The Female Mode
Why is the Statue of Liberty a woman rather than a man? Have you ever heard
of Father Nature or Father Earth? Why are ships referred to in the feminine
gender? Why do we instinctively refer to the delicately beautiful in nature
as female, the sturdy and virile as male? And to peninsulans, San Francisco
is our city we love her!
Throughout the Scriptures, symbols have consistent connotations, many of
which are reflected in our literature as well as in the common vernacular.
To some, the implications are threatening and demeaning; to others it is
the acknowledgment of a unique mode of life as authentic and meaningful
as maleness, but different in a way which is complementary to the other
half of humanity.
Since the Scriptures constitute God's handbook for humanity, the consistency
of its symbolism would appear to characterize the unique features of the
sexes. On this premise, we may consider the following sampler of feminine
symbols in the Scriptures as a probable definition of the basic intent of
The dove of peace has a biblical origin. The Genesis record of Noah and
the Ark pictures the patriarch using two birds to test post-flood conditions
on the earth.
"He sent forth a raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were
dried up from the earth." "Then he sent forth a dove from him...but
the dove found no place to set her foot." "He waited another seven
days and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came
back to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth a freshly plucked olive
The dove is used in the New Testament to symbolize the Holy Spirit, as in
the baptism of Jesus recorded in Matthew 3:16. The Holy Spirit--called the
"Helper" in the New American Standard Version, John 15:26; compare
"helper" Genesis 2:20--does not speak on his own initiative (NASV)
or authority (RSV), Jesus tells us in John 16:13. It is the Holy Spirit's
work to declare and clarify to us the work of Christ who is our peace. So,
by illuminating the Person of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit becomes the
instrument of peace in our lives. Perhaps we may think of this aspect of
the Holy Spirit's work as our model for the female role of helper and the
consequence of peace in relationships.
Several years ago a man wrote an article in a leading magazine describing
a women's meeting which began with hair-pulling and name-calling. He wrote
with great sympathy for their frustration and their need to be recognized,
and concluded by saying he felt women could be a great factor in bringing
peace to the world if they were allowed a larger voice in political affairs!
It is my observation that the segments of society to which women have contributed
the elements of peace have so benefited because those women were at peace,
first of all, with themselves. A hostile, bitter spirit is as likely as
a bayonet to produce peace. A gentle, quiet spirit, undemanding and unthreatening,
is God's instrument to restore sanity and tranquillity in an angry world.
Freedom is also symbolized in the Scriptures by a woman. Galatians, chapter
4, uses Sarah, the free woman, to symbolize that "the Jerusalem above
is free, and she is our mother." From the twenty-first chapter of Revelation
we learn that "the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from
God" is "the bride, the wife of the Lamb." The free woman,
whose progeny is born of faith in God's promise, pictures the people of
God. Among this people dwells the Lord God Almighty, the center of their
worship, their eternal light and glory. In the worship of him and his redeeming
grace, God's people become the matrix of true freedom to all who enter her
fellowship by faith in her Lord.
On the other hand, Hagar, the slave woman, pictures the old Jerusalem, the
center of the law. A people who, lacking experience of the delivering grace
of God, are locked into a pattern of dead works. A woman in bondage thus
becomes the symbol of the life lived apart from the redemption and resources
of the living Christ.
Wisdom, in the Book of Proverbs, is personified as a woman:
"Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven pillars. She
has slaughtered her beasts, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her
table." (Proverbs 9:1, 2)
Clearly, she is a woman of both strength and dignity, who by her own choice
and initiative has established her personal identity (built her house) on
the perfect righteousness of Christ (seven, the scriptural number of perfection;
pillars, the firm foundation).
Wisdom understands that she must initiate the experience of forgiveness
amplified in 1 John Chapter 1 by: (1) walking in the light of God's truth,
(2) expressing that truth in relationships with others, and (3) experiencing
forgiveness and cleansing in the confession of sin thus exposed. In this
way she "slaughtered her beasts," which is the allegorical statement
of her personal appropriation of "the blood of Jesus Christ" or
his atoning death. "She has mixed her wine" symbolizes the joy
with which her life is characterized, a joy resulting from a secure spiritual
identity. A joy which she is eager to share with others. And so she sets
her table to which others are invited:
"Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave simpleness, and live and walk in the way of insight" (Proverbs
Her life-message is extended through others, who take up the spirit and
import of her godly perspective of herself and her freeing insights about
life. A woman thus equipped for life is a living demonstration of the wisdom
of God. By her example she initiates positive responses in others. Her life-style
motivates others to live with freedom, joy, and dignity in the strength
of a God-centered identity.
