Is God Good For Women?
Updated: Jan 28, 2018
Everyone wins when courage fills a woman's soul
I started reading The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules by Carolyn Custis James, a week or so before I left for India. I heard about it months before at Frontline Church in Oklahoma City when they did a series called "Heroine: Feminine Strength the World Needs." I happened to be in Oklahoma City on the Sunday they preached about Ruth and the pastor mentioned that he read this book in his research. I loved what he preached, so I bought the book and was immediately amazed. Ruth and Naomi's stories are a couple of my favorites, and this book gives so much great insight on the story, and has taught me a lot.
The author poses a question early on in the book that I think a lot of women have asked themselves: Is God good for women? Of course, I want to automatically think, "yes absolutely, why would He not be?", but I'd be lying if the thought didn't cross my mind that maybe I don't have a place in God's kingdom. Of course I fully believe that I will be in God's kingdom one day... but will I have a role in growing that kingdom? Or am I supposed to just sit on the sidelines while cheering on my brothers while they do all of the real work. After all, how many truly strong women are there in the Bible?
I remember seeing an episode on a Netflix series called Chelsea, hosted by Chelsea Handler. I don't watch the show, but a few months before the Race, the title and description of the episode caught my eye. The title was something about religion, and the description said something about how Chelsea meets with "Bible experts" and talks with celebrities about their religions (I would look it up exactly, but wifi won't allow it... I don't recommend the show anyway.) I decided it might be interesting to watch. I love learning about other religions, and I knew enough about Chelsea Handler to know that her outlook on the topic would be very different from mine. Of course, the "Bible expert" that she was speaking with was actually an atheist and they had a short discussion about the Bible's "obsession with virgins" and how the Bible is all about "controlling women's sexuality". He argues that the two most famous women in the Bible are The Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene, and he says, "One's a virgin. One's a whore." Then he argues that there is no third famous woman in the Bible... those are the only two. Now you know why I put quotation marks around "Bible expert". Here's an actual quote from the segment:
"The religions that are the most anti-women have the most women flocking to them. And the religions that are the most, kind of like, 'You know what? You don’t need a leader. You can find wisdom within yourself.' Those have the fewest."
Needless to say, this exchange got me thinking, and when James brought up the question "is God good for women?" I found myself genuinely wanting to know the answer. Do we truly have a place in the building of the Kingdom? Are we just meant to settle down, get married, have or adopt children and be supportive and submissive wives while our husbands do all of the big kingdom-building work? Does my usefulness start when I marry a man and expire when he's gone? I think even the strongest and most independent of women wonder this sometimes, but thankfully we don't have to figure that out on our own.
I believe that the story of Ruth and Naomi answers this question fully, and that the Bible actually has so much to say about God's goodness to women. James attacks this in the book's introduction:
"Suddenly, I had my finger on a biblical text where God's love comes under fire within the context of women's lives. Remarkably, he not only affirms his love for his daughters in radical and earthshaking ways, he does so within a patriarchal culture that unapologetically relegated women to second-class status. What is more, against that backdrop, God casts a vision of breathtaking proportions for how His kingdom is moving forward through the efforts of women - ordinary women like most of us."
I think it's important to understand that the culture the book of Ruth takes place in is a culture that is entirely foreign to all of us. This culture puts all of the worth on the men so that women only have worth when they have a man. When a woman's husband dies, her worth and dignity dies with her, and that's exactly what happens to Naomi, Ruth and Orpah. Naomi is the mother-in-law of Ruth and Orpah, and in the matter of just a couple of years, Naomi loses her husband and her only sons. She's also left in a foreign land after a devastating famine. Through this, Ruth gives up any chance at re-marrying and having a safe life by staying with Naomi. As a barren widow in a foreign land, Ruth has absolutely no worth in this culture... but she has worth in God's eyes, which she will soon see. James says:
"We also view God through the eyes of a woman... As we might expect, the story is loaded with feminine themes. Widowhood and marriage, barrenness and childbirth, single parenting, loss of a child, the caregiver, and male/female relationships all come up."
This is when I first started to glimpse God's goodness to us. He gave us this text. He provided us with a story that is all about two women who think they have lost all worth and dignity, and He reminds them that He is a good God who takes care of His people. He even takes care of Naomi who is embittered throughout her story, and Ruth who does not even know the Lord until she tells Naomi "your God will be my God" (Ruth 1:16).
