So, a faithful reader (I’ve already started with the puns!) has written to ask what I consider to be the most feminist chapter in the Bible and what I consider to be the most liberal. I have kind of found that to be a more difficult question to answer than I anticipated because I’m not sure what I mean by “feminist” or “liberal” when I try to think about it. I’ve always considered Jesus to be extremely liberal, by our standards, in most regards. He loves the people good liberals love–the outcasts, the poor, the tax collectors, etc. and he rails against injustice. What’s not to love?
For me, the more interesting question is when is the most feminist moment? On the one hand, I’m tempted to say that any time Paul writes about women, when I imagine the women he’s writing about, I feel feministly inspired. After all, you don’t make rules about things folks aren’t doing–so I like to imagine an early church full of women preaching and talking back and letting their hairs hang out and refusing to submit to their husbands. That must have been good fun.
But for me, the moment that kind of breaks the whole book open and lets in other possibilities is when Sarah laughs at God. Let’s keep in mind who we’re dealing with. We’ve got a couple of pretty well-off nomads who have taken up with, what is at the time, a god just kind of getting his sea legs. Yes, he’s done some creating and some life making and laid some curses, but he’s also had to start over once and the best choice he had in the do-over was a drunk who couldn’t keep his pants on, so we’re already getting a glimpse of a god whose best laid plans don’t always work how He’d planned.
And, compared to the god he mellows into a few millennium later, let’s not forget that this is the dude who killed off a woman for looking behind her when he said not to, who, when kids were laughing at one of his buddies, sent bears to eat them, and who was offing people with more frequency and creativity than even Quentin Tarantino.
In other words, at the time Abram and Sarai knew God, he was kind of a sadistic hot-head.
That’s not to say that he wasn’t a useful friend to have. Clearly, there are times when folks benefit from having a powerful, almost unstoppable friend. I just mean that when that dude tells you to take your shoes off, no matter how stupid it seems, you do it.
He’s the kind of dude that, when he tells you he’s going to do something for you, most folks don’t laugh in his face.
Even Abraham was ready to kill his own son on God’s orders because, at that point, you just didn’t defy God. I’d argue that later on, we see a change in God, that he’s come to appreciate folks who will call him on his bullshit and remind him of the promises he’s made people. But I’d also be willing to argue that that comes from a deity more secure in himself and what he’s doing. At the time, though?
Laughing at God had to be about the most dangerous thing a person could do. Shoot, even Sarah knew it
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
But take a look at what she says right before that:
So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
See? Sarah thinks God doesn’t know how babies happen!
You get some glimpses earlier that Sarah wasn’t just wandering around with Abraham all “Oh, gosh, things are wonderful and I’m the faithful servant of God.” Think about the Hagar thing and women you know. You’re going to tell me that a woman who is laughing at God in God’s presense isn’t already kind of rolling her eyes at this dude already? You think she was really like “Oh, dear, darling. I cannot give you a son. Here, take the maid and have a son with her so that someone can inherent your stuff. That will be wonderful.”
I think we all know how that went.
“Hey, honey. The Boss says I’ve got to give all the shit he’s given me to a son.”
“Oh, now, does he?”
“Yeah, and, well, you ain’t exactly popping them out.”
“Oh, really? Well, maybe that’s your fault.”
“No, I don’t think so. Did you see these rules the Boss gave me? As long as I’m spilling it in you and not on the ground, I’m doing my part.”
“Well, maybe your boss isn’t doing his part. Did you ever think of that?”
“So, I was thinking that I could, you know, take another wife…”
“And what happens to me, then? Huh? After all we’ve been through, you’re just going to push me aside for some younger, perkier model?”
“Well, the boss says…”
“Yeah, that’s fucking convenient, isn’t it? “The boss says…” and you get to fuck young hot things. I notice the boss never says ‘Hey, Sarah, you need to have a son, how about you get yourself another husband, young, hot, virile,’ abs I can lick cream off. No, mysteriously, the boss isn’t advocating for that shit is he?”
“What? What do you want me to tell you? That’s the solution.”
“Fuck you, Abe. Fuck you and your fucking efforts to move me out.”
“That’s not what I’m trying to do.”
“Do you know what happens to wives whose husbands toss them aside for the younger women who can have babies? Is there any part of you that loves me enough to protect me from that?”
“It’s not about getting rid of you. I do love you.”
“Then just fuck Hagar.”
And Hagar’s all like, ‘Hey, leave me out of this!’
“Have a son with Hagar.”
“But what? By the boss’s rules, you can’t marry Hagar.”
“No, I can’t take a foreign wife.”
“So, problem solved. You fuck her, get your son, and I stay your wife.”
And Hagar’s all like ‘Fuck me’ because she knows this can lead no place good for her.
And so it goes.
My point is that I think Sarah has God’s number from the very beginning. And he kind of clearly adores her because of it. I mean, let’s go back to Genesis 18. God and his buddies show up at Abraham’s. What’s the first thing they ask after the formalities have been taken care of?
“Hey, where’s Sarah?”
Shoot. Did they even come to see Abraham in the first place?
He’s all ‘Oh, let me bring you some food. Let me bring you some cushions. Let me get you something to drink. Here, here.’ and they’re all asking after his wife and here to talk about what they’re going to do for her.
Now, clearly, if he doesn’t want to look like he’s putting the moves on Abraham’s wife, God can’t just address her directly. He’s got to do that ridiculous “I’ll pretend like I’m talking to your husband but loud enough for you to hear me” crap and she in return is all “I’ll pretend I’m just laughing to myself, but you’re omniscient, so I know you know what I’m saying.”
But I ask you this. Is there any other time in the Bible when we see God directly addressing a woman? And who is the woman he’s addressing? What kind of woman gets God’s attention? Is it the good and dutiful woman?
No, it’s the woman willing to laugh at him.
Shoot, it’s no wonder that the Bible is filled with rules and prohibitions designed to keep women and God separated. Imagine, for a second, what that story, right there, suggests: that men have to grovel at God’s feet and follow his rules and do what he says in order for God to remain interested in them, but a woman doesn’t even have to do Him the courtesy of not laughing at him.
To me, it suggests a supreme nervousness on the part of the patriarchs of the Bible about what might happen if God and the women-folks were left alone together.