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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Biblical Theology of Womanhood and Feminist Chaos


Image result for picture of man and woman holding hands

Feminism has, no doubt, brought positive change and necessary correctives in the area of how we view and treat women as equals. However, it has morphed well beyond its helpful contributions to the human rights of women and has ushered in a post-modern culture of death by elevating abortion to the sacrament of choice and the lie of self-definition as the ultimate good. Furthermore, by promoting the dissolution of gender binaries, it is well on its way to rendering itself obsolete. What is feminism, if, after all, there is no agreed-upon, objective form of womanhood left to herald? Yet feminism has also left its mark on the church. Limp and tentative, she is second-guessing her calling to proclaim binary truth to a dying world. Without real distinctions between good and evil, male and female, God and creature, the Christian message is no longer Christian. There have been many attempts to reconcile the Bible with feminist thought. But an evangelical feminist view of gender is untenable for a Christian serious about the biblical theological progression of revelation found in the Scriptures. Unlike proponents of trajectory hermeneutics who suggest that the Bible, though not clear on certain topics, nevertheless points us in the right hermeneutical direction toward liberation, the Bible contains its own self-contained revelatory trajectory that does not nullify or fudge on gender roles and creational structures. One simply has to follow the arc of its trajectory to the end to see what we find there.


Looking at the end to understand the beginning


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 1:1-3)


Womanhood was not God’s afterthought. In fact, the book of Revelation describes the glorious climax and fulfillment of the womanhood paradigm in the new heavens and the new earth. It is breathtaking! This is the picture of the Bride glorified, her task on earth accomplished, and united with her groom in pure ecstatic joy. The tears that flowed from painful labor and that sum up the pain of fallen creation are forgotten and replaced with tears of joy. Herein we see that womanhood fulfilled is as much as a paradigm for describing the redeemed state as sonship is, for example. Womanhood in the biblical conceptual framework is a signpost pointing to the greater reality of the redeemed bride of Christ, the new Jerusalem of God, which will encompass people from every tribe, nation and tongue. If this is the fulfillment, then surely in seed form, womanhood should bear some resemblance. 


Chavvah

Eve, named “chavvah” by Adam, is the life-giver. She is the help God gave to Adam to fulfill the creation mandate to spread God’s glory throughout the world by ruling over it and creating glory image bearers to fill it. This Hebrew word is also metaphorically used for a place of dwelling, a tent village or town. Womanhood is the paradigm for the life-giving task made possible by her unique ability to be inhabited, indwelt, to be filled with the presence of another. This is not insignificant to Adam, when he realizes the mandate he and Eve have been given to fulfill and very surprising to Eve herself as she asserts she has brought forth a man! He cannot do it without her. The help the woman represents is ultimately necessary for the survival of man as a species. But she is also more than just a receptacle, a walking womb. She is perfectly fitted for Adam in every way, as one puzzle piece fits into another. She is ezer kenegdo, the equal but opposite and necessary helping counterpart to Adam. This, God sees as great necessity to him. But the creation order is clear! There is no possible interchangeability because genetics and design were integral to both identity and task. The unique task assigned to womanhood is at the very center of God’s redemptive plan. The tragedy of fallen womanhood is, of course, that she precipitated the entrance of death into the world instead of being faithful to the meaning of her name, life-giver, which was clearly meant to be more than just physical.

Post-fall, God ubiquitously reveals himself as Husband in pursuit of his Bride. Fallen womanhood for the people of Israel was, on the one hand a prophetic paradigm of her own failure to be faithful to her husband, Maker and Lord. She, as a people, failed to be the habitation fit for holiness she was set apart to be. Barrenness was a curse, symbolic of her fruitlessness in her task and lifelessness in her ethics. On the other hand, and paradoxically, womanhood also stood at the center of the promise throughout the old covenant: the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head brought a counter-intuitive hope for redemption. The Messiah would redeem the impossible curse of barrenness by being born of a woman, humbling himself to inhabit a womb. And so was born the Second Adam, dependent on a woman and dwelling in her. He did not despise the virgin’s womb! Mary was a real dwelling place for the very presence of God! The physical indwelling of the woman by the Son of God was the fulfillment of the messianic expectation of the Old Covenant as well as the inauguration of a new covenant reality: Jesus came to live in and among his people and usher in the indwelling of each believer by the Spirit in the fullness of Pentecost.

