My Troubles With God V
[*This is the final post of a series that began here]
3. We Are All Selectivists.
I am yet to meet a Christian who applies every bit of scripture to his/her life literally. I have heard many Christians argue for the strictest interpretation of Apostle Paul’s teachings on the submission of women, and yet advocate for a liberal reading of his instruction that women should not speak in church. I know a Christian woman who never misses an opportunity to passionately recount the Bible’s scriptures on homosexuality. Here’s the irony: this woman is divorced and praying to remarry (Hello, Luke 16:18). We (Christians) are all selectivists: we all pick and choose the scriptures we interpret literally, and the scriptures we view through the lens of history and context. (And no, ‘selectivist’ isn’t in your dictionary…but let’s make it a thing, shall we?).
On its face, there is nothing wrong with selectivism. On the contrary: strict biblical literalism would require that Christians who disrespect their parents, be stoned to death. It would also require Christians to constantly sacrifice goats to atone for sins. Put simply, Christians would need a lot of stones, and a lot of goats, if we followed each biblical commandment to the letter.
The question for me then, isn’t whether to pick and choose the scriptures I apply literally, but how to do so. Here, the life of Jesus is my point of reference. At several points in the New Testament’s gospels, Jesus begins a teaching by saying: “You have heard that it was said to those of old” and proceeds to say: “But I say to you...” Where Mosaic laws called for an “eye for an eye” and a “life for a life,” Jesus called on his followers to turn the other cheek. When religious leaders condemned Jesus for failing to observe ritual hand washings, Jesus condemned them for permitting people to neglect their parents. When the Pharisees reprimanded Jesus for healing people and picking grain on the Sabbath day, Jesus showed them liberation and mercy matter most to God. In short, when it comes to interpreting and applying the Bible, this is my takeaway from the life of Jesus: right relationships transcend right doctrines.
4. Jesus Treated Women Like Equals.
Jesus walked the earth during an era when women had little to no rights, and were at the very bottom of society’s hierarchy. Yet, Jesus consistently defied the status quo when it came to women. In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, theologian Walter Wink notes that Jesus violated the cultural norms of His time in every single encounter with women recorded in the four Gospels. Let’s unpack some of these encounters…
Jesus made room for women in his circle: Women disciples like Joanna and Susanna followed Jesus during his ministry and supported him with their resources (Luke 8:3).
Jesus made room for women at his table, too. For example, when a woman called Martha complained that her sister (called Mary) was spending time learning with Jesus’ disciples instead of helping her in the kitchen, Jesus asserted Mary’s right to learn, and affirmed this choice “will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 38-42). Jesus also told Martha her priorities were out of whack. In millennial speak, Jesus basically told Martha to lean in. Jesus showed women that our value in his eyes goes beyond our cooking skills—or our fertility status for that matter. When a woman called out to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts that nursed You!” Jesus responded: “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11: 27-28).
Jesus listened to women. Jesus’ longest one-on-one conversation in the Bible (John 8:1-42) was with a woman—a Samaritan woman with a very bad reputation, no less (this was at a time when Jews had no dealings with Samaritans). When a Greek woman came to him to ask for her daughter’s healing, Jesus initially refused. The woman did not back down, and insisted that His ministry could not be exclusive to the Jews. Finally, Jesus relented: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire” (Matthew 15: 21-28). Jesus had every opportunity to belittle, patronize and condescend to women. Yet, this is what Jesus chose to do: He challenged, affirmed and liberated them.
Jesus defended women. When a woman who was caught in adultery was about to be stoned to death—Jesus literally drew a line in the sand in her defense. Jesus defended this woman, even though her death would have been scriptural and legal. To her accusers, he said: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first”; and to the woman accused, he said: I do not condemn you (John 8:1-11). Jesus patiently allowed another woman who is only identified as a “sinner,” to wet his feet with her tears, and to kiss them as well. In the process, he silenced the people who attempted to disparage her. In short, Jesus shut down slut-stoning and slammed slut-shaming (How’s that for a tongue-twister?).
Jesus elevated women. The single most important tenet of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And for this paramount event, guess whom Jesus chose to be his first witnesses? Women, including: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Luke 24:1-10). When Jesus resurrected, he not only appeared to these women first, He commissioned them to go and tell his followers that He had risen. Jesus considered women worthy enough to tell the most important part of his story. (Do you understand how epic this is?). At the end of his time on earth, Jesus did what he had done from the start: He treated women as valuable—and dare I say—as equal beings.
5. God Loves Me.
And here is the final thing I know for sure when it comes to my faith: God loves me. This is a knowing that I hold in a sacred space far away from my intellect or feelings. This is a knowing firmly planted in the soil of my soul. I know that God loves me, even when I do not understand His love or His ways. I know that God loves me, even when I do not feel like He does. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate me from God’s love—neither death nor life, neither my fears for today, nor my worries about tomorrow. This is the knowing that saves me: in spite of doubts, questions, confusion, inequity, inequality, and uncertainty. In spite of my troubles: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.