Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 1: Acknowledge the Power of Your Actions
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 2: Know What God Requires
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 3: Make Your Action Plan
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 4: Get Ready for War
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 5: Master Your Biggest Enemy
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 6: Fight This Fight
Joseph was a young and inexperienced immigrant, eager to do well with his first job, and enjoying great success due to his boss’s good favor. Everyone thought he had the makings of a star, though the vulnerability of his position was always on the back of his mind. When his boss’s wife first came on to him, he was in shock – but the situation got more frightening as she continually refused to take “no” for an answer and increased the pressure every day. He recognized the huge power imbalance between them – the massive support structure behind her, while he had no one; the information monopoly she held, while he knew his word would count for nothing against hers. He knew one word from her could destroy not only his rising success, but his very life. Joseph recognized that he had nothing to gain and everything to lose from angering this woman. But somehow, there was only one thing on Joseph’s mind: “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” So, Joseph did the hard and scary thing; he told her “no” and got away from her. As a result, he lost everything. Scripture records him as a hero of the faith.
In response to the deluge of sexual abuse and harassment reports, it’s astonishing to hear so many voices – even from the feminist camp – implying that we can’t ask or expect a woman to do something that would be hard or require personal sacrifice. “She couldn’t have refused him… she might have lost her job!” “She couldn’t have told anyone; she knew a previous woman had told someone and gotten in trouble.” “She couldn’t have fought back; she had so much to lose here.”
Of course, we must sympathize with these women’s pain, fear, and prospective loss. Saying no or speaking up can cost a woman everything, and it has for many brave silence-breakers. But we also have to realize that statements like this send a message to young women: Doing the Right Thing is what you do when it’s not hard, when it’s not scary, and when there’s no danger that you’ll lose anything.
This message might seem to ring out-of-tune with our culture of feminism, girl power, and “smashing the patriarchy,” but it’s really perfectly in line with the chief cause feminism gives women: “You can do whatever you personally want to do.” And this is where feminists, with whom we would agree on many issues relating to the need for respectful treatment of women, have really let women down – because as much as our individual concerns and preferences matter, they’re not our ultimate moral standard, and they don’t lead us to real strength. Erin Lovette-Colyer, director of the University of San Diego Women’s Center, says that when it comes to dealing with and reporting harassment, “I tell students that whatever feels the most empowering for them is what they should do.” Which, we’re pretty sure, is how Harvey Weinstein’s whole network of effectual accomplices covering things up to protect their own careers and success were operating all along. Actually… we’re pretty sure that’s how Harvey Weinstein was operating, too.
With all its promises of strength and liberation, feminism leaves women in the ultimate bondage, the bondage to their own natural sinful tendencies. Bondage to the fear that says, “I just can’t.” To the apathy that says, “It’s not worth it.” To the ambition that says, “It would be OK to trade my principles for success.” To the pragmatism that says, “What would it profit me if I think about my soul and lose the whole world?”
Made for More
God, on the other hand, is in the business of setting women free from the weakness and fear that tyrannize them. He gives us several biblical role models who were strong enough to stand up to sinful men, at great personal risk to themselves. Women like Esther, who risked her life to confront her pagan king and husband over his ungodly decree to kill all her people. Women like Jael, who ran out to intercept Israel’s oppressor, the general Sisera, lure him into her tent, and kill him. Like Abigail, who ran ahead to meet a vengeance-crazed warrior on his way to kill all the men of her household, and reprove him. Like the Wise Woman of Abel, who called out during a violent siege of her city to confront the invading general Joab and negotiate terms of peace, then went to reason with all the people of her city and arrange the execution of the rebel Sheba. Like the Hebrew midwives, who opposed Pharaoh’s edict and lied to save the newborn Hebrew boys. Like Rahab, who entered a conflict between her city and the spies and took the righteous (and dangerous) side. Like the woman who went out to the wall during the siege of her city and hurled her millstone onto King Abimelech’s head. (Not to mention the examples of men like Joseph – are we equal-opportunity enough to aspire to their courage and sacrifice, too?)
