Resurrection and natural law: a feminist perspective

By Heather W. Reichgott

As Easter approaches, here is a feminist perspective on the resurrection.

Plenty of feminist theologians take a dim view of miracles, for a variety of reasons. Some feminists react against the authoritarian/literalist(1) view of the Bible that insists at the same time on miracles and on the superiority of men over women. Others are closely aligned with academic and other communities that prefer a scientific view of the world, or rather, one form of science in which miracles are not considered a possibility. While I respect these positions, I am a feminist who takes a strong view of miracles, especially the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection, a gracious act of God subverting the normal processes of nature, has crucial implications for theologies of gender that base themselves in natural law.

In her article “Queering Death,” Elizabeth Stuart reaches back to the ancient linkage of death and reproduction. Male and female cleave together in intercourse to produce children; the parents die; the children live on and produce more children. Meditating on the resurrection account in the gospel of John, Stuart claims that the resurrection undoes the necessity of this pattern, for it undoes the finality of death.

The natural law tradition in theology, which argues from evidence in the created world to make propositions about what should be, holds to a theology of gender that is based on the physical events of heterosexual intercourse and reproduction. Since heterosexual genitals can be made to fit together, and since this activity sometimes produces children who grow in the womb of the woman and nurse from her breasts, the argument claims that therefore procreative heterosexual intercourse is the only legitimate context for human sexuality, and that women’s existence is ineluctably tied to their responsibility to bear children in a way that men’s existence is not.

The problem with this argument is that the link between natural process and ethical necessity has been broken completely by the resurrection. In the resurrection God demonstrates that She is beyond death. Jesus, who had been killed, is restored to Mary Magdalene and Peter and Thomas, all those who loved him and all those who hated him. The work of God that Jesus was doing was not stopped by the resurrection. Jesus rose from the grave, undoing death once and for all, giving us reason to hope even in the midst of the tombs.

If this is what God can do with such a natural process of death, what does that mean for gender?

Clearly we cannot look merely at the world we see in front of us to understand what God wishes us to be. This is not all there is. That is the basis for Christian hope, whether such hopes are directed at survival, healing, social change or life after death.

Stuart writes, “It was not just that God defeated death, but that God did so in human flesh, and this has profound implications for flesh itself. It bursts from the tomb, the same but different: a flesh no longer made for cleaving nor for oblivion. … For a Christian, death does not even threaten the end of bodiliness, but rather becomes a physical experience/encounter with the divine.” (2)

If God’s plan for life and death is not limited by the grave, then there is no reason to believe God’s plan for gender is limited by the natural process of heterosexual reproduction. And in fact, a thorough reading of the Bible presents us with numerous women whose importance to the work of God far outstrips their reproductive roles. Women in God’s eyes are much more than wives and mothers; indeed, they need not be wives and mothers in order to be pivotal figures in Biblical narrative, or to be pivotal figures in God’s work in the world today.

In the resurrection God takes a natural process and subverts it completely. As people of the resurrection, Christian women may be confident that God has completely subverted the “natural” rules of gender once and for all.

(1) No one can really be a literalist, since it is impossible to obey the entire Bible at the same time; however, I use the term since it points to a frame of mind which readers will recognize.
(2) “Queering Death” in The Sexual Theologian, eds. Althaus-Reid and Isherwood (T&T Clark, 2004), p. 62-63.

9 responses to “Resurrection and natural law: a feminist perspective

  1. Since when did death become a “natural process”? That viewpoint is certainly not Christian. I’m afraid your basic premise is wrong which therefore invalidates your conclusion.

  2. My recollections about my past life are filled with loving,caring,selfless actions of
    my Mother, My Wife and some other women who made a lasting impression on my life. I believe that God has many wonderful surprises in store for us. BUT,
    in this current life I believe He meant man and woman to join for reproduction. Same as for most animal species.

    When I visit gave sites my thoughts go to
    more great women I personally knew. Those who had a profound influence upon me and my actions in this life.

  3. Hmm. I’m not sure that Natural Law is really salvageable as an ally in feminist thought. I could be wrong, but I think that Natural Law is flawed from the get go.

    For example in the context of your Reformed theological views, Heather, there probably lurks a high view of God’s sovereignty, meaning it is appropriate that you would take the stand that God can and does subvert the natural order through the resurrection. But this is not really an accurate understanding of Natural Law since in Natural Law study it is generally held that laws discovered through observation of nature reveal something to us about God’s Eternal Law. Thus if the Resurrection is in accord with God’s Eternal Law (as I think it surely must be – in fact I think it is the highest principle of God’s Eternal Law) then it can’t be said that it violates a true Natural Law, or that it changes Natural Laws. What could be said, and I think ought to be said, is that we had an incorrect understanding of Natural Law from the beginning.

