Peter tells husbands to live with their wives understanding her physical hardships in life, as one with whom we share an inheritance (1 Peter 3:7). Here is an edited version of an article on the topic that my wife, Helen wrote some years ago for the Equal But Different Journal.
From the Dean’s wife…
I was preparing a study on Hannah when I began to think about the judgement on the woman in the Garden: ‘To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children…”.
Was there more to God’s judgement than first meets the eye? Could Hannah’s situation as a childless, seemingly infertile, wife have something to do with the judgement on the woman in the Garden? For the judgement on the woman is to do with her womanliness. From puberty through childbearing to menopause, from the beginning of pregnancy through the sleepless nights with a new baby and the anxieties of being a parent of teenagers to, the scariness of seeing grandchildren born and concern for that generation, too – motherhood never ends!
When I think of puberty I remember those girls who had such pain that they took strong painkillers and missed several days of school each month. It was not an easy time for them at all!
When I think of pregnancy I think of those women who have and are facing the desperation of infertility. Longing to be pregnant, and to experience the joy of motherhood, they wait each month hoping that this time they will find that it has happened. And what of the dreadful sickness, which some women encounter during pregnancy itself, commonly misnamed ‘morning sickness’? Some women wish that it was indeed confined to the morning only!
I am reminded of those who die in childbirth. It still occurs and not only in developing countries. And miscarriages? And premature birth? And stillbirth? And what about obstetric fistulas? What of those who suffer the pain of endometriosis?
When I think about the problems of being a woman, I remember, also, the women who have had their dreams shattered by ectopic pregnancies and hysterectomies, to say nothing of the great difficulties which others face at the other end of their reproductive lives. The dreaded menopause!
There may be other conditions of being a woman that I do not know about and which you can add to this list? Being a woman on this earth and under the judgement of God is a fearsome thing!
The Bible recognizes the difficulties of being a woman in this fallen world. Here are just some passages indicating this difficulty:
(1) Hannah is not the only example of a woman who seemed infertile. What of Sarah and Rachel, Samson’s mother and Elizabeth? The ‘barren womb’ is one of the four things that never say “enough” (Proverbs 28:15f).
(2) Rachel‘s labour is described as ‘hard’ (Genesis 35:16). How often is a difficult time likened to the anguish of a woman in labour (Psalm 48:6, Isaiah 13:8, Isaiah 42:14, Jeremiah 6:24 and 22:23)?
(3) I have often wondered if the circumstances of Benjamin’s birth indicate that Benjamin was premature (Genesis 35:16-18). Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:8 indicates knowledge of premature birth.
(4) Job’s despairing cries (Job 3:10-16) reveal that the death of children at the time of birth and stillbirths were indeed known to him.
(5) It is interesting that Rachel surely refers to menstruation as an excuse for not getting up in Genesis 31:35.
(6) Maternal death during childbirth is also seen in the death of Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife (Genesis 35:16-20) and Phinehas’ wife in 1 Samuel 4:16-22.
(7) The difficulties of motherhood dealing with growing and grown children are also seen, particularly in Proverbs, where a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother and a foolish man despises his mother (Proverbs 10:1, 15:20).
(8) The people of God knew of miscarriage (see Exodus 23:26) and men causing it (Exodus 21:22-24).
(9) The vulnerability of the pregnant woman and the nursing mother is seen in Jesus’ comments in Mark 13:17 and Luke 23:29.
(10) And the Scripture knows that there is a time when women are past childbearing (Genesis 18:11).
So what are we to make of our lot? Are we to wring our hands and blame Eve? Are we to cry out to our Maker when in any of the difficulties of our fallen womanliness? Are we to support medical and psychological research, which we hope may relieve us of the various pains and sufferings connected with being a woman? Certainly we can appeal to our loving Maker who can and does hear our heartfelt pleas and appeals and does act in love for he not only hears but cares for us. Because he knows and wants what is best for us, we do not always get exactly what we pray for, or when we pray for it. Certainly we would want to support research, which will relieve and help us in our ‘difficult’ times as women and in childbirth.
However, the judgement on us as women will still remain in varying degrees as long as we live in this fallen world. We are part of that world which waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; part of creation which was subjected to futility: part of the creation which will be set free from the bondage to decay; part of those who wait eagerly for adoption – for the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:19-23).
Our difficulties remind us that though part of a fallen world, God has chosen to redeem us through the sacrifice of his son for us. We will see that redemption in the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells and where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Some may be tempted to call out, “How long, O Lord?”, and, “Come. Lord Jesus!”