The woman whose life personifies wisdom knows that:
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the
knowledge of the Holy One is insight." Proverbs 9:l0
An example of this kind of applied-wisdom is cited by the Apostle Peter
in his first letter. Peter prefaces the ways in which believers are to live
as servants of God in serving one another by saying:
"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth
for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the
heart" (1 Peter 1:22).
The married woman, for instance, will motivate her husband to godliness
by a life-style which speaks for itself, and does not need to be propped
up with holy lectures and/or nagging and chiding. Therefore, Peter tells
"Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so
that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by
the behavior of their wives, when they see your reverent and chaste behavior."
I Peter 3:l, 2
From this we may see that wisdom, which in the female mode is the subjective
application of knowledge, or objective truth, is functional in productive
and healing relationships. In Proverbs 9, the seductive woman, overt in
her advances (she is noisy, wanton, shameless, she sits, she takes and she
calls) initiates ungodly actions. Her life-message is a death sentence for
those whom she motivates. There is neither wine nor blood in her personal
identity, and therefore both joy and cleansing are absent from her relationships
with others. She exploits them for personal gratification, and futility
and death are the end product of her influence. Where there is no encounter
with the atoning death of Christ, no experience of the Joy of his living
Presence, there is no spiritual identity, no lasting personal fulfillment.
There is no recourse to the "mind of Christ, " the wisdom from
above", and the resulting insecurity is evident in fraudulent relationships.
"Wisdom builds her house, but folly with her own hands
tears it down" (Proverbs 14:1).
A woman who relates to life with godly wisdom is establishing a secure identity.
Anything less is self-destructive. Repeatedly, the Old Testament prophets,
calling God 's recalcitrant, disobedient nation to repentance, referred
to her as an unfaithful wife, a harlot. In her exile she has widowed her
mother city. The daughter of Zion has departed all her majesty. The Lord
has trodden as in a wine press the virgin daughter of Judah. She is a maiden
whose lovers cannot comfort her. The epitome of spiritual unfaithfulness
is the great harlot of Revelation, "who corrupted the earth with her
On the other hand, the new humanity, God's chosen and redeemed society,
the church, is referred to as the Bride of Christ, the wife of the Lamb,
a bride adorned for her husband. She is clothed with fine linen, bright
and pure...the righteous deeds of the saints.
"Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the
marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it
was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure--for the
fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints." Rev. l9:7, 8
Again, the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, is pictured
as the Bride, the wife of the Lamb, having the glory of God, "with
radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal (Revelation
21:9-11). Again we are reminded of 1 Peter 3:3-5, and the woman there described
as gentle and quiet in spirit, which attitude is said to be an imperishable
jewel which in God's sight is very precious!
With superb poetic grace, the Song of Solomon depicts the love relationship
between Christ and his Bride. The sensuous aspects of human love are used
to depict the intimate quality of God's relationship with his own people.
Clearly depicted here is the harmony of the spiritual with the emotional
and physical aspects of our humanity. There is no suggestion here of what
is sometimes called (wrongly) a "puritanical" view of sex, in
which the physical act itself is considered impure. It depicts the beauty
of a pure love between a man and a woman, a mutual devotion which matures
into lifelong relationship.
It is this kind of beautiful marital fulfillment which depicts for us that
the foundation for all such human love is the greatest, richest love of
all--the love of the Bridegroom who died for his beloved bride, the church.
We are reminded again that the source of all true love is the Father-God
who gave his Son, who died for us when we were his enemies. It is he who
made us for himself in order to make us the objects of his infinite and
unequivocal love, the love which constrained him to die for his beloved.
(See the Survey of the Song of Solomon in Revised Standard Version, pp.
The Apostle Paul expounds the message of the Song of Solomon in Ephesians
5:22-33. The teaching on headship and submission in the marriage relationship
must be seen as the corollary to the theology (the God-Truth) of Ephesians.
