Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Proverbs 31 -- You Knew I'd Get To It Some Day

Several weeks ago, a well meaning blog reader of mine told me that I have been too influenced by the world. When I finished laughing about that (consider the fact that I home school my kids, don't drink, don't smoke, don't have cable television, and the only secular radio I listen to is classical wguc 90.9), I had to consider what she said. I'm sure, in part, she was right. I am really influenced by the world. I can't avoid that, but I, like her, am influenced by far more than just the obvious "sins" of the world.

She saw my obvious devotion to the world in the fact that I see Vision Forum as more like a cult than a ministry of Jesus Christ. I see the confusion in understanding just what the "world" is. Is the world the list of sins that our cultural forefathers decided were the worst sins in the world? Or is "the world" any thinking that deviates from the mind of God?

Of course, it's impossible to know the mind of God, so trying to understand Him and his intent is much more difficult than telling people to follow a formulaic set of rules for your life. It's messy and people can easily mess that up. Of course, on the flip side, you see women following "the rules" and then they end up going nuts and drowning their children or something equally grim and horrible. That's pretty messy too. However, if you are in a tight enough church then you can suppress that kind of stuff and it only leaks out every once in a while (in things like finding out your pastor has been visiting male prostitutes for the past 15 years -- incidentally, I was in Ukraine when that story broke. I wondered if I could find a t-shirt that said something like "Yes, I'm an American, and yes, I'm a Christian, but no, I have nothing to do with that guy you've been reading about." Talk about embarrassing on an international level.).

So all of this takes me back to the original thought behind this post, which is Proverbs 31. I think that Proverbs 31 is a passage that has been so taken out of context, and then exalted to a bizarre position of authority and insight.

The first thing I think is interesting is how people choose to interpret scripture the same way they choose to use statistics. The tendency is to make it fit the preconceived notion that you already have. If I'm brutally honest with myself, I approach scripture in the same way. It is very rarely that I actually approach the Bible with a heart that desires to change. Way deep in my motivation, that's there, but my flesh is generally looking for a way to justify my line of thinking because that's just much nicer for me.

So, if I want to be honest in my understanding of Proverbs, I have to first ask myself what the purpose of Proverbs is. I don't think that Proverbs is hard core theology that should be taken literally. If it is, then there have been many nights that my husband should've set up camp on the roof. I also don't think that Proverbs is a book of promises. If you think think it's a book of promises, then how can you explain the number of people who have been "raised in the way that they should go," and then departed from it? Or people who have been wise stewards of their money and then lost everything from someone else's dishonesty? Proverbs is a book of wise sayings, insight into God's wisdom.

Yet, so many Christians have taken Proverbs 31 and taken its literal words with the same authority that Jesus spoke! That makes no sense to me, because to do so would mean having to take everything in the Old Testament as a literal promise or order, and I don't know too many people following all the Levitical laws.

So, then you have women who, literally, define themselves by Proverbs 31. There are even entire ministries that base themselves on it! But, the thing that I find so befuddling is that I can't find any place in the Bible where it says that Proverbs 31 (or any other isolated verse for that matter) is the only scripture to define all of how a women serves the Lord. However, historically, this culture has had one role for women (as a wife), so people interpret it in that light. In other words, Proverbs31 is the defining verse for being a woman.

What you end up with, then, is quite a conundrum.

First of all, if this is what a woman should be and what we should raise our daughters to be, then what do we do with the women who don't marry? What should define them? What about a woman who doesn't marry until she's 45? What about a widow? What about a childless couple?

Next, if we ignore all the problems with believing that a woman should strive to be a Proverbs31 woman, then what does that mean? The Proverbs 31 woman worked. So, should all women work? But I thought that all women should be home makers? Maybe it means a woman should only run a business from her home. Well, what if she doesn't have the skills or talents to do that, but is a great physical therapist or surgeon? Some people, like my blog reader, think that woman should only help out sometimes with the family business. So, where is the line drawn?

I have to wonder if it ever occurs to people that maybe Proverbs 31 is just simply defining what a really neat wife is. Since it's doubtful Solomon wrote it (although with his 300-plus wives, he seems to have been looking for his perfect match), it logical to think that whoever did was simply showing praise for the wife he admired. She certainly does seem to be someone to look up to, aim for as a goal, but not define yourself by.

I take my role as wife and mother quite seriously. Obviously, I do, as the time I have given over to those roles far exceeds anything I've ever given. However, I choose to define myself as a servant of Christ in whom, according to Paul, there is no male or female, gentile or greek.

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