    Women were never to be defined by their role as mothers and wives. Sex was never limited to heterosexual intercourse for procreation. We were all wrong about the “nature” of things and God proves it to us by Resurrecting Jesus.

  4. Thanks John, Rod and Aric for the comments.

    John: By “natural” I don’t mean that death is necessarily part of the order of creation as it should be. I don’t mean that death is fundamentally good in some way. I mean that death is part of the creation we observe around us. The observed creation is the basis for natural law theology.

    Rod: Hurrah for the wonderful women in your life! And hurrah for surprises too.

    Aric: We seem to have had an abnormal communication glitch. I’m not actually a big fan of natural law theology, mostly because of my views on nature and grace: nature is created good but is also fallen, so that it becomes very hard to observe “what is” and thereby come to conclusions about “what should be.” Also, our equipment for observing and coming to conclusions–our eyes and brains and all of that–is fallen too.

    Since those views on nature and grace are pretty orthodox for a Protestant, that really makes me wonder why so many orthodox Protestants are suddenly willing to go to natural law theology when it comes to gender roles.

  5. Fun post, Heather! Congrats on the VOS blog. I’ve added you to my blogroll and will return often.

    In response to a commenter about “since when did death become a natural process” I guess I would say since the Big Bang.

    If it weren’t for the death of stars, Earth wouldn’t exist. Imagine life without death. Mosquitos living forever?

  6. I rarely disagree with Aric, but I think I do here. Natural law is what we learn from observing nature. Miracles and resurrection are not found in nature. We don’t even have any physical evidence Jesus really rose from the dead. On the basis of natural law, the whole resurrection thing is a fantasy.

    (I happen to believe in that fantasy in spite of all the physical evidence to the contrary)

    Death is a fundamental part of nature. Life depends on it. Without the constant churning and recycling of all this stardust life cannot exist. It is what happens as matter comes together and gets configured and reconfigured through endless iterations, cycles and recycles.

    But I sometimes wonder where “life” begins. Maybe all of nature is “alive” and we are to nature what brain cells are to a living human being. Maybe “death” is just how we get recycled into some other manifestation of “life”. You look at a living cell and ask “what makes you alive?” Either it’s a machine as inanimate as the atoms that make it work just so, or the very atoms themselves cry out “we live!”. I type this keyboard because down deep inside, an electron in my brain willed it so.

    And if I am gay or straight it’s because the community of cells and atoms that make me who I am have made it so, just as the community of people who live in France speak French and the community who live in England speak English. They didn’t really choose it that way, it just sort of works out that way.

    Unless you think speaking French is a sin.

    Nature does not explain it all to us. We don’t really know all its laws.

    There is room for Aric’s view to be true.

  7. We know Jesus died in the flesh and He is risen. Did His Spirit or Soul died also? Any biblical references please. Luke 46 And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’”(Psalm 31:5 Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
    You have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.) Having said this, He breathed His last.

  8. Wow, this is kind of brilliant. How did I miss this? Must have learned about it but forgotten.

  9. Rev wisdom mensah

    post office box 127 Accra /Kaosa West Africa
    Ghana
    jesus is the power miracle ministry

    Dear Sir / madam
    i am very delighted to write you this letter. how are you? l hope by the grace of God you are fine as i am here . the reason why i am writhing you this letter is about my ministry, Sir. first of all, Sir, l have orphans in my ministry whose parents are dead in the ministry and in same villages. their both parent are dead and their relatives dot care for them even where to get food to eat they suffer before getting their daily bread Sir, so please i need you help so that we can help them in the villages to get food to eat. secondly/they don’t have any one to even pay their school fees for them to go to school so they are in the house doing nosing without schooling and i want you to come in to contact with my ministry so that we can help them to educate them well as we can to help them in their various villages.
    thirdly the place where they fetch their drinking water is very far and the water too is contaminated with rubbish but because they don’t have good drinking water they fetch it like that and the children walk miles before getting their drinking water or before the get water to drink in the village and is too bad so please, help us give them portable/ hygienic and nu contaminated other whiles all the orphans will dill because their drinking waters not good, so they fall sick everyday but we do not have money to send them to the clinic for treatment so please help us save their lives. finally even they do not have clothing, shelter, sandals, slippers etc.if you get to the village, all are naked and barefooted in the village so please i want you to give a hands of help to the options in the village all that you don’t help them save their life from all that suffering they are passing through in the village and the bible says the one who care for the orphans is !
    blessed
    in heaven so please help us save their life.
    you faithfully Rev wisdom mensah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s