I’ve been having lots of conversations here in Australia about brokenness, guilt and how these things are particularly poignant for women.
Consider the woman who yells at her child, or the one who is Facebooking when her child’s asking her to build a GUP out of Duplo (again!), or the one who struggles to have any kind of devotional life, or the woman who is consistently aggressive towards men.
A traditional evangelical understanding of sanctification brings some help here. It sees behaviour as a manifestation of our rebellion against God, so it works at identifying the sin, repenting of it, receiving forgiveness. Your guilt is dealt with. Free from condemnation, you are able to start again. With your identity in Christ, you need not be bound by those ways of relating. With your slate wiped clean, the Spirit works in you. Looking only to your Father for approval, you learn self-control for your temper, consider strategies to work against your selfishness, are empowered to be more disciplined, grow in gentleness.
You may feel like you’re not making progress, or committing the same sin over and over again, but each time there is grace for the repentant sinner. You can continue to press forward because of the cross of Christ.
But what if the woman who yells at her child was never nurtured by her own mother? What if the woman Facebooking is yearning for any kind of adult human interaction because mothers in our society can be some of the most isolated people? What if the woman struggling to have a devotional life is a more extroverted personality? What if the aggressive woman’s behaviour is a defence mechanism because the men in her life have been abusive? What if any of these women have experienced the constant stream of commentary on women and how they should look, work, speak, and conduct themselves?
There are external pressures on these women. While that does not detract from personal responsibility, it suggests that personal responsibility is not the only dimension to consider.
Frailty is not sin
The woman reaching out for some adult contact while her child demands her attention may well be living out that which humans are created for. We are not only created to care for others, but to connect with others, and to be cared for ourselves. This frailty is part of what it means to be human and ought not be a source of guilt: we need one another, and there’s a vulnerability to that. Yet in our world, that balance of both giving and receiving is skewed. We are often asked for more than we have the capacity for. We are stretched beyond what is comfortable, or sometimes beyond what is healthy for us. We cannot always give everything that is needed. Jesus withdrew from the crowds when he needed it. Many mothers simply do not have that option, but a sneaky Facebook offers an element of respite.
In a similar way, the woman struggling with a devotional life may feel that relationship with God is most real when experienced in community. We are created for intimacy with God, but we are misled if we think that intimacy automatically equates to private devotion. This woman’s need of others, even in connecting with God, may be less about her lack of discipline and more about one way in which some people find their need for others manifests. Jesus may have gone off on his own to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he brought his friends along, didn’t he? And he got pretty cross when they were less than present because they fell asleep.
Sometimes we sin because we have been sinned against
Praise God for the woman not nurtured by her own mother who manages to nurture her children, but let us recognise that this is likely a greater struggle for her than someone who was well nurtured by her own mother. The latter probably has more resources to draw on; it may come more naturally to her, and require less intentionality.
Likewise, if we see the aggressive woman as only a perpetrator of sin, we miss that she has been a victim of it. Her attitudes and actions may reveal a hurting soul, a wounded humanity, a woman who has been treated as far less than her image-of-God-ness warrants. It would be further dehumanising of her to treat her as incapable of repentance, but it would also be cruel to treat her as if the only thing that needs fixing is her own behaviour.
Do any of us think that the same Jesus who said, “I thirst” on the cross did not also cry out in pain as they drove the nails through his hands? Jesus showed nothing but love and forbearance for those sinning against him, which is instructive for us, but clearly he had needs, and not just physical ones. I wonder whether when Jesus entrusts Mary to John’s care, part of what he’s doing is satisfying his own concern for her.
All these women need a saviour to deal with their sin. But that’s not all they need, is it? They also need a redeemer to be at work making their world new, to deal with the external pressures, the brokenness that in turn breaks them. There’s a relationship between a broken world and broken people. If we consistently miss this dimension, the woman herself becomes the locus of sin. A theology of brokenness helps us to see her and her sin as part of a larger picture, not so we may excuse her, but so we may offer her even greater hope.
The cross of Christ not only deals with our infractions against a holy God. It is also the moment at which the God who took on our frailty is most frail. And it’s the moment when he is most powerful, because his suffering is not meaningless suffering but the path to the resurrection and the inauguration of raising and wholeness and healing.
Seeing this dimension to his work gives us many more resources for the frail or the sinned against woman.
Image credit: SnapbyThree
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.