Forty women: 1. Eve

It’s Lent and I wanted to embrace a daily writing practice, but it’s taken until 9pm on Ash Wednesday to give that some shape. My plan is to post each day a reflection on a different Old Testament woman. On a couple of days I’ll consider more than one woman (Shiphrah and Puah, for example), and very occasionally I’ll be looking at unnamed women (e.g. Lot’s wife), but mostly I’m sticking to women who appear with their given name, sometimes in very significant roles, and sometimes in much more minor roles. There are many more than forty women named in the Old Testament, of course, but where the only thing we’re told about them is who their husband was, or who their father or son was, it’s not easy to say much else about them. But it wasn’t hard to find forty that I thought I would have something worthwhile to say to us.

We begin, of course, with Eve. Eve was a woman unlike any other because Eve alone among women knew what it was to live in a world without sin. She walked and worked in a garden-world without weeds or thistles. She loved and lived in a marriage without sin. Nothing had been spoiled, not yet. Nothing had been broken or twisted, bent or withered under the curse. There was true freedom, to enjoy all God’s good creation, with only one rule and that was a good one, for their protection and blessing.

I can barely even begin to imagine what that was like. No disappointment, no frustration, no despair, no misery. Joy and delight in their marriage, satisfaction and fulfilment in their work. Freedom from fear, freedom from pain, and freedom from shame.

“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Genesis 2:25

It’s a strange comment, isn’t it? Why would we think there might be any shame? There’s no sin to be ashamed of.

But the writer of Genesis 2:25 knows that shame is more complicated than that. Shame doesn’t have to be earned. It doesn’t have to be deserved. It doesn’t always come from shameful acts. Shame can be pressed upon us for all kinds of reasons, but our bodily functions and appearance are an easy vehicle for shame. Readers of Genesis might well have experienced nakedness as something shameful, but Adam and his wife, Eve, did not. Not yet.

Women are shamed for their bodies in all kinds of ways: shamed for having breasts that are too large or breasts that are too small, shamed for being too curvy or too straight, shamed for having periods and for not having periods, shamed for infertility and shamed for having a body that has been reshaped by pregnancy. We are shamed for our sexuality: for enjoying sex or for being frigid, for ‘playing hard to get’ and for ‘asking for it’. We are even shamed for being the victims of sexual assault.

From a frighteningly early age, girls learn to be ashamed of their bodies, ashamed of their femaleness, ashamed of their sexuality.

But Eve was naked with her husband and felt no shame.

When we teach girls that their bodies are not shameful, when teenagers learn that they don’t have to be embarrassed to go through puberty, when women can be naked with their husbands and feel no shame in it then we experience a little glimpse of Eve’s paradise.

The gospel hope is that one day, we will once again walk face to face with our heavenly bridegroom, in the true paradise, a world that is once again without sin, and then we too will know what it is like to be free from fear, free from pain and free from shame.

Forty women: 2. Sarai