I think the thing I love the most about this book is that God displays his love for a woman who isn't just a passive, submissive, shy woman... She's gutsy. She's brave. She's a risk taker. That's relatable to me. That's a woman I want to be. I mean, she climbs into a man's bed and essentially says to him, "You have a responsibility to save my family. Do it." Who does that? Don't get me wrong, Ruth is submissive as well. That's another thing that I love about the book of Ruth... it gives us a picture of submission that is absolutely beautiful.
Come on ladies, we've all heard it and cringed a little bit... we're supposed to "submit to our husbands." Yikes, right? Well, I think we can take a page out of Ruth's book in this category... and of Boaz's. Like I said, Ruth is clearly a courageous and strong-headed women. Even if we missed the part where she sneaks into Boaz's bed, we have to think of the beautiful moment where she stubbornly tells Naomi "Do not urge me to leave you or return from following you. For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will dies, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you." (Ruth 1:16-17) Can you say bull-headed?
Again, this is where I feel like I can actually relate to Ruth a lot. I'm pretty stubborn too... but out of Ruth's stubbornness comes submission and conviction. She is saying to Naomi "I respect you as my elder and mother-in-law, but I will not obey you if it means that I have to leave you. I will love you and care for you for the rest of my life..." Well, if that's what submission looks like, sign me up.
This is the irony here, our strength is in our submission, not just with our husbands or with men in general, but as a lifestyle. As James says:
"Submission is an attribute of Jesus, so it ought to show up in all of his followers... Jesus' version of submission is thoughtful, strong, purposeful, and sacrificial. It involves the full and determined embrace of his Father's will (which governs everything Jesus does) and the voluntary pouring out of his life to rescue a lost world. Submission is both. It is redemptive. It is the gospel. It is a way of showing Jesus to the world."
Amen. Ruth's submission is actually sacrificial love. It's something we see in her in this whole story, but we also see it in Boaz as he submits to Ruth when she tells him of his responsibility to save his own family and to be her kinsman-redeemer. The amazing thing about this is that Boaz doesn't just say "I won't submit to a woman (which would be totally fine for him to say in this culture). I'll do what I want and what's financially wise for myself... which is not being the kinsman-redeemer." He's not intimidated, emasculated or dragged down by the strength of Ruth and Naomi. In fact, he is strengthened by the strength of Ruth and Naomi. James says,
"Boaz is not diminished, marginalized, or feminized in the slightest by being outnumbered and influenced by Ruth and Naomi. As a matter of fact, he only grows stronger himself through his collaborations with them."
As James says, "This is not your mother's submission," this is the kind of submission that shows God's kingdom on earth and it's not just meant for women. Although, I do suspect that God has created us women with the outstanding ability to submit and sacrifice in the hardest of times. Some of the most amazing women that I know are women who live their lives in daily submission and yet, they are are still the strongest women that I know as well.
Sacrificial love is weird. It's not popular, but it is Jesus. It's not a sign of weakness, in fact it's a sign of unique strength; A strength that only comes from the Lord; A strength that will bring light and hope into this world. Again, I have to quote the author here,
"We were created to be like Jesus, and we can't be like him if we leave out submission... submission is another of God's great power tools for changing human lives, renovating this fallen planet, and putting our world to rights."
Lastly, one of the most breathtaking things about Ruth and Naomi's stories is that they were able to know God in the "the depths." In the hurts and the desperation of our lives is where we come to know God's love the most. We have to ask ourselves how can we really try to grasp God's heart if we only don't experience heartbreak and pain? The author quotes Eugene Peterson,
"...the Gospel offers a different view of suffering: in suffering we enter the depths; we are at the heart of things; we are near to where Christ was on the cross."
James compares Naomi to Job. She experiences the true depth of God's love in the very depths of her life. This isn't something we can learn vicariously. Amazingly enough, through Ruth and Naomi's suffering came true hope. Their worth and status didn't diminish after their husbands died. In fact, through their suffering God had written a better story. Because of Ruth's obedience to the Lord and her immense courage, she is now in the lineage of Christ. Once more, I will quote the author, because I believe what she says here with all my heart:
"Everyone wins when courage fills a woman's soul."
We won when Ruth's soul was courage-filled. We won through her desperation and hardships. We won because Ruth was willing to submit herself to the Lord and take so many risks. We won because God filled Ruth's heart with a warrior-like courage, and ezer spirit, and a hesed love.
As you have probably guessed, I highly recommend this book and I could blog about it all day. There's so much more to the book than what I've written, so if you're at all interested, buy or rent the book and check it out yourself!
With love from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe