The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

The "Proverbs 31" Woman

You may have heard of her.

I usually don't pay any mind to this cultural phenomenon because Steed Davidson's Old Testament class taught me a completely different way to read Proverbs 31. You may ask, then, why I am writing this, if I do not care about the Proverbs 31 woman.

It's because in the last week or so, I've seen more references to her than usual, and even one by a friend who does not usually blog about religion, but came across the Proverbs 31 woman some other way.

I'm writing this because the women I've seen aspiring to be what they read as an ideal woman are very smart and wonderful and I think they deserve better than what they've been taught about Proverbs 31.

You see, the author of Proverbs 31 did not write it about his wife. Or about his ideal wife. Or about his daughter. Or about his neighbor's wife. Or about his favorite female celebrity. He wrote it about the people Israel.

There are many metaphors for the nation of Israel, and Israel as a woman is often a major theme. Israel is often referred to as a whore, prostitute, wayward wife, adulteress, etc., because "she" has strayed from God, her "husband."

This is one of those realities of the Old Testament that we wish we could shove under the rug. We forget that most hearers/readers of these early scripture were men, and that they did not value the women in their lives the way we value women in our lives, today. [Even though sometimes we suck at that, too.] This piece of scripture is not a prescription for an ideal woman. Your Bible's editors may even have entered a heading for this section, "A Woman of Noble Character" or "The Good Wife" or something like that.

That's okay, if you can remember that it's a metaphor for the nation of Israel.

If it helps you to be a better human being to aspire to be as many of the things Proverbs 31 prescribes, more power to you. But I worry about you if you think [even ever so subconsciously] that your husband will not love you or your God will not love you if you are not immediately and perfectly all of these things.

You can aspire to be whichever woman of the Bible you choose. [I'd go Mary Magdalene on this one, if you're asking. She was Jesus' BFF and (probably) wife. That sounds pretty fun, to me.] But please, when you read words like this, if they ever stop making you feel loved for who you are, and start making you feel worried that you're not good enough, they're ceasing to be the word of God, to you. I really believe that.

There are A LOT of women who are in relationships that are hurtful because they do not believe they can ever be good enough to please their husbands; many of these women also believe their highest and best purpose is to please their husbands. These relationships cannot be sustained. These relationships weigh heavily on fear.

Please, keep reading your Bible, if that's a thing you do. And please, keep aspiring to be of noble character. But please, do not let the Bible or your husband define who you should become as a way to put down who you presently are.

Okay? Good talk.

How then can we ever argue?

Sigh.