He begins with phrases so rich in spiritual romance that heart and mind
fairly burst with ecstasy:
He blessed us with every spiritual blessing...He chose us....He destined
us in love....He freely, lavishly, graced us in the Beloved with redemption
and forgiveness...He revealed to us through wisdom and insight, the mystery
of His will--the plan to unite all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth--hope
in His calling....the riches of His inheritance in us...resurrection power,
above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name
that is named--forever.
And the consummate wonder and reality: He, the risen Christ, is the
"Head over all things for the church, which is His body,
the fullness of him who fills all in all."
To that Headship, then, we are enjoined in chapter 5 to be mutually submissive.
That determines our attitude and governs our responses so that we may serve
according to who we are as sexual beings, created for love relationship
with God who called and equipped us with His life and love through His Son,
the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul now speaks of the great mystery: Christ and the church. Christ the
Head, who loved the church and gave himself up for her, sanctified and cleansed
her with the word, nourishes and cherishes her as his own body, and whose
aim is her unblemished holiness (sometimes interpreted as "wholeness".
The appropriate and indeed exciting response to all of the above is the
wives' subjection to the husband who is in turn subject to his Head. It
is her reverent response to Christ who is also her Head. As her husband-head
images the Headship of Christ over his church, the wife is privileged to
image the obedient and reverent response of the church to Christ, her Head.
It is indeed a mystery! But such a mystery as has not been revealed in any
cultural, religious or philosophical definition. It is unique to Christianity,
and it is no wonder, then, that it has been so vehemently attacked, by those
who prefer a more "reasonable" alternative.
It is truly the ultimate, if not the most representative, test of the authenticity
of our mutual obedience to and dependence upon the transforming power of
Christ in our human encounters. It tests our motivation, whether our commitment
is truly focused on God's ultimate purpose, made clear by the Apostle Paul
in his theological (God-premised) treatise in Ephesians l-3.
Peace, freedom, wisdom, beauty, fidelity, love--all are symbolized in the
female gender. Are they then exclusively female characteristics? Of course
not! But may it be that the godly woman, whose gentle, quiet Spirit is her
love-response to God's loving authority, in a unique way releases others
to understand and experience these qualities of life. Is it not possible
that the woman who responds with wise and loving submission to the authority
of her husband might set him free to headship in the home? And this headship
would, if universally practiced, set in motion a cycle of redemptive social
responses which would restore order and love to humanity.
In an article in Harper's magazine July, 1973, excerpted from his
book, "The Suicide of the Sexes," George Gilder makes some extraordinarily
perceptive comments on the implications of sexuality in society. He articulates
the disastrous results to society of minimizing sexual differences, and
states that "sexual energy animates most of our activities and connects
every individual to a family and a community, and through these to a past
and a future." He further states that "sexuality is best examined
not as sexology, physiology, or psychology, but as a study encompassing
all the deepest purposes of a society."
With persuasive clarity he reasons that "males are the sexual outsiders
and inferiors," who without long term commitments to and from women--without
the institution of marriage--are exiles from the procreative chain of nature.
"From almost the start," he says, "the boy's sexual identity
is dependent on acts of exploration and initiative." These he feels
are less vital to a woman, whose sexual identity is stamped in her very
being, or patently obvious in her anatomy, even though she may fail to bear
While the views expressed by Mr. Gilder in this article are from a secular
viewpoint, I see them as strongly supportive of the necessity for the traditional
and scriptural female role of nurturer and motivator. If, indeed, the male
is insecure in his sexuality and therefore afloat in his social identity,
female dominance can only heighten his sense of uncertainty and dispossess
society of maleness. On the other hand, a woman, being secure in her sexual
identity, can support maleness by developing in man a sense of headship
responsibility. Such a woman can secure to society the love, intimacy, and
companionship of marriage and the family by validating the man as father
Submission is a subtle and sensitive role in human relationships. Apart
from a secure spiritual identity, it will be seen as a threat to personal
autonomy. With her God-given sensitivity and a will subject to his loving
wisdom, a woman can, by her example, teach this healing, cohesive principle
to husband, family, church, and society. Will we relinquish this privilege
and responsibility to a self-centered insistence on our rights? May we allow
God to free us from bondage to ourselves and extend that liberty of spirit
through us to others!
Copyright 1975 by Elaine L. Stedman
A Key-Word Book
Word Books Publisher
Revised May 1996.