Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Biblical Women, Contemporary Christian Women: Finding Courage to Follow Christ: Part 1

Picture by Derek McHenry
Most Christian women relate to biblical women as role models. For instance, to Deborah as a mother and judge in Israel or to Jehosheba who with foresight hid one of the sons of King Ahaziah away from his murderous grandmother. (Not that I know any murderous grandmothers). Because of Jehoseba's care Judah had a King who "did right in the sight of the Lord,"for at least a small time.

Or, what about Samson's mother? She is not named in Scripture, but she is used by God because of her commonsense. I think this is one of the funniest stories in the Old Testament and I am sure I have related it elsewhere in something I have written. But I will tell it again.

Samson's mother, before he was conceived, was alone and the Angel of the Lord came to her telling her she was to have a baby and he should be raised as a Nazirite. The Angel gave her instructions about how to raise the child. She informs her husband Manoah of the good news and the text gives the reader the feel that he felt slighted by the Lord. So he prays and asks the Lord to send the Angel to him so they would know how to raise the child.

So once again the Angel of the Lord comes to Manoah's wife while she is alone and she dutifully runs and gets her husband who proceeds to ask for instructions. The Angel of course repeats himself. Then Manoah's curiosity gets the better of him; he invites the Angel for dinner and also asks the Angel to reveal his name.

The Angel, instead of accepting the dinner invitation, tells Manoah to make a sacrifice to the Lord. And he asks Manoah this beautiful question. "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" In other words, "Manoah, don't you know who I am?"

When the Angel of the Lord ascends in the flame of the sacrifice Manoah suddenly realizes that this Angel is the Angel of the Lord, meaning he is a theophany, that is, a manifestation of God. So now Manoah is fearful and believes that both he and his wife will die. It is as though he has not heard a word that the Angel said.

It is the commonsense of his wife, and her faith, that saves the day and perhaps gives him courage. She tells Manoah, "If the Lord had desired to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would he have shown us all these things, nor would he have let us hear things like this at this time." (Judges 13:23)

Far better is how the Angel of the Lord's description of his name directs our attention to Isaiah 9:6:

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."

But now about some contemporary women of faith whose walk with Jesus Christ I find inspiring. One of them, Sophie Scholl, did not live beyond her twenties. A movie was produced about this young woman just last year, "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days."

Newly discovered documents and historical interviews provide the information for the movie which features members of "The White Rose," a group of students and academics who published papers against Hitler and the Nazis in Germany during that era. The main character Sophie Scholl is a Christian who intellectually and morally defeats her interrogator Robert Mohr with both her humanitarianism and her faith.

The director Marc Rothemund in an interview writes, "I admire her courage. She turned down the 'golden bridge' offered to her by the interrogation officer Robert Mohr--thus practically signing her own death sentence. I find this approach to death quite startling: how does such a life-affirming, positive minded young woman like Sophie Scholl come to terms with the fact that her life is being taken away from her? How does she find meaning in her death? And, of course, as an atheist I ask myself; Is it easier to face death as a believer?"

Another woman who showed faithful courage in the face of other's Utopian dreams is Irina Ratushinskaya. The Story of her experiences in a Soviet prison can be found in her book "Grey is the Color of Hope," published in 1988. She is a poet with beautiful soft but piercing poetry.

The charges against her were, "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda." Many of her poems were written in prison and smuggled out on small pieces of paper. Here is the one that caught my attention.

"Believe Me"

Believe me, it was often thus:
In solitary cells, on winter nights
A sudden sense of joy and warmth
And a resounding note of love.
And then, unsleeping. I would know
A-huddle by an icy wall:
Someone is thinking of me now,
Petitioning the Lord for me.
My dear ones, thank you all
Who did not falter, who believed in us!
In the most fearful prison hour
We probably would not have passed
Through everything - from end to end,
Our heads held high, unbowed-
Without your valiant hearts
to light our path.
(Kiev, 10 Oct. 1986)
found in "Pencil Letter: Poems" ---
found at Ratushinskaya -

One other woman I want to write about is a contemporary historian who started one of the first Women's Studies departments in a university. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese founded the Institute for Women's Studies at Emory University.

Fox-Genovese became increasingly concerned about radical feminism's anti-life stance and it was partly this that drove her to Christ. Amazing the ways the wooing Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus Christ. She writes of her conversion to Jesus Christ via the Catholic faith in an article she wrote for First Things. The article is entitled A Conversion Story . In that story she writes:

"For practical purposes, I grew up a nonbelieving Christian. Wait a minute, you may fairly protest, is that not an oxymoron? How can a nonbeliever describe herself as Christian if faith constitutes the essence of Christianity? Time and again throughout the Gospels, Jesus evokes belief in himself and the Father who sent him as the only test or standard. Think of Martha at the time of Lazarus’ death: "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world" (John 10:27). And Martha is not alone. Time and again petitioners receive what they seek because Jesus fulfills their belief. As he tells Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 10:25-26). A Christian, by definition, is one who accepts Jesus Christ as his personal savior and, no less important, as Lord. Everything depends upon belief. "

For those interested one of her books on history is: "Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South," and another good book by her is "Feminism Is Not the Story of My Life: How Today's Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch with the Real Concerns of Women."

My next posting I intend to look at other faithful Christian women including several in the Reformed tradition. But I will end this post with one more poem by Ratushinskaya:

The stars have flown, but we still dare wish.
A snowflake falls, no worse in size than a star.
Foretell us a miracle with a solemn childish faith,
Not in vain did the guest's bold hand burn you.

Then another rebelled and broke from the flock
And settled like a bird awkwardly on my shoulder.
It waits for the ineffable word, is slow to melt,
And I whisper hastily, stumblingly-
You know just what

Over us December bursts its banks.
It is brave as a Hussar, its generosity is without reproach.
But the winter is short,
But we are so eternally young
That the snows of all Russias are not enough for our wishes.


regressivepresby said...

two thoughts-- first off, in regards to the whole Samson story-- men are idiots. And I is one. Minoah's wife, is the only sensible one in the entire cycle.

Secondly- have you read any of Ruth Tucker's stuff? Women in mission. Great stuff.

Lastly, thanks for introducing me to these saints. I look forward being introduced to more.

grace & peace,
ps> about the idiot thing... not all of us, not all the time, ok?

Viola said...

I don't think men are idiots anymore than women, and certainly not you. I think all of us are idiots some of the time and not idiots other times. That’s why as believers we need each other.

Now that I said that I see that you already did in your P.S. But that’s okay because I don't want anyone to think I feel that way.

I have wanted to write something on Christian women from a positive viewpoint for a long time. I haven't done that since I wrote my Master's thesis.

I do have Ruth Tucker's "Another Gospel," which is very good. I have worked in ministry to "New Religions," (read cults) for a long time and there aren't many women doing that so it was nice to find a book by a woman. I will have to check out her other books.

regressivepresby said...

From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya is fun. I think the other one I've read is, "Keepers of the Torch" or something like that-- about how the great commission has been carried forward by some very significant women. Fun stuff, and inspiring.

thanks Vi-
grace & peace,

Debbie said...

This is just a teeny human comment. One thing from the movie about Sophie Scholl keeps staying in my memory. When she had been condemned to death, her parents visited her before her execution, and her mother says, "Now you will never come through my door again." As the mother of a daughter, that just makes me cry.

Thank God that there is more than this life.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Viola Larson said...

I know that is one of the saddest, yet hopeful movies I have seen.