these meets the Biblical test; God simply doesn’t emphasize them. And being passive or a pleaser actually cuts across the grain of the Biblical accounts of godly womanhood. And the teachings of Scripture.
I recently taught a series of local Bible studies on Biblical women. Abigail. Ruth. Deborah.
When I got to Deborah, I found something very interesting.
The woman in my Sunday night gathering, at a local yoga studio, had never heard a sermon on her. They represented four different local churches.
Deborah was a mother in Israel.
She was a judge, like Samuel. That means (and we like to sugarcoat, or ignore, this fact) that she was anointed by God to lead the nation.
Just like Samuel.
I heard a sermon once where the preacher said that this was because Israel was so evil, in those days, that God couldn’t find a man to lead them.
Interesting thought, but, um…the Bible doesn’t actually say that. Like, anywhere.
The history of Christianity parallels the history of western science. Fascinating, actually.
After a time of great learning, science was lost.
Because much of it had been learned in Eastern and Middle Eastern nations, and Europe didn’t trust it.
And after an initial flare of glory in the first three centuries, Christianity was muffled. By institutionalized and politicized religion.
Now, I don’t blame the Catholic Church for the Dark Ages. They were the only church around.
I think any of us could have done it.
In a zeal to keep knowledge pure, they banned science.
In an effort to avoid doctrinal error and cult-like practices, they took the Bible away from the people.
Only the priests could read and teach it.
And we got the Dark Ages.
We have similar veins in Christian culture today, Protestant or Catholic.
And, if we’re not careful, we think it’s automatically spiritual to reject science. And education.
To mistrust those from different backgrounds.
To centralize authority and interpretation of the Scriptures in a few trusted male leaders.
And to keep women in their place.
But God had an answer for the Dark Ages.
It started with Martin Luther, we are told.
I theorize that it probably started before that, with prayer by faithful witnesses whose names we will only know in Heaven.
But it started. And God mightily used Father Luther.
“The just shall live by faith.” It was a revelation.
The light came on.
And out of that came the Reformation.
Followed, and paralleled by, the Enlightenment. Education was back. In a big way.
Western science took off, and became the model for the whole world.
And God has progressively revealed science and technology to mankind ever since.
And, spiritually, that “justification by faith” lightning bolt started a fire.
Followed by others, over the centuries.
Until, in the 20th century, we again saw miracles on a large scale.
The move of the Holy Spirit.
The Missionary movement of the 19th century.
The Word of God, preached through every possible technology, every available voice.
And spiritual knowledge has expanded and grown.
We keep taking steps into the Light.
But, it seems to me, that someone has been left behind.
Half in shadow.
Christian women, in my lifetime, have been taught a set of values that are more Victorian than Biblical.
Taught that, while US law holds us accountable for our decisions, actions and finances, the Bible says our husbands should actually make our decisions for us.
That we are to be quiet. Always.
That having a voice of authority, and using it, are….questionable.
In Genesis 16, God spoke to a woman.
Her name was Hagar.
And she had been bought and sold, and used for sex and breeding.
By, um, God’s man of the hour. Abraham. With his wife’s participation.
And then she had been treated harshly by her owner.
To the point that, while pregnant, she ran away.
Into the desert.
And there, alone and destitute, with no means of survival, God spoke to her.
Genesis 16:7-11 The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied. The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.” And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael which means ‘God hears’, for the Lord has heard your cry of distress.
Abraham and Sarah’s actions weren’t without consequence…
Genesis 16:12 This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”
Ishmael would go on to become the father of most of Israel’s modern day enemies, including the Arab peoples.
It would be to a band of “Ishmaelites” that Joseph would be sold into slavery.
And it would be Ismael’s descendants with whom Israel would struggle in the future.
But God, knowing all of that, thought that justice for this one abused woman…was worth it.
He heard her.
But, wait…there’s more.
Genesis 16:13-14 Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi which means “well of the Living One who sees me”. It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.
Hagar had not been truly seen as a human being by her owners, her forced “family.”
She had, apparently, not been seen in her childhood, to the point that she ended up as a victim of human trafficking.
But God…saw her.
Psychologists say that to be known, really known, by another, is the thing humans crave more than anything.
It drives us into inappropriate sexual relationships.
It underlies our fantasy-wish for fame.
The answer to that hunger is….
God sees you.
He knows you.
And He can create springs in the desert of your life.
And get the message you need right to where you are.
And even bring blessing out of the evil that’s been done to you.
Abigail…recognized that her husband was a fool and confronted a King who was about to commit a hot-headed sin. Read about her; God honored her for it.
Ruth…was a stranger, of another ethnic group, who worked, and loved, out of loyalty to one old, financially broken woman. She took the initiative to find a job,and went out with boldness and consistency. Read about her; God honored her for it.
Deborah…led a nation legally and in battle. And was a prophetess, who led them spiritually. She was bold and courageous, and brought deliverance to her people. Read about her; God blessed her for it.
And, if it seems to you that the current evangelical church might not put these woman on a “Top Ten Godly Woman List” if they weren’t already in the Bible…you may be right.
The Christian woman still stands in the shadows of our sexist Greek and Roman heritage.
But God sees.
It’s time to step into the light of Biblical truth.
Courage, compassion and leadership.
And maybe, just maybe, we can claim our inheritance among our brothers…and still be beautiful.
Job’s daughters did.
Job 42:12-15 So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning….And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren.