My Facebook friends saw me having a bit of a rant about motherhood this week because of some remarks made by a Christian sister on a television show. Her remark was along the lines of “being a mother is the Biblical vision for women” and I wanted to call that out as an erroneous and yet widely held belief.
Not that being a mother is a bad thing, children are a wonderful blessing, I am one, that’s how I know. But is giving birth and being a mother God’s purpose for my life?
No one has time for me to give a history of God’s peoples varying stances on the nature and purpose of women over time, but that’s ok, cos this isn’t just a historical issue, it’s an exegetical and theological one. What does the Bible say about the nature and purpose of women? Well it’s actually a pretty quick summary and I hope will demonstrate that the Biblical vision of womanhood is not restricted to motherhood.
In the beginning… What do we learn from Genesis about the feminine?
1. Equal in status to men as image bearers of God (Gen 1:27).
2. Women are jointly given with men the mandate to “multiply” (yes, that’s right, God knows how babies are made!), fill the earth and rule over it (Gen 1:28). So, parenthood is given as a joint responsibility. Also, for how long and for what purpose? Well, it’s easy to argue that as the command is “to fill the earth and subdue it” this mandate finishes when we’ve filled the earth, right? And population/environmental/resource scientists of many kinds say we’ve kicked that goal. So, are we done with that one now? Certainly something to ponder…!
3. Because of the Fall, motherhood is gonna be painful. Now, of course, that provides temptation to avoid it, doesn’t it, cos we don’t really like to be in pain. But at this point, it’s just information about what motherhood involves. Pain. And yet also, salvation. Not for the specific mother herself (thank God! I’ve been saved from childlessness), but for humanity itself, when the offspring of a woman crushes the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). So that’s good news, motherhood will eventually save humanity! Yay! But does that make it the entirety of the Biblical vision of womanhood?
Well, here’s where we move on from Genesis to see women as nation leader/prophetess (Exodus 15), spy assistants (Joshua 2), nationleader/prophetess (Judges 4), saviour of Israel (Judges 4), model of righteousness (Ruth), queen (Esther) etc etc etc. Yes, many many women basically get the role of “mother of blah blah” but they’re still involved in multiples ways in the carrying out of God’s plans, particularly to save and preserve Israel. The roles of woman are diverse. God uses them for more than giving birth.
Furthermore, I think it’s important to note though that some of the famous mothers, those whose main role was motherhood, Ruth, Elizabeth and Mary for eg, are noted as much for their character and faithfulness as much as, “and they also gave birth”. And this is noted for the women who basically get any other lines than “mother of”. As ever, God’s plan for His people is their faithfulness and holiness, not the size of their family (Psalm 51, Isaiah 57, Micah 6:8).
So we can see from the Old Testament that the scope of women’s roles in salvation is more than just giving birth, and that God’s purpose for both men and women, for His people, is their holiness and righteousness.
What does the New Testament have to contribute to the issue? Well, one of the significant things is that God’s people are given a new mandate, by our King, Jesus. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20).
Granted, one way of making disciples is baby-making them. But I think it’s quite reasonable to see that the instruction involves a little more than that! If you’re church growth/kingdom growth strategy is simply “having lots of babies”, you’re not actually following through with the whole deal. For eg, you’re leaving out the “all nations” bit.
And again, the New Testament continues the Old Testament theme of God’s purpose for His people to be holy and righteous, over and above anything else. Even Jesus sumamrises the Old Testament law as “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31).
So what’s God’s purpose for women? To be part of His salvation plan for the whole universe and to bring honour and glory to Jesus as their King.
What is the nature of women? Leaders, wives, mothers, manageresses (see Proverbs 31, that woman is busy! Running her household and other businesses (sorry to super conservative Evangelicals who don’t believe women should balance the chequebooks in the family, it’s practically a Biblical command), as wide in scope as that of men.
The Bible doesn’t open and finish with “women should give birth, that’s what they’re here for”, and our idolatry of motherhood is incorrect and therefore evil. A woman is not ripping God off if she fails to give birth. She’s not disappointing or frustrating His purpose for her life. She’s not cursed.
You probably know some childless women. Some who are child-free. You may be one yourself, married to one, related to one, dating one. What does God primarily have to say about their situation? The same thing He has to say to any person, no matter their marital, economic or social circumstances, “what I mean brothers and sisters is that the time is short. From now on, those who have wives should live as though they do not; those who mourn as if they did not; those who are happy as if they were not; those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of this world as if not engrossed in them. For the world in its present form is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Having children is not the sole purpose of human life; male or female, so don’t make your decisions based on the idea that it is. Your purpose is to build up the kingdom of God, in numbers and strength, and we have a lot of freedom in how we go about that.
Get that in our heads, understand that that is our first priority, and we’ll understand that the primary purpose and call of women is not to be baby factories. “Seek His kingdom and these things will be given to you as well”. It’s surprising how many blog posts I have to end with that quote (Luke 12:31).