“Why did God make me a woman?”
That question surely crossed the mind of my ancestor, Empress Matilda. She was one of two legitimate children of King Henry I of England. When her brother was killed in a shipwreck, she was the last one standing: the only legitimate child who could succeed her father. If you think having a woman in charge now is controversial, just imagine what it was like in the 12th century! That was the time period in which Matilda lived, and somewhat predictably, the nobles of the kingdom – all of whom had sworn to make her queen upon her father’s death – threw their support behind her male cousin and crowned him king. This led to a bitter civil war in which Matilda surely wondered why God had decided to make her a female, or at the very least why He had killed off her brother.
For the past three years, I have been writing a series of novels based on Matilda’s life. The first one is about to be released as an eBook by Amazon. (Shameless plug…) It was never my intention that these books should join the feminist literary canon or be an exercise in man bashing. You will find within those pages examples of good and bad men, along with good and bad women. Nevertheless, Matilda’s sex is an unavoidable part of the plot. It affected nearly every aspect of her life. She must have been painfully aware of the fact that she was assigned the lot of the weaker sex.
All of this has caused me to reflect upon my own femaleness. Much like my ancestor, I live in a world in which I am constantly reminded of my place in both subtle and unsubtle ways. I am not referring to the way I am treated by society as a whole, for it is increasingly embracing the idea that gender doesn’t exist or can be assigned artificially, without regard for biological realities. I am talking about the Christian world: specifically, the evangelical Christian world.
I used to work entirely in the secular sphere. Yes, I would go to church and my Christian faith was part of my life, but I didn’t get involved in the controversies that seemed to plague evangelicalism. I read few of the books. I attended none of the conferences. So much of evangelical culture and practice seemed a bit silly to me, if not downright ridiculous. Somewhere amid that all was the gospel truth, burning brightly amid the haze. I wanted to chase that flame. As for those nasty and unbiblical problems that were cropping up all over the place, there were other people to fight those fights. I simply wasn’t bothered and I had no wish to get involved. Again, it all just seemed…silly.
As I grew in my faith, I gradually got sucked into the evangelical bubble, along with what I jokingly call the “Reformed Vortex”. There would be no running from these issues now. I was in that world, and I became more aware of my femaleness than at any other point in my life. Such a division exists among the sexes within evangelicalism, some of it for necessary biblical reasons and some for unnecessary and unbiblical reasons. In this world, one’s gender is often the single greatest determining factor in how you experience Christianity. A whole genre of literature has sprung up to tell me what it means to be a woman, how issues affect me differently because I am a woman, what I need to do to embrace biblical womanhood, etc. Entire organizations exist to define the notion of womanhood from a Christian perspective.
In the secular sphere, I was far less limited by my sex, even when I was working for the government of a Muslim country. In the evangelical sphere, my sex affects the kind of job or role I can have, whom I am allowed to work with in that situation, whom I am allowed to talk to in different circumstances, what kind of things I can say to them, what I am allowed to write, who ought to be reading my writing, what I should do with my free time, and what my personality should be like. That is a truly astonishing number of things that are affected by gender, and I could name even more if I wished.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I knew this would be the case when I decided to get involved in Christian writing. I understood what evangelical culture was like. That is why I initially stayed away, and why I hoped dearly that other people with a bigger audience would step up to the plate and say the things that needed to be said. Alas, it seems that Christian writers often have to choose between making a lot of money from books that provide little benefit to readers, or making hardly any money from books that are a great benefit to readers. Well, so be it. Jesus never said the road would be easy or that people would gravitate toward the hard truth. God has blessed me with a roof over my head and food in my stomach. I would rather make a positive difference than make a lot of money.
My experiences have brought that initial question to the fore of my mind: “Why did God make me a woman?” The simplest answer is that I don’t know. Who can discern the ways of the Almighty or serve as His counselor? Yet I do not deny that there was a reason, and that my status as a female is surely to the glory of God. He made us male and female, twin reflections of His image, though admittedly fraternal rather than identical twins.
When I was in my mother’s womb, my parents looked at an ultrasound image and thought they saw something interesting. Though the doctors at the time were too hesitant to make such a declaration, my mother and father were fairly convinced that I was male. They intended to name me Mark. It was therefore a mild surprise when the doctors informed my mother that she had given birth to a daughter. Fortunately, my parents were not disappointed. They would have been happy with a child of either sex.
I cannot imagine myself being anything other than a woman. I certainly have never wished that God made me differently. It is interesting to think about what sort of man I would be, but the fact is that I have no idea. I simply was never meant to be male. But why is that the case? What is it about me as a female that is so essential from God’s point of view? What does God think of me as a woman?
One thing is for certain: I am no less than a man in God’s eyes. My Father loves me completely and I am His treasured daughter, even as my husband is His treasured son. I was not created merely to be beautiful, nurturing, submissive, gracious, or any of the other things that people typically associate with womanhood, biblical or otherwise. Are those things part of being a woman? Certainly. I am meant to reflect the beauty of God, though I do that more by having a godly character than having perfect hair. (Thank heavens!) I am meant to be nurturing, which is to say that I should love others as myself and care for their needs when possible. I am meant to submit to my heavenly Father and such authorities as He places on earth. I am meant to respond to others with grace, for God Himself has shown me grace.
These things are all part of what makes me female, but none of them are the most fundamental part of my womanhood. My identity is in Christ and Christ alone. That is what I ought to be reflecting to others first and foremost. Even though I am a woman and Christ was made incarnate as a man, I am to be conformed to His image just like my brothers in Christ. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of biblical womanhood. If I get that right, these other things will fit into place much more easily.
Proverbs 31 is held up as the shining example of biblical womanhood. Here we read of a woman who presumably never existed, but upon whom we are expected to model our behavior. To a certain degree, this is a fool’s errand, for this poor lady seems to work herself to death and never sleep. However, we ought to consider the one phrase in this passage that links together everything else and serves as the theological underpinning for biblical womanhood. “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, / But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30)
I was created as a woman to glorify God. My most fundamental purpose is to fear Him. My identity is in Christ. Could it be that I was made a woman partially to be a wife to my husband? Probably, for God knew that would happen. Could it be that I was made a woman so that I could serve as a faithful witness to other women? Quite possibly, though I must rely on the Spirit to make me faithful. Could it be that as I reflect the image of God in my femaleness, I can teach something even to my male compatriots? Only if you think that I can learn something about God from the maleness of my brothers in Christ. I assure you I do, and they can learn in return.
God does not make mistakes. He does not give His children less than the best for their lives. What He knows to be the best in His omniscience may not seem like the best to us in the here and now. Furthermore, a misunderstanding of what God has revealed can lead us down any number of paths that are harmful to our identities as men and women. However, I trust in the plan of my Father, who chose me before the foundation of the world to be His own.
It was not a mistake that I was born in the year 1986 to Tom and Shelley in the United States of America. They may have thought that I was supposed to be a man, but God always knew that I was a woman. Even as my parents received me joyfully in all my femaleness, so I hope that the world will do so, for that is what God intended. I may not know all His reasons, but I know He loves me, and I know this is what pleases Him.
If you are interested in learning about my novels, visit www.chronicleofmaud.com.
All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.