Ezer 

Christ the second Adam institutes a new creation mandate in the Great Commission and gives this task to the Church, his bride. The picture is clear. The Church fulfills the ezer role given to Eve. It is the indispensable work of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly Ezer, who indwells, gifts and enables the Church to fulfill her role as ezer-bride. Through the Paraclete’s empowering, she becomes the Ezer of God, the one Christ has entrusted to help with his great task of bringing life to this lost world. This earth-shattering truth might sound almost blasphemous were it not propounded by the Apostle Paul and his teaching on the church’s union with Christ through the Spirit! The new Israel is no longer the faithless harlot, she is the Bride commissioned by the Husband to act on his behalf. Though Christ certainly doesn’t need the Church, as Adam needed Eve, he chooses to be united to her and use her to fulfill the new creation mandate! He is the Head, she is the Body. He is the capstone, she is the edifice of the new temple built to be inhabited by the very presence of God. The task of the church resembles greatly that of the Proverbs 31 woman: to open her hand to the needy, to teach with words of faithful instruction, to care for the needs of her covenant family, to bring honor to her husband, to work hard in word and deed for the good of her household as well as being strategic in making gains and advances in the land for the sake of her husband’s name and influence. Womanhood is the paradigm for the age of the Spirit inaugurated at Pentecost and descriptive of the already-not yet state of engagement. The church though already bride, still awaits the great Consummation to come. Early church fathers recognized that one could not have God as Father without having the church as Mother, confirming her complimentary “feminine” role: she is home, she is teacher, she is life-giver, she is compassion, she is tender, she is discipline, she is nourisher, she is presence in the world. How humbling to think that God trusts his Bride to such an extent and entrusts her with representing Him to the world!

Fulfilled, not reversed

Human marriage is the vignette for the great love story between God and his people, between the Lamb and his wife. It is a mystery, not because it is completely incomprehensible and hidden, but because the trajectory of its revelation points us to a reality far greater than human marriage. It is within this context that the great well-known Pauline passage of Ephesians 5 comes alive. Having made sure to express that being filled with the Spirit is the precondition to what follows, Paul writes:


Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:22-27)

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph. 5:31-33)


The mystery revealed in full in the eschatological glory will pale in comparison. Paul describes marriage as a beautiful and yet very accurate picture of a present reality and the glory yet to come. Because of that coming reality, the relationship between man and wife can no less be reversed that the greater relationship of Christ and his Bride, the Church. It can only be fulfilled. Egalitarians tend to take this passage in the light of the “submit to one another” imperative, affirming interchangeable mutual submission. But given this picture, it would be aberrant to say that the Lamb will submit to his wife. The Lamb was slain for his Bride and the bride glorifies her husband in all eternity. Christ submitted himself to the Father unto death for the sake of his Bride. Paul picks up on this theme when he implores husbands to lay their lives down for their wives out of love and wives to submit to and respect their husbands. These roles cannot be reversed without bearing false testimony to the clear revelation about the new heavens and the new earth. This is why gender is not a peripheral issue to Christians. It is usually an overzealous and over-realized eschatology that leads to the blurring of creational distinctions in the here and now. Verses like Galatians 3:28 are taken to mean that in the Kingdom, the differences in functions and identity are eradicated for this already-not-yet period. However, we live in an age of overlap between the fulfilling of the cultural mandate and the Great Commission. This means both co-exist. We live in the “already” relationships of the first creation while anticipating the “not-yet” relationships in the new. But when we look at the fulfillment of both in glory, we see that the Bride continues to be bride and Christ continues to be Head. She is not emancipated to a better independent state, rather, she is glorified in and through her relationship with her Husband!  What falls away is the lesser picture of human marriage because, though its fulfillment, it is no longer needed. There will be no marriage and giving in marriage then because the collective Bride will be married to her Husband. She will glorify her Husband perfectly. But notice that she is also a city. She is perfected in her beauty as a holy habitation. She is the beautiful, eternal Chavvah. What is at the core of womanhood, namely the ability to give life and to be inhabited, will be fulfilled in new perfect heavenly dimensions that are incomprehensible to us right now. 


Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Rev. 21:10-11)



The beauty of our common future reality far surpasses any worldly promises to women.  Feminism is a woman-centered worldview that does not honor God because it champions woman’s autonomous self-definition. Eve tried that. It failed miserably. The grace-filled biblical story of redemption not only provides forgiveness for every woman who places her faith in Christ, it also puts womanhood at its center as the paradigm for what it means for the Church to fulfill her calling. This should give every Christian woman an awe-filled sense of great worth, honor and position as she realizes her unique, life-giving contribution to the Kingdom of God.