It’s Mother’s Day! I am in Vanderhoof, BC, reflecting on the message that I presented this morning at a local church where I am working as a transition pastor. For a whole variety of reasons, Mother’s Day is not the easiest day to preach — partly because of the expectations of some to hear a good Mother’s Day message, and those of others that the subject challenges modern ideas about gender. Still others don’t like to preach a Mother’s Day message because of how difficult the day is for those who aren’t mothers or who are yearning to be. I know of many pastors that intentionally avoid preaching a Mother’s Day message simply because the subject, due to these issues, is too controversial.
On one hand, I wanted to address the gender issue head on because I think there is a great need to clarify what the Bible has to say about the unique roles that God has given to men and women in general, and especially in marriage and the church. I don’t know how anyone can read the Bible without coming to the conclusion that God has assigned distinctive leadership roles to men and complementary supportive roles to women in all kinds of contexts. That doesn’t mean that one is less or more important than another, or that there isn’t lots of room for what we might consider overlap. Yet each, properly considered, I believe, has its own glory.
Granted that women throughout history have been exploited by men in many contexts, sometimes even under a spurious interpretation of biblical texts. Properly understood, however, I believe a consistent interpretation of scripture will yield God’s kind of value to each of the sexes in a way that honours God’s creative and redemptive purpose. In my view, that intention has been drastically distorted by the current feminist movement. And the church should recognize this temptation and do whatever it can to biblically and wisely defend the distinction that God has established.
Quite ironically, even these days, I find that a large part of the church really appreciates the special honour that is given to mothers and that role, on Mother’s Day. Besides, Mother’s Day receives a large amount of attention in the media and otherwise. (Note, for example, the Mother’s Day hype at the Toronto/Seattle MLB baseball game today.) So rather than avoiding the subject, I think Mother’s Day is an opportunity to hi-light the importance of this role and to give the honour to mothers that is their due. In the end, thanks to some wisdom my wife offered as we talked about the prospect of the message, I didn’t use the opportunity to speak specifically about the gender issue. (I agree that there are other contexts in which that would probably be more appropriate.)
Instead, also by the encouragement of my wife, I determined to focus on the tremendous significance of motherhood, and in the process, try to honour those who are genuinely committed to fulfilling this role, by God’s grace. I tried to draw attention to the large number of examples in the Bible of women who had a profound influence on the world through their mothering role. I noted instances in the Chronicles in which mothers of some very notable kings in Judah are mentioned, implying that these kings’ mothers had a key role to play in their sons’ godly successes. We looked briefly at other instances of mothers in the scriptures and the huge influence of their lives.
But I ended the message with a focus on what I believe is the main point of the Book of Proverbs — that there are two kinds of women influencing our world — the woman wisdom, or the woman folly. They are fully described in chapters 8 and 9, but there are allusions to their existence and contrast in the opening parts of the Proverbs as well (3:13 – 18 and Proverbs 5 – 7). It’s significant that the Book of Proverbs ends with the words of a mother to her son who is now a king (Lemuel) — to keep himself from the calls of the foolish woman and to pay attention to the woman or wife “whose price is far above rubies (31:10). The writer concludes the Book of Proverbs with that lofty description of a woman who, not only represents true wisdom, but also demonstrates the qualities of a godly wife and mother.
It is my conviction that we need to do much more in the church to teach a biblical view of womanhood and manhood that reflects the nature of true wisdom as seen, for example, in the Book of Proverbs. Classical feminism, as we see it in the world today, represents a special challenge to the church. It was never God’s intention for men and women to arbitrarily share the same roles in life. Yet I understand why this movement has gained momentum — partly because women have been exploited, and partly because we live in sinful world. But it is for reasons of this challenge, I believe, that there is confusion about gender in our world today. God’s redemptive plan in Christ has always been to return men and women to the roles that they had in creation, and thus to enable them each to experience their true glory.