The Nature of Wisdom – Women, Rationality, and Reason

[Wisdom from guest blogger Rachel Darnall.]

Earlier this week, my good friend Jennifer Greenberg, who gets more than her fair share of trolls, attracted the attention of a certain “christian” gentleman who went a few rounds arguing with her, then shared one of her replies (the contents of which are not the point here) with this comment:

“This is why you should never bother with trying to convince women with logic and reasoning. They are not men, and there’s a reason why they are barred from being in the pulpit.”

Jennifer’s troll is an exaggerated example of a line of reasoning that I have seen many other times. It goes something like: the reason why God established male headship in marriage and restricted teaching offices in the Church to men is because men are by nature rational and logical, whereas women are by nature too emotional to reason on a man’s level, and they are therefore incapable of the understanding and discernment necessary to teach.

In the case above, the person espousing this belief was a man, a chauvinist, and a scoffer. However, it would be wrong and naïve to dismiss him, because I have heard identical sentiments from more “benign” sources, including Christian women themselves. In a private social media group which consists entirely of women, I have heard women refer to their Christian sisters and themselves as “emotion-bots” who need a man’s Spock-like logic to guide them.

This may sound like humility, but it’s not a humility grounded in Biblical truth.

Dismantling Denigration

It’s difficult to know just where to start with dismantling this idea, because it’s packed with too many false dichotomies to count. It would be easy, and not unreasonable, to begin by attacking the false dichotomy of man as wise and woman as foolish. I could easily make a case that scripture does not make understanding equivalent with masculinity. I could point to the Proverbs 31 wife, who “opens her mouth with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:26). I could point out the irony of the gentleman’s words in light of the fact that in Proverbs 8, wisdom – who says, “By me, kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just” (Prov. 8:15) – is portrayed in the feminine. All of this would be accurate and relevant, but it’s not my purpose here gain a point on the scoreboard for my sex.

I have no dog in the fight over the pulpit: as it happens, I myself hold to the view that authoritative teaching positions in the Church are to be held by qualified men (Tim and I differ in our view on this, but he has graciously invited me to write this post and share it here). At the heart of the position I described above is a wrong-headed view of women, but up-stream from that is a wrong-headed view of the nature, source, and purpose of wisdom.

Throughout the Bible it is made abundantly clear that human wisdom is held in holy derision by God. 1 Corinthians takes up this theme, and reveals the hope and promise of a different wisdom:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2: 15-16.)

Discernment of spiritual truth is not by the flesh (including that part of our flesh which distinguishes us as male or female), but by the Spirit, by whose ministry we possess the mind of Christ.

The question of whether the male mind possesses a more rational or analytical disposition than the female mind may be interesting fodder for someone’s pointy-headed dinner party discussion, but such worldly controversies have nothing to do with the spiritual discernment required to rightly understand the Word of God.

Women and Heavenly Wisdom – a promise from God

If women are barred from understanding the things of God based on our sex, then we are indeed to be pitied, but not because our folly disqualifies us from standing behind a pulpit. A pulpit is a nothing more than piece of wood, and it is of little eternal consequence whether one stands behind it or sits in front of it. What matters is eternal fellowship with Christ; and if we do not have the mind of Christ – which is the only way to be wise – then we do not have Christ. To say that women are condemned to folly by virtue of being women is to say that women are condemned, full stop.

Fortunately, God does not dole out His Spirit (see Gal. 3:27-29) or wisdom based on anatomy:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5.)

The arrogant will never seek the wisdom of God because they do not feel the lack that drives them to source of it. God will leave them to their counterfeit wisdom, but to those whose eyes have been opened to their foolishness, He proves Himself more than generous.

James tells us what heavenly wisdom looks like. There is no mention of right brain or left brain, of emotionalism or rationalism, or any fleshly aptitude:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13-17.)

If anyone claims to be wise while he boasts in his flesh and derides Christ’s sisters, you may be sure that he is deceiving himself. Wisdom is opposed to pride in every way. It begins with humility, and humility is its end.

What is the source of spiritual wisdom? Not a “masculine” mind purged clean of the stain of emotion, but God, who gives to all who ask.

What is the fruit of spiritual wisdom? Not the self-celebratory pride of man, but the humility of a creature who images a humble God.

What is the purpose of spiritual wisdom? Not so that we may win the ”prize” of a pulpit, but that we may receive the free gift of knowing Christ.

Let the world worry about comparing corrupt mind to corrupt mind, with measuring flesh against flesh. As for me, I have only one boast and one hope:

I was foolish, but Christ has made me wise.

***

Rachel Darnall is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Iron Ladies Magazine. Her writing has also appeared in Arc Digital and Fathom Magazine. She lives in Oregon with her husband, two daughters, and their border collie, Shostakovich. You can connect with her on her blog and on Twitter.

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7 Responses to The Nature of Wisdom – Women, Rationality, and Reason

  1. Thank you for this, Rachel. I appreciate how you’ve emphasized that true wisdom has nothing to do with whether we are male or female, emotional or logical, but is a gift from God poured out on all who ask Him for it.

    • Rachel Darnall says:

      Thanks Jeannie! I think it’s such a temptation to get entangled with comparing male vs. female but it’s just playing on their turf.

  2. I appreciate your logic in this post, Rachel.

    You and I will need to agree to disagree on women’s ordination (yes, I am ordained, and pastor a small Congregational church in the Chicago suburbs), but I can’t help but laugh at your description of women as emotion-bots. My third daughter (also named Rachel) is incredibly focused and logical, and can run rings around virtually anyone she comes up against in logical/analytical argumentation. She’s doing fabulously in a doctoral program right now – *humblebrag*

    Yes, God has made each of us unique and lovely and in God’s own image. No second-class citizens in God’s kingdom, ever.
    @chaplaineliza

    • Rachel Darnall says:

      Thanks! I’m cool with agreeing to disagree. 😉 I can’t claim credit for coming up with the term emotion-bots … it was literally what the woman in the group said. I was like, “um, I am not an emotion-bot, do I count?” There’s a lot that bugs me about that whole line of thought, not least is which that it sets hard-heartedness up as being a virtue. Humans don’t usually need any help having hard hearts . . . :/

  3. Muff Potter says:

    Let’s face it, the kinds of guys you illustrate in your article up-top are scared-you-know-what-less of the primal power and strength of women. And what’s more? I think that they’re jealous of it too.

  4. “This is why you should never bother with trying to convince women with logic and reasoning. They are not men, and there’s a reason why they are barred from being in the pulpit.”

    Ah yes, the shrill cry of the common male alreadyus losttheeargumentus……

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