But God also instructs us in developing the specific characteristics that it takes to oppose evil men. If driving a tent peg through a guest’s head sounds slightly at odds with having a “gentle and quiet spirit,” it may be that our picture is missing some pieces. Those of us who grew up believing that godly femininity means being sweet, submissive, long-suffering, and eager to please can sometimes feel conflicted when we read about the intrepidity of women like the ones above. But if we dig into God’s actual instruction for women, we will find that the ability to fight against sin, resist tyranny and injustice, and go to bat for the afflicted is exactly in keeping with the character He wants women to have – the character we need to be arming ourselves with now.
Made for War
Let’s look, for instance, at the verse where God tells women to clothe themselves with “meek and quiet spirits” (1 Pet. 3:4). To us this may sound like He values passivity and silence, but the Greek word here for “meek” is the “power under control” term “praus,” used to describe a trained war horse – ready for battle but with its every movement guided by the rider. “Quiet” comes from Greek roots meaning something like un-moveable, steadfast, undisturbed, and unshakeable. Imagine what a difference a spirit like this would make in a high-stress, high-stakes situation!
We all know what a woman without discretion is like (Prov. 11:22), but do we know what a woman with discretion is like? Is God saying He wants women to be good at keeping their mouths shut and covering things up? Not even close. The Hebrew word translated as “discretion” is more frequently translated “good judgment” – it generally means perception, judgment, intelligence, taste, understanding. A woman with discretion would be like the “mature” mentioned in Hebrews 5:14, “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
God tells women to be self-controlled (Tit. 2:5, 1 Tim. 2:9), which means of sound mind, sane, in one’s senses, temperate, curbing one’s desires and impulses.
He commands women to be fearless – specifically, to not “fear anything that is frightening.” (1 Pet. 3:6)
And He describes the ideal woman of Proverbs 31 as “virtuous” (Prov. 31:10), a word which to us might sound like saintly, pious chastity – but actually means “valor,” “strength,” “force,” “power,” the same Hebrew word used to describe the might of an army.
God’s virtuous woman, just like the ones He holds up as our examples, was a force to be reckoned with – a discerning, cool-headed, fearless, and unshakeable soldier of right.
What does God think women need all of these qualities for? Making better muffins?
God knows what many of us didn’t realize before entering adult life – that a huge part of our lives is going to consist of doing intense battle in the realm of relationships, and dealing with sin a lot. Sins of husbands, children, neighbors, friends, parents, church family, workmates, employers, magistrates, and strangers in the parking lot. It’s not just a handful of heroines in extreme circumstances who have to deal with things like this – it’s all of us. God’s ideal woman is a woman who is made for battle, because that’s what our lives are all about: doing battle for the Lord every day.
Most of all, what God requires of us is that we think in terms of ultimately obeying and pleasing Him – not abusive or manipulative men, and also not ourselves. He calls us to do the humanly impossible and unthinkable: to be willing to lose our lives for His sake so that we can find them; to be willing to be poured out as drink offerings, to take up our crosses and follow Him, to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” This spirit of sacrifice which says “If I perish, I perish” is hard to maintain if we don’t believe in a God Who promises that “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Matt. 19:29) Which is why keeping the spiritual perspective is so crucial.
Yes, ladies… we can expect that doing the right thing will be hard. With a system so broken that corruption and injustice come down on us from all sides, we may never personally, on earth, experience the good fruits from having done the right thing. But it’s when everyone else is falling down before the wicked that it’s especially critical that we do not.
Rachel Denhollander, a modern-day heroine of the faith, was victimized repeatedly by her physician Larry Nassar when she was only 15 years old. Years later, she began the single-handed process of bringing him to justice. As she said to her abuser in her court statement, “I made this choice knowing full well what it was going to cost to get here and with very little hope of ever succeeding. I did it because it was right. No matter the cost, it was right. And the farthest I can run from what you have become is to daily choose what is right instead of what I want.”
Read the next article: Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 5: Master Your Biggest Enemy