Thursday, March 8, 2012

Is God Cruel and Sexist, or a Liberator?

If you're like me you sometimes scratch your head while reading parts of the Old Testament. In the last part of Numbers alone, we're confronted with Balaam, a pagan prophet-for-hire who apparently hears from God, seems to do what God said, and is saved by a talking donkey from God's angel who is poised to kill him with a sword! Then there are God's instructions for Israel to wipe out whole nations (like the Midianites in ch. 31). Curiously, when Israel's army only killed every adult male(!), Moses was angered that they didn't finish the job. So he ordered them to kill the non-virgin women and boys, allowing Israel to keep the "young girls" alive for themselves! Whoa! What's more? This is a harbinger of things to come as the Israelites cross the Jordan and conquer the Promised Land!

One interesting subject that keeps popping up is the way women are treated in the Old Testament. I've gotten a couple of emails about this. Why does it seem that God favors men over women? In Leviticus a woman was considered ceremonially "unclean" for 40 days after giving birth to a boy, but 80 days after a girl. What’s that all about? Now in Numbers women are not counted in the censuses and sometimes seem to be considered mere property! Those who seek to discredit the Bible and Christianity like to remind us of passages like these. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins often calls God "misogynistic," and feminists have accused him of sexism and patriarchy. Perhaps today--which is "International Women's Day"--I should address this criticism.

Actually, when understood in context, God is the equalizer and ultimate liberator of women--as seen most clearly in creation and in Christ. And when we’re reading that part of God’s dealing with Israel in the wilderness, OUR present-day context taints our reading. Don’t forget, women have had the right to vote for less than 100 years in the USA! We tend to see all things throughout history through the lens of our own culture. God was dealing with Israel according to their own social and cultural mores. Truth is, the Law was a vast improvement for the women of that day compared to what was the universal norm before. Women were truly considered slaves or perhaps sexual pets at times—in many non-Christian cultures, this is still the case today. It's sad but true. This chauvinism is the result of the fall and curse. Sin resulted in much evil and inequality. Sin unrestrained brings dog-eat-dog tyranny. Of course this is not what God intended.

Gen. 1:27 reads, "And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female he created them."

God created both in his image, and has a purpose for both. Then came the fall, then the curse, then humankind gave way to sin. That’s where injustice finds its origin. The Old Testament is, in many ways, an exposé of human failure and corruption. The Law (Exodus-Deuteronomy) is a vast improvement over what preceded it, and tempered sin’s effects.

Christ, of course, brought light and truth. He conquered sin. But first, he showed by example how women were to be treated. He, God Incarnate, came to us through a woman and placed women in prominent roles in his ministry; in fact, women were last at the cross and first at the tomb! We frequently recite a verse (Gal. 3:28) that we must remember as we read the Old Testament:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

When Christ comes again, he will set all things right. I think that means absolute justice and the ultimate equality of all things! In fact, my hunch is that many will be surprised as Christ "exalts the humbled and humbles the exalted" (Matt. 23:12, Luke 14:11, 18:14) and find that many women will occupy the most exalted positions in heaven.

The whole issue of “women’s rights” is a hot political topic—including right now. It’s borderline insanity, I know, but I’m going to address this whole question on Sunday, including the issue of a woman’s role in society, family, and church. It’s going to be fun!!!

I’m reading a great book that Tony Walls (Providence Jefferson City Campus Pastor) turned me on to entitled, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan. It is an extremely good read. I only wish I would have read a book like this 25 years ago! I highly recommend it.

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