The God who sees – Hagar. God who hears – Hannah. God who protects – Tamar. God who provides – Rahab. God who heals – woman who was bleeding. God who loves – Mary Magdalene. God who values – Mary (of Mary and Martha). God who cares – Mary (the mother of Jesus).
In the stories of women encountering God in the Bible we find him revealing something specific of himself to them. It is in this revelation of himself that they find themselves caught up into his story, they find their true being, their identity and place of belonging.
Fatima is deeply religious, devout in the practices of her faith, desiring to change so her life better reflects her religion. We have often talked about our faiths together, about our desires to live in ways that honoured God. So much of what we wanted was very similar. She pursued reading the Qur’an, prayer in all of its forms, acts of compassion and mercy.
A few years ago Fatima’s husband was diagnosed with cancer. Her world shattered. The pressures of his treatment and helping him and the rest of the family through this difficult time were hard for her. As she pursued more vigorously her religious practices and duties, often adding extra to win favour with God, the silence and unknowabiity of God weighed heavily on her. She wanted something from God.
I shared afresh some of the stories of women of the Bible with her, of their encounters with God. Sometime later I realised I had missed something in sharing those stories. I had shared the stories from the perspective of the women, their need and how God met it. What about God’s perspective? How did God reveal himself to these women?
Hagar’s encounter with God is one we return to often. Her encounter with God saw this profound revelation from God that he was the one who sees. When Jesus met the woman who was bleeding he revealed himself not just as the God who heals but also the God who restores.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Fatima about this again as we shared our journeys in caring for family with cancer. I was telling her about this fresh understanding I had of these stories; that in them God showed each woman something deeply personal and life changing about himself; something that allowed them to navigate the difficulty they faced. She searched for ways to show that in her reading of the Qur’an but struggled.
Fatima’s husband has come through his battle and is doing well. When we talked about my sister losing her battle with cancer, I shared that in the story of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus God helped me to know him as the God who comforts.
As I think about these stories that I am so familiar with, stories of women who encounter God, I am asking myself afresh who is the God who reveals himself in this story; how does God make himself known.
And when I look at the names by which he is revealed in scripture, I wonder if there are stories that help us understand how women might experience God more through revelations of this name. What about the ‘I am’ statements that Jesus makes? What stories help women find God here?
What stories of God’s encounters with women help reveal something more of who he is? What names of God are explained in different stories of women meeting with God? Perhaps this is a fresh way starting point in our encounters with women who live under Islam. After all, we want to introduce them to God who makes himself known.
(c) When Women Speak … January 2023
CH has spent almost four decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).