The possibility of optimism
Exum raises a number of questions about how we read biblical texts that seem to oppress women. One question is what they say about women. Another is what they say about God.
One problem is that there is no perfect culture. All human interactions are tainted by sin. But what if God could still tell his story within imperfect cultures? God’s involvement in our cultures doesn’t necessarily condone their defects, nor does it suggest that God is limited by them. This ought to arouse humility and compassion in us as we read the Bible, because we and our culture are just as deeply flawed. From this perspective a different message emerges: your culture will be tolerated (for now); grace rules.
It can be a struggle to see a bigger story or how Jesus draws women into it. It can seem like just smoothing over or making excuses. But the God we meet even in a patriarchal Bible offers the possibility to read these texts optimistically.
This apparently patriarchal God is also the God of the incarnation. He didn’t wait for the perfect society but came to live in and suffer at the hands of an imperfect one. Like Jephthah’s daughter, Jesus knows what it is to die because it seems there is no other choice – and like her, he did it willingly. Like Michal, Jesus knows what it is to have no progeny and to have your life and story cut short.
Yet there is hope here because the failings of that culture did not stop him from accomplishing his work. In fact, they became his glory. Like David, Jesus is also God’s rightful king who must be acknowledged. And unlike Jephthah, he’s the good judge who is only fair, never rash. Like men failed Michal and Jephthah’s daughter, Jesus has also been screwed. He gets it. But he offers more than that too.