28 May 2021

God Did Not Condemn Bathsheba: Becoming a Grace Cultured Church for Women

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Contemporary Ethics, Discipleship, Grace, Love, Ministry, Women

Many years ago, I was preaching for a congregation. A 16 year old girl in our youth group became pregnant. An elder visited me and told me I had preach on the evils of premarital sex. “We cannot let them think this is OK.” I was much younger then but I recall suggesting to him that instead we throw her a baby shower. He demurred. I recall saying, “Don’t you think she is probably scared right now? That she feels everyone has already condemned her and are whispering all manner of unChristian things. We have a golden moment as a church to do what Jesus would do.” I recall asking him to pray through John 4 and John 8. We did throw her a baby shower.

Several years later a former widower elder sat in my office. As we talked he confessed he was sexually active with a woman he was seeing. He had been desperately lonely. He wanted to know what I thought about it. I began by saying that I love him. God loves him. And then I asked, why is it OK for you but not a 16 year old girl. (They make viagra for old men not teenagers!)

This experience highlights the huge double standard we often have in the church, especially when it comes to sex. One for men and one for women. I’ve seen it and so have you. Boys will be boys but girls become sluts in the eyes of many. She is stigmatized but he is given a pass. She is often excluded from the youth group, not allowed to teach, regarded as a bad example. How different it is for him.

The saddest part of this is that frequently those who are not Christian are far more gracious than church members on these very issues.

Some of these men even become leaders in local churches. Ministers, youth workers, counselors on staff that prey on women, children and even sometimes on men. It is often, sadly, that the men are protected and the women are the Jezebel’s and evil one’s. On these matters see my review of Scott McKnight and Laura Barringer’s important book, A Church called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture.

A trail of broken lives is what remains. Young girls shamed and taught to see themselves as damaged or tarnished or just “less than.” These women are often left behind without a second thought. But a former elder can engage in sexual intimacy and it never occurs to him he may be even more culpable than that 16 year old. (My story, though real, is illustrative of many numerous kinds of scenarios Christian women find themselves in.).

These women, not only these ones but many, are simply seen as inferior. They are not permitted to use their gifts. They are not believed (frequently) when they share a story (like the one above). Widows are overlooked. The depressed, the anxious and others are afraid to share their struggles. Those of different ethnicities often feel out of step or overlooked, especially women.

But it is not so in the Bible nor in the Kingdom.

God did not blame Bathsheba. Bathsheba is not the culprit. She is not shamed for taking a bath or because she wore the wrong clothes. God sent Nathan to rebuke David, not Bathsheba. God punished David, not Bathsheba.

God, in fact, honored Bathsheba. David tried to make her life hell but God did not abandon her. She is not some minor footnote in the Hebrew Bible. Anytime we tell the story of Jesus faithfully we must talk about Bathsheba’s (Mt. 1.6) pain and misery and how God took it into himself in the person of Christ. Jesus is as much the “Son of shamed Bathsheba” as he is the Son of David.

More remarkable still, God did not rebuke Tamar! In one of the most salacious episodes in the Bible, Genesis 38, Judah is in the wrong. Not Tamar. And Tamar too is honored by God in every faithful telling of the story of Jesus (Mt. 1.3). Indeed Jesus is the son of scandalous women that would be shunned and written off in my churches: Tamar (Mt.1.3), Rahab (Mt. 1.5), Ruth (Mt. 1.5), and Bathsheba, “Uriah’s wife” (Mt. 1.6). God reversed the verdict of so many men on these women.

The great heroes of the Bible are not white men. They are brown women and brown men. Not one person in the Bible is a white man (the only possible exception is Cornelius). They are Hagar, Leah, Rachael, Rebekah, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, Abigail, Huldah, Anna, Mary the mother of Jesus (a single pregnant out of wedlock teenager!), Mary Magdalen, the Woman at the Well, Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, the daughters of Philip and many more. And don’t overlook the “unnamed” women heroes like Lady Wisdom and the Song of Songs woman. If we read the Greek Bible of the early church we would add Susanna and Judith.

The problem is not just a matter of recognizing women can or cannot pass communion. The story I began with highlights the actual issue: how do we view women themselves. Do we believe that women themselves, that is a woman in her “womanness,” is every bit the Icon (image) of God as a man. How you and I treat any woman (every woman is represented in the individual woman standing before me) reveals more about our theology of women as image bearers than anything we claim.

Jesus ran into men who did not think so. In the passages I asked my elder to read (John 4 and John 8 ) the woman is the victim but the men are no where to be found. Jesus does not shame the woman at the well for divorces or even for living with a man. It is not there! The men had all the power, she had none. It is this woman who became the first Gospel preacher in history (4.39-42, this woman “testifies” or is a “witness,” the same Greek as for the apostles in Acts 1.8 ).

In John 8, they drag a woman “caught in the very act.” Where was the man!? The woman was not regarded as the image of Yahweh himself though by those men. She was an object. To be used, abused, to be tossed aside … to be a matter of religious dispute! There was not an ounce of respect for her coming from those who wanted to enforce the Bible. The Bible was for her, not for them!

Just as God did not rebuke Bathsheba, Jesus does not this woman. Jesus does not shame this woman. He recognizes her humanity. Jesus treated her like the Image of God that she was. Her “sex outside of marriage” was not a greater crime than the arrogant self-righteousness of that “moral majority.” The mere fact that she is on trial and the male was no where to be found highlights their abuse. I know some one will loudly proclaim, “Jesus told her to go and sin no more.” True. True. But first he said to that terrified woman, “I do not condemn you” (John 8.11, TEV). He did not even tell her to “repent.” His words to her were no rebuke they were gracious life. I am in awe of how Jesus lovingly cared for this woman in John 8.

We have a long way to go church. We have elevated sexual impropriety (especially by women and homosexuality) as the Sin of all Sin. Even while we give a pass to ourselves, like the religious men of John 8.

Proverbs declares there are seven things the Lord detests (6.6-19). It is interesting that these items are often found in most conservative churches. What is not listed is what we have made the Sin of Sins.

There are six thing that the LORD hates,
seven that are an ABOMINATION
[to’ebah] to him:
haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that are quick to rush to evil,
a lying witness who lies,
and one who sows dissension among the family.

(Proverbs 6.16-19)

See how Proverbs 6 shed’s light on Ezekiel’s description of Sodom’s “sin” in Abomination: Christian Hypocrisy, Homosexuality & Compassion.

I can already hear people claiming, “he is justifying immorality.” Some people will never have ears to hear though.

I dream of a church that is genuinely a grace culture. Grace for me, a divorced single dad. Grace for women. Grace for my daughters. Not just those who have had sex (for every woman that did “it” there was a dude there too!). But simply a place that genuinely believes that women are the Icons of God.

A church culture of grace that values all women, as women, and does not abuse them. A culture in which women are safe. Mothers, wives, daughters, single women, older women, black women, white women, all women.

A church culture of grace is safe from double standards. It will be safe from predatory males masking behind clergy status. It will be safe from self-righteous condemnation. It is safe because genuine love, respect and care is the very air we breathe in a culture of grace.

A church culture of grace teaches the truth … God did not blame Bathsheba. He blamed David.

See the Related Article

Abomination: Christian Hypocrisy, Homosexuality & Compassion

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