In Gaudy Night, a 1935 mystery set in an Oxford University women’s college, Dorothy L. Sayers depicts a conversation between Lord Peter Wimsy (Sayers’ aristocratic sleuth) and Dr. Baring, the College Warden (what we’d call the President or Chancellor). Dr. Baring begins to ask his opinion of women’s education in general and the college in particular, causing him to interpose:
‘I hope you are not going to ask me whether I approve of women’s doing this and that.’
‘You should not imply that I have any right either to approve or disapprove.’
While the novel shows the Warden to be a woman who would not modify her decisions based on the opinion of a man, many find it hard to do without the approval of others for their actions. They thrive under the approval of others and wither under disapproval.
The problem is that such approval or disapproval is almost invariably given without enough information to know what those other people talking about. It’s just opinion, and it’s based on the little they do know – or think they know.
The Bible warns against such opinions.
Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions. (Proverbs 18:2.)
Opinions are only as good as the facts on which they are based, and giving an opinion without understanding the facts is worthless.* Yet you might think that even if no one else understands you fully you at least understand yourself. Even so, self-approval based on your own opinion is not biblically endorsed.
For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (2 Corinthians 10:18.)
How does this tie in with Peter Wimsey’s dialog with the Warden, where he says men have no business approving or disapproving a woman’s choices for her own life? For that we must look at a circumstance much further back than the state of women’s higher education in pre World War II England.
When Royal Advisors Went to a Woman for Counsel
The royal advisors to King Josiah (641-609 BCE) needed spiritual insight, so they went to the source: a prophet of God named Huldah. Huldah is different from most prophets you read about in the Bible.
She’s a woman.
Hilkiah and those the king had sent with him went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter. (2 Kings 22:14.)
She’s a woman, and yet there is no hint of hesitation or reluctance in these powerful men going to her for guidance. That’s because she was not like the people described in Proverbs 18:2, who give opinions of the tops of their heads and speak because they like to hear themselves speak. Huldah was well known and must have developed a reputation as a true prophet, meeting the standards Moses set centuries earlier:
If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. (Deuteronomy 18:22.)
Being a prophet in Israel meant never speaking of God except what is true of him. This is the track record Huldah must have developed in order for King Josiah and his advisors (men) to place their trust in her (a woman) on royal matters affecting the nation of Israel.
Huldah, on the other hand, was not concerned with what these men thought of her. At least that’s the impression given in her response to them regarding the future of Israel.
She doesn’t make any attempt to be subservient. She is not concerned with their positions as men nor hers as a woman. She does not take steps to couch her prophetic warnings in a way that somehow caters to male egos having to take instructions from a woman.
She just tells them like it is because that’s her job as a prophet of God.
And they listened to her carefully and took her message back to the king. None of them said they approved or disapproved of a woman being a prophet. They might even have scorned the idea – in the same way Lord Peter did – had anyone suggested it. They knew that God chose Huldah for his prophet, and that’s all the approval needed.
What about you? If you belong to Jesus, then God has work for you to do in his kingdom as well. Whether it’s teaching or organizing or baking or babysitting – and whether you are a woman or a man – all is well when you are doing it under God’s leading. Don’t let anyone tell you they have a right to approve or disapprove.
If God chose you for the work, that’s all the approval you need.