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September 9, 2008

Redeeming Women

Earlier this year, I underlined this passage out of Jonalyn Grace Fincher's book, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home:

"We say we want Christ to come in and make us new all the way to the center of our souls, but we really don't let him change this weight on women. We just settle for the feeling that this is our lot in life, hoping for better, but expecting the never-ending struggle with our identity and place as women" (page 180).

After rereading it, I added "really?" in the margin. It might have ended there, if Jonalyn wasn't one of our Gifted For Leadership contributors. But since I kept wondering what this meant for women in leadership, I emailed her. Her answers to my questions follow:

Caryn: You make an interesting point, and in many ways I agree. But as I kept thinking about this, I wondered what you were really saying here. Do you really think we WANT this struggle, this fight?

Jonalyn: That's a great question mainly because of the tension between the two hyped-up responses, "let go and let God" and "take up your cross and follow Jesus." Can I point out that the first one isn't in Scripture? Sure God says to "be still and know I am God" but this means we recognize his power, not abdicate our wills or desires for the sake of letting him operate without us.

God loves strong-willed women. He wants us strong enough to take up our cross and follow. He also wants us to work out our salvation with him alongside. He wants to be present in the new life in us, but this doesn't mean we surrender our capacities to be fully human. In fact, I'm not certain the idea of surrender is even biblical or taught by Jesus. He wants our submission, not our surrender. These are such different concepts.

Caryn: Go on?.

I see submission without surrender in the way Jacob wrestled with God, in the way Ruth sought out Boaz, in the way Anna waited for the Messiah in the temple. The mess and strain of wrestling with God is key to being a godly woman. I think too many women have given up wrestling; they've given up their wills and they think it is somehow God-honoring.

The identity most Christian women live with is that they just have to deal with the Genesis judgment: the pain in childbirth, the pain of having their husbands rule over them, the pain of wanting more from your man than he can give. We feel this is our bitter pill. Jesus becomes the savior that helps us swallow our bitter pill, but he cannot save us from the pill.

I don't think that's what redemption means. I also don't think Jesus came to give us some cheerleading while we live on this cursed earth. What I'm suggesting is that Jesus wants to take the pill away altogether.

Accepting the curses of Genesis is not the cross Jesus asks women to bear. We do have a cross to bear, but it's not this one.

Caryn: We certainly don't hear this very often.

Jonalyn: Jesus has more power than we give him credit. I wish women dove deeper into experiencing his new life. If we let Jesus save us from hell, why wouldn't we expect him to remake our womanhood as well? Jesus can make tremendous change in our souls now, he can redeem our fallen ideas of femininity, gender relations, womanhood. He can restore our broken relationships, our desires, our fear or pain of having and rearing children.

In the Gospels, Jesus guides us to see the new life he gives to women when he entrusts his resurrection to a female witness, Mary Magdalene, or when he encourages Mary of Bethany to learn with his disciples. Jesus has a transforming effect on women. He can work and restore women's desires as we were once created to be.

The doctrine that Jesus wants to restore us to the goodness that once existed in Eden is not a new idea, but it has been cloaked or forgotten for a long time. The Christmas hymn, "Joy to the World" hints at Jesus' curse-reversing power, "He comes to make his blessings flow / far as the curse is found."

In the 17th century, George Fox, founder of the Quakers, penned these words, "For Man and Woman were help meets in the Image of God, and in Righteousness and Holiness, in the Dominion before they fell; but after the Fall, in the Transgression, the Man was to rule over his Wife; but in the Restoration by Christ, into the Image of God, and his Righteousness .?.?. they are help meets, Man and Woman, as they were before the Fall" (italics mine).

We could live as restored women.

I like to think of redemption as a fresh pool of water. Jesus invites us to jump in and be refreshed and renewed. He wants to cover us completely with new desires, trust instead of fear, gender reconciliation instead of gender strife. But some of us hold out, we tell him the water is for heavenly times, not for now. Jesus is treading water, waiting patiently. Ruby Slippers is my story of what happened when I decided to dive in.


