I know that today’s title is provocative, but I didn’t choose it for the purpose of provoking. Instead, I chose to address this question because it is one that some Christian women genuinely ask. In fact, a few feminist theologians have gone so far as to ask the far more provocative question:
Can a male savior save women?
From some of you, this latter question immediately seems absurd. To give you a little backdrop on its origins, the question is a response to the patriarchal perversions of Christianity and the sinful distortions by which Scripture has wrongly been used to hurt and oppress women. Some feminist theologians believe that these evils are the natural end of a male-dominated religion. And from such a perspective, it is difficult for some women (and men) to conceive of how a patriarchal religion could possibly be liberating for women.
I will leave the nuances of Christianity and patriarchy for another day. Today, I want to engage one aspect of the title question, an aspect that is relevant to all women, feminist or not.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Likewise, church theologians have historically affirmed the fullness of Jesus’ humanity and the representative nature of his human experience. In St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man) he famously wrote of the debt that humanity alone owed but God alone could pay.
Inherent in both Scriptural and traditional statements about Christ’s humanity is the belief that Jesus was fully human and fully able to represent us in our own humanity.
And yet, Jesus’ human experience was not like that of many humans. For one thing, he never married, a distinction that separates his human experience from a large bulk of the earth’s population. But even more importantly, Jesus was a man. He never had the experience of being a woman.
Now the issue of Jesus’ gender is not important from the standpoint of salvation. Men and women alike are made in God’s image and have the same fallen natures. There is a commonality to being human that transcends gender, so it is not theologically problematic that Jesus can represent humanity.
For me, the more relevant question is that of relationship, of being known. When Jesus was on earth, did he really get women in the way that he got men?
The short answer to that question is yes. Jesus did understand women on the most personal level because he created us. Jesus knows each one of us intimately because he was there at our conception and he knit us together. He knew who we would be and where our lives would take us.
But over the last three months I have learned an additional way in which woman can relate to Jesus, in a uniquely female way.
After I became pregnant and began to experience the symptoms of first trimester sickness, my body’s changes came as quite as shock. As someone who has had NO major health issues my entire life, it was rather jarring to experience such extended nausea and fatigue. My body has always done what I wanted it to (except in the realm of athletics!) so these three months have represented a loss of control that I have not readily embraced.
This pregnancy has taught me, in a way that I did not understand before, that bringing new life into this world entails the laying down of my own body. To create new life, I must sacrifice my own comfort and well-being. But out of that sacrifice springs forth a new body and a new soul.
In this way, pregnancy is a beautiful analogy of Christ’s sacrifice. Though the pains of pregnancy and labor are nothing compared to the pains of crucifixion, it is nevertheless one of the closest pictures we have of what happened on the cross. In both instances, a physical body suffers in order that a new birth can occur. While there are plenty of other ways in which Christians can model this analogy (ie. laying ourselves down in sacrificial ways to bring about the salvation of others), it is rare that one’s physical sacrifice literally breeds new life.
Now, I don’t think that mothers have a monopoly on understanding the sacrifice of Christ anymore than married people have a monopoly on understanding Christ’s relationship to the church. However, I do think this is one area of womanhood in which we have a unique connection to Jesus. As I continue to endure the hardships of pregnancy, I can hear divine echoes amidst the illness. When I feel tired and cranky or nauseous, I can remember the sacrifices that Christ made to give me new life. As I experience my morning sickness and fatigue, I get to participate in a faint reflection of the same life-giving sacrifice modeled by Christ, all the while praying that my sacrifice leads not only to a new child, but one day a child of God as well.