“Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” This is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” – Genesis 2:22-25
Whereas Adam was born from the “outback,” Eve is born out of Adam himself, in the lushness of the garden of Eden. Eve is the glory of Adam’s humanness compounded. As William Blake wrote, “The naked woman’s body is a portion of eternity too great for the eye of man.”
In her book Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliott writes,
It is a naive sort of feminism that insists that women prove their ability to do all the things that men do. This is a distortion and a travesty. Men have never sought to prove that they can do all the things women do. Why subject women to purely masculine criteria? Women can and ought to be judged by the criteria of femininity, for it is in their femininity that they participate in the human race. And femininity has its limitations. So has masculinity.
Although it’s easy to base gender roles in cultural stereotypes (or in the deconstruction of those stereotypes), our goal is to uncover the symbolism of our bodies, specifically in our sexual anatomy. With that goal in mind, what exactly are breasts? They aren’t merely sexual objects for the enticement of others; they are reservoirs of life, with the potential to nourish, sustain, and encourage infants through their various stages of weakness. What is the uterus? It is a sanctuary of sustenance, a safe haven, a place where, again, the weak and feeble can be built up and strengthened.
This is part of how the female body reflects God’s image and God’s work in the world. In Psalm 119:114, the psalmist writes about God, “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.” Psalm 32:7 says, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble, and surround me with songs of deliverance.”
Our belly buttons serve as a reminder that at one time, none of us could do anything for ourselves. We were utterly dependent on the generosity of a woman’s body for our food and nourishment. The place where our umbilical cords once connected serves as a profound reminder not only of this former state of dependence, but our ongoing dependence on God. As Colossians 1:17 puts it, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” We are sustained in this life, not ultimately by our own cleverness, but by the ongoing work of Christ.
We are grateful that God has given us these two very different portraits of his character through our male and female bodies. Of course, none of this is to imply that men can’t be nurturing, or that women can’t be strong. We believe that both should be both. In fact, although the phrase used in our English Bibles to describe Eve is the phrase “help meet,” or “helper suitable,” in Hebrew, the phrase is “עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ,” or, “ezer kenegdo.” The Hebrew word “ezer” is used 21 times in the Old Testament: twice to describe Eve, three times to describe military allies, and 16 times to describe God himself.
As it says in Deuteronomy 33:29, “Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and [ezer] and your glorious sword.” Moses says in Exodus 18:4, “My father’s God was my [ezer]; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Eve, and women in general, were created to bring the kind of help that God brings—not to be subservient, but to be a strong partner and ally.
But today, being a “strong woman” is often conceived of as taking some of the bad qualities of a fallen man and overlaying them onto the new woman. This viewpoint says, “If men can be promiscuous, so can women. If men can be abusive and dominant, so can women.” Many women begin to use their God-given sexuality in an attempt to dominate and control men; sadly, this often amounts to self-objectification.
Sometimes the way objectification is critiqued implies that a woman’s beauty is primarily a problem that needs to be dealt with. But just like God made gorgeous sunsets and breathtaking mountain ranges, He chose to make women beautiful. He could have made women look like Minecraft characters, but he didn’t. Yet on the flipside, when young women learn from our culture that their value comes primarily from their sexuality and their outward appearance, they may be incentivized to do things like send nude photos in an attempt to secure an affirmation of their value. Even their closest friends may become competition for the limited resource of guys’ attention.
Before Jesus was born, almost everything about women was regarded as a problem. A quote from the rabbinic tradition in the Mishnah says, “He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself, and neglects the study of the Law, and at the last will inherit Gehenna.” Just having conversation with women was considered a slippery slope to Hell. So when Jesus has his lengthy conversation with the woman at the well, he is flagrantly rejecting the legalism and sexism of his day, and demonstrating a profound regard for the dignity of womankind.
Christianity is often accused of being oppressive to women, but many of the accusers don’t realize how profoundly progressive the scriptures must have seemed to the culture they were written in. When Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:4, “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband,” his audience would’ve been nodding and agreeing. At that time, women were considered property. But then Paul flips everything on its head: “In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” This kind of equality would’ve sounded utterly preposterous to Paul’s audience, but the Holy Spirit was using Him to redeem our human conceptions of gender, bit by bit.
In a world of war, violence, racism, and oppression, the fully redeemed woman brings her full femininity. She brings cooperation instead of control, consensus instead of competition, and collaboration instead of coercion. Whereas before Jesus walked the Earth, women had been property, or relegated to the sidelines, God placed women at the center of the two greatest mysteries of the Christian faith: it is woman who gives birth to Jesus, and it is women to whom Jesus appears after his resurrection. Jesus allowed women to be his disciples, and even allowed women to support his ministry, which was unheard of at the time. In so doing, God was working to restore women’s status as his image-bearers, and as his beloved children. True femininity lives out of that reality.
Write down any points you hope to highlight with your daughter, or son. Then sometime today, or as soon as you’re able, ask them one of these questions:
- What do you think it means to be a woman?
- What are some stereotypes about being a woman that you’ve heard of?
- Does Christianity seem empowering to women, or not? Why do you think so?
“Father, thank you for the gift of femininity. I pray that you would help us cultivate this gift in our daughters, and cultivate the proper appreciation for it in our sons. Help us empower them to grow into the young women and young men you’ve intended them to become. Help us to align ourselves with what you’re already doing in their hearts. In Jesus’ name, amen.”