I am still trying to digest the comment about submission but not surrender. I have always thought that surrender to God's will is the right thing to do, and is made possible because of His love and wisdom (Rom 11:33-12:3). This in contrast to Islam, which demands surrender (that is what "islam" means), not to a loving God but to a tyrant. But I do like the idea of strong women, filled with the Holy Spirit and power, moving out to change the world around them as well as across the globe. That is a plan of redemption I can get excited about.

Caryn, now I have to read the book. I love this. I probably would beg semantics on surrender and submission--as one who tends to want my way, surrendering it to God has been key. But strong women for sure! I am always challenging women to believe God for MORE! I grow weary of women settling for the constraints of the curse. Jesus has provided a NEW life of freedom! This is what I talk about all the time!

interesting making that distinction between the 2 words.I have a question re:strong-willed women, because as a pastor's wife we have always had problems with these types!Or am I confusing strong-willed with choleric temperament not under control of the Holy Spirit?And the scripture in 1Peter I believe, that speaks of a quiet and gentle spirit being pleasing to the Lord?
I know God wants to bless us by replying to our desires ...but alway according to His will..,and I'm learning to give (surrender?submit?)my talents and dreams and above all my character to Him so He can use them for His glory in His time and wisdom.Would you please comment?

I thought I'd pop in to clarify the surrender/submission distinction. I see surrender as giving up your will entirely, distancing yourself from even knowing what your own desires/strengths/passions are. I don't think God wants that.

But I do think God wants our submission, which is our understanding that some times our way isn't his way. But I think he loves us to know what our way is. He delights in our self-knowledge. As Thomas Merton put it, God wants to bring us into reality about ourselves and him.

The process of submission helps us grow in self-knowledge, self-possession and God-knowledge as well. The process of surrender can tend to dull us to who we actually are, by abnegating our unique souls.

Judy D, I hope you pick up Ruby Slippers and yes, perhaps it is a semantics distinction. Perhaps there is a better word than "surrender" to talk about what I mean?

BJ- as a choleric type, I agree that it's easy to confuse gentle and quiet spirit with, say, gentle and quiet mouth or vocal chords :). But I think you can express your points/opinions/goals without steamrolling brothers or sisters in Christ. All women (and men) must submit their whole selves to God, but this doesn't mean we stop there. We keep submitting, asking, pushing, wrestling him to understand. It's kind of like the way we wrestle to know and love the humans around us.

For instance, my husband wants me to care enough about him to push to understand him, to restate what I think he means, to share what I mean, again and again and again. I think this process is best described as mutual submission, not mutual surrender. The latter conjures up two white flags waving and a spirit of "giving up."

this is really interesting. need more on this topic! makes me want to shout, "yay, God!" i always thot surrender and submission were synonymous. especially when we are talking in regards to our will and God's, but maybe not? hmmmmm.....

I may be way off base here but I thought our goal was to be like the Virtuous woman(Proverbs 31)? Strong, community driven, good mothers, trusted/adored by our husbands, resourceful and financially viable. This whole idea about being submissive really oppresses women (IMO) because the Virtuous women illustrates a true example of someone who is trusted, intelligent and clearly knows her role with regards to her husband, God and her community. Also, having a deep commitment/reverence for God allows the Virtuous women to have the energy to fulfill all her responsibilities.

My response concerns submission and/or surrender to God and His will, which is not only biblical, but really smart. I love all that the Proverbs 31 woman is, but she, like any believer, is called on to recognize that God's ways are so above ours. Yet as we choose to place our wills into His hands, He does amazing things in and through the woman He has made us to be, with the gifts He has given us.

Just a quick comment on the 1Pet. passage. The meaning of "quiet" there is to have a settled, inner calm that comes from trusting God. The whole point of that passage is that women are to put their whole hope in God and not be frightened by "any fear". This is important when living with a husband disobedient to the word, or like Abraham who was not looking after his wife's best interests. The adornment part has to do with social class standing in ancient times; women aren't to be concerned about things like social position, etc. for our identity-- finding our security in husband, family and the expectations of what a woman is to be. The gentle and quiet spirit comes out of this trust and hope in God alone and is beautiful to Him. From that beginning place we can go anywhere He calls us and be anything He calls us to be...

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