by Samantha Field cross posted from Defeating The Dragons
We’re not under The Law anymore.
It’s the typical Christian go-to explanation for why modern believers usually don’t attempt to follow all the prohibitions laid out in the Torah. We’re in the Church Age now, which means were Under Grace, which means those rules don’t really apply to us anymore. We can eat all the bacon we want. Of course, since I grew up in fundamentalism, I occasionally ran into families and churches that did actually try to do their best to follow “The Law,” although the way they applied it was a little silly. No eating pork or crab, but they were fine using the same bowls for cereal and stew.
However, even though we all knew that The Law didn’t apply to us anymore, it’s still in our Bibles, and so it’s something we have to struggle with at least a little bit. Why did God tell the Jewish people to not trim their sideburns? Why couldn’t they wear clothing made out of two kinds of fiber? For questions like that, we usually said “because God wanted them to be a peculiar people.” He wanted them to stand out from the surrounding cultures, so everyone could instantly tell who was a Jew. That same reasoning applied to why modern Christians are called to be “separated.”
However, for things like “why couldn’t they eat catfish?” the answer changed: “because God knew something they didn’t. God was protecting them.” For example, pork is more likely to carry a host of bacteria, and it has to be handled and cooked carefully in order to be safe. Given that the Torah was recorded by a Bronze Age people group, saying “just don’t eat this” was probably an easier thing to communicate generationally than “make sure its internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Farenheit, and oh, by the way, this is how you make a thermometer.”
So, when I stumbled across the prohibitions surrounding menstruation, that was the explanation I got: God was protecting women.
I accepted that answer up until the moment I got my period, and then I decided they sucked.
Because I was niddah, I could not be touched, held, comforted. Anything I sat on would become unclean. And not only that, after my period was over I’d have to march myself over to the Temple in order to present a sin offering for being a woman.
Even at fourteen years old, that rankled.
My small group is reading through Rachel Held Evan’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and a few weeks ago we read her “April: Purity–The Worst Time of the Month to go Camping” chapter; reading it reminded me of all my old questions about Leviticus 15.
So, I did a little digging into the term “sin offering,” just to be sure. It’s from the Hebrew wordchatta’ath (חַטָּאָת), sometimes shortened to chatat. According to Tracy Rich, the chatat is “A sin offering is an offering to atone for and purge a sin. It is an expression of sorrow for the error and a desire to be reconciled with G-d.”
Pretty much what it says, then. And that bothers me. For ceremonial and religious purposes, I can understand perhaps requiring an olah, the burnt offering, because of it representing submission to God’s will and a desire to be in communion with him. But a sin offering? For menstruating? I’m not the only person to notice this, either. Tirzah Meacham pointed out that a lot of the laws regarding emissions “result, however, [in privileging] normal males and disadvantag[ing] all females.”
And, as always, I’m blown away by what he did.
We know her as “The Woman with Issue of Blood.” The early church called her Veronica. We don’t know much about her, only that she had been hemorrhaging for twelve years and no doctor could help her. Given the culture at the time, it was likely that if she had been married her husband could have used her medical condition as legal grounds for divorce. We do know that she couldn’t participate in any religious ceremonies, and that she was denied any comforting touch. That, and she was struggling with a horrible, probably debilitating, illness.
But she touches Jesus.
And he calls her “Daughter.”
It’s moments like that when I hug my Bible and weep, because Jesus . . . Jesus makes everything alright again. Jesus would have been within his rights as a Jewish male to condemn this woman for daring to touch him, for daring to make him tumah. He could have. But he didn’t. He gave her comfort, commended her for her faith, and told her to go in peace. He didn’t care about the letter of the law; he cared about people. There were so many times during his life when he could have insisted on being right, insisted on what “God has clearly said is sin,” but he didn’t.
Samantha has also written a couple of very moving pieces about rape culture and the piece by the youth pastor that was featured in and then later taken down by the Christianity Today.
Samantha grew up in the homeschool, patriarchy, quiverfull, and fundamentalist movements, and experienced first-hand the terror and manipulation of spiritual abuse. She is now married to an amazing, gentle man who doesn’t really get what happened to her but loves her anyway. With him by her side and the strength of God’s promises, she is slowly healing.