As a girl growing up in an evangelical church, I was taught to see Christ’s likeness in male heroes like Moses, David, and Paul. The imagery of redemption was male, too. There were farmers, owners of vineyards, a prodigal son, a Good Samaritan. All of them men.
It was not until I was well into my thirties that I started to see that some of my uniquely female experiences are beautiful and poignant pictures within the redemption story. Consider the motif of new life born of blood and water, pain and sacrifice.
One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water (John 19:34).
With the blood and water that flowed out of Jesus came new life. Redemption.
Blood and water came out of me also. My water broke, and amniotic fluid mixed with blood flowed out of my womb and down my legs. In pain and labor, with much toil, I brought forth a child. My own body was torn asunder in an episode of great suffering. This is the story of life. Life out of the blood and water that flowed mingled down. Life born out of self-sacrifice. I am speaking of childbirth, yes, but even more, I am speaking of the redemption of humanity.
This framing of the redemption story through pregnancy, labor, and childbirth has been life-changing for me. It took me more than thirty years to realize that a female perspective was not being presented in the churches I had attended. Not many churches say directly, “Women’s stories don’t count,” but by the subtle omission of their stories and perspectives, the message is loud and clear. Our sacred text certainly sends a very different message, one that is filled with the stories, perspectives, and imagery of women. I am empowered as I recognize that as a woman I embody the narrative of redemption, and as I see that women have been a part of the greater redemptive picture since the beginning.
The blood, water, and pain of childbirth are where the story of redemption begin.
“I’ll greatly increase the pain of your labor during childbirth,” God spoke to Eve after she sinned. Just before this, he spoke to the serpent and said,
I’ll place hostility between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring. He’ll strike you on the head, and you’ll strike him on the heel (Gen. 3:15).
From the beginning we knew the Messiah, the one who would bring redemption, would come forth in labor pain from the woman’s womb.
Eve was the first woman who felt in her own body the suffering and pain of childbirth. Blood and water flowed out of her, yet she labored with the hope of God’s promise in mind, knowing that her future offspring would be the redeemer, the crusher of the serpent who deceived her.
Mary was the woman who bore in her own body Eve’s offspring, the Christ, the Redeemer, the promised child. Blood and water flowed out of Mary, too, as she labored to bring forth the promised child, Jesus, who would save the world from their sins.
Blood and water flowed out of Jesus as well, and eternal life was birthed. Jesus finished in his own body that for which the woman’s body labored: life. As a result, we have all become new.
The labor and birth of each of my own four children reminds me of this beautiful picture of redemption. “I get it!” I want to exclaim. This particular imagery I understand very well; I have lived it out bodily. I know what it’s like to suffer to bring forth life. This truth transformed me and renewed my mind in a profound way.
Truths like these can renew the church and the world as well. The diverse ways in which humans experience the truths of Scripture remind us that we must include a wide variety of Christian voices in the theological community. And I don’t mean just women who have birthed children. I mean all kinds of women and all kinds of humans with all kinds of stories and histories. Stories of oppression and deliverance, stories of infertility, stories of abuse and healing, stories of sacrifice. When we see ourselves and our lives portrayed in the imagery and metaphors within Scripture, we realize that we count. We realize that God sees us, too. We are in his story, and he is making us new. And through us, he is making the world new.