What is God's purpose for Christian women? Do women have a unique roll to fulfill or is it exactly the same as men's'? In our Christian circles, which seems to be infected by our feminist focused society, this book is quite a refreshing breath of reaffirmed biblical truth (rather than reaffirmed worldly cultural preference).
In her book Eve in Exile: And the Restoration of Femininity, Rebekah Merkle writes an excellent exhortation to Christian women of our day. There are four sections in the book, I'll give a description and perhaps some comments on each one.
Section one: Two Distractions. The chapters within this section deal with two ways that will NOT fix the problem of ascertaining how Christian women can fulfill their purpose in life. I found it fascinating that one of the 'distractions' Merkle critiques is the way some women try to deal with the problem by looking to the past, a particular period of history, the Austen era, for example, a time when gender roles were very distinct. This is not a biblical method for obtaining true femininity as the Bible doesn't tell us isolate ourselves in our own little bubble of some other time period. We have to live in this age, though this age will not define us, nor will the ages of the past, which weren't actually that great anyway.
The second way, and this seems to be the most popular one, is to make yourself number one. Merkle demonstrates the selfishness of this view very plainly,"….. Our society has clearly ruled that when it comes down to a choice between your husband and children on the one side and you on the other….the right choice, the noble choice, the wise choice, is always you. You do what makes you happy. You do what makes you fulfilled. You don't let anyone get in the way of your dreams. You don't settle. You deserve it. You go girl!....If that baby is going to get in the way of your dreams or your pursuits, then obviously that baby must be eliminated. Nothing must stand in the way of your aspirations.. Your personal hopes, desires, or opportunities trump all else, and sacrificing your dreams for someone else is not seen as noble, it's seen as ludicrous. If you lay down your 'life' for another, you certainly won't get respect or admiration from our society, and you will definitely get disdain. By many, your choice will just be seen as downright offensive."
Section Two deals with the history of feminism for the past few hundred years or so. Don't worry, it's not a boring read. It's fascinating and sad at the same time and Merkle adds plenty of interesting commentary, including an interesting theory on what jumpstarted each wave of feminism: Feminist movements always seemed to happen when women saw their place in society as being an ornamental rather than doing any sort of really valuable work and they thought that the men were doing the really worthwhile things. In the 1950s housekeeping became easier and easier with all kinds of conveniences being invented. Instead of seeing it as a blessing and making the most of their work and being creative with it, women became bored and "fussy" and became very demanding. "This is fundamentally at odds with biblical teaching on what is an obedient (and effective) response to injustice. Christ did not tell us that when someone takes our coat we should loudly demand its immediate return….When we are reviled He did not tell us to make sandwich boards and picket. When we are struck, we are not told to strike back harder. When Paul was imprisoned, he didn't commence organizing a prison riot or, for that matter, go on a hunger strike. And yet, aggressively demanding that everyone give women what is owed to us has been the entire campaign strategy of the feminist movement from Day One."
Section Three: What Are Women Designed For? Addresses the way women can find true fulfillment. "If God designed women for a specific purpose, if there are fixed limits on the feminine nature, then surely it would follow that when we are living in accordance with those limits and purpose we will be in our sweet spot. That's where we'll shine. Where we'll excel. And where we will find the most fulfilment." We were not created to be the center of attention. We were made to work, to help, to be fruitful, to glorify…etc.
Let me pause here and say my usual disclaimer: Of course, I didn't necessarily agree with everything in this book. For instance, and I'm sure that Merkle didn't mean this, but sometimes some of her argument came across as though men merely preach the Good News and the truths of God's Word while the women are the ones who live it out and embody it. But that's not correct. Men are supposed to live out the truth also. I think that Merkle may have been trying too hard to describe our women's work as a unique thing. Our work doesn't have to be outstandingly unique, if it's of God then it's a privilege to be able to do it, unique or not. She also sounded rather mystical in some of her attempts to describe women's work and how great it is, I didn't follow all that she was saying especially in some of the chapters toward the end of the book.
Okay, back to the description:
Section Four: Living Out Our Design. Merkle exhorts women to be creative with what God has given them to do. She emphasizes that, "This teaching isn't meant to keep the women out of sight; it's describing the way that they can shine the light of the gospel on a lost and sinful culture. We have to trust God here, because oftentimes we want to be the ones to decide what will be a good witness. God says, 'Here's how to be a good testimony,' and we think He doesn't understand the nuances of modern society the way we do." And then she also clarifies that "A household is bigger than the house itself, and as Paul describes the duties of a wife and mother, it is clear that her duties are defined by the people she is surrounded by and not simply her street address." Keeping one's household doesn't not necessarily involve not having a job outside the building that a wife calls "home" but it means that "home", the people in it, are her priority, her focus, and if other things become the priority then they are distractions, not worthy goals.
Using those four sections Merle really gets one thinking about our God-given job as women and how we can best fulfill that service to the best of our ability. When we see that we can best please our Maker by doing what He made us to do then we have something to work toward. We are here to please our Savior, not ourselves, and He Himself tells us, in His Word, how we can be pleasing to Him and fulfill our God-glorifying purpose. Overall I really liked this book. And Merkle is an excellent writer, she keeps the attention (especially because of her sense of humor and sarcasm), and continually pulls one's perspective back to God's Word and His purpose rather than our own. It was a very enjoyable and thought provoking read.
Many thanks to the folks at Canon Press for sending me a free review copy of this book! (My review did not have to be favorable)
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars