The Proverbs 31 woman is none other than Lady Wisdom herself.
And that’s the key for any woman to think about how to be the so-called Proverbs 31 woman.
I made this point, or much of it, in my last post on the Proverbs 31:10-31 woman. Proverbs is structured on a spectacular woman of wisdom to whom all are called to follow and even love. The “seams” of the book – Proverbs 1, 9, and 31 – present this woman to us.
Using structures of ancient poems, Proverbs 31 can be read as an "ode to a superhero". All, men and women alike, are called to embrace this super-heroic wisdom of God.
Doesn’t this text say something – anything – to Christian women? Can’t we let women have and apply this one passage that seems to speak so clearly to them or of them? How should a woman – many of whom have gone all their life to this chapter – read Proverbs 31?
My answer: Christian woman can read Proverbs 31 as those called to refract divine character, and not as those called to be divine.
The lure is there. The lure is there to take Proverbs 31 as a call, intentional or not, for women to be divine. Examples abound of women being trained to read Proverbs 31 as a seemingly impossible list of simultaneous, conflicting duties.
In such a reading, women are, to use the illustration above, called to be superheroes. And after trying it for awhile, these women sing out like the songwriter in that Coldplay song:
I've been reading books of old
The legends and the myths
Achilles and his gold
Hercules and his gifts
And Batman with his fists
And clearly I don't see myself upon that list
How could any woman be on “the list” of superheroes fit to Proverbs 31?
And yet many women hear that call of Proverbs 31 and seemingly suffocate. Ask a woman with young children to "rise while it is yet night" (v15) and also to stay awake with a lamp that does not go out at night (v18) and you'll see what I mean.
Indeed, wrongly framed Proverbs 31 teaching can have disastrous effects on family life, women’s mental health, and even women's walk with God. The problem? Such teachings call women to be lady wisdom, and not to refract the wisdom of God.
I use the image of refraction intentionally. The refraction illustration is not original to me, and it’s often used in discussions of the perfections of God (wisdom included).
Imagine the perfection of God as a ray of pure, wonderful white light. What happens to such a light when it shines through a prism? The colors refract out as the colors of the rainbow. Each individual color you see (red, orange, yellow, etc.) is not identical to the white light; it is a finite, part-refraction of the singular light that entered the prism.
So it is in our lives. We cannot possess the infinity of God’s character (here, seen as the white light). But as His light shines through us as image-bearers, our finite lives refract in a sense the character of His infinite light and perfection.
So what does this mean for women of God? Simply this: no woman can ever do all of the Proverbs 31 call at once. Of course not. They aren’t divine.
But in all of Proverbs, the wisdom we are called to is that finite refraction of who God is in Himself. So can women refract the Proverbs 31 wisdom? Can the infinity of wisdom and glory and perfection of God shine through in the finite, suffering-but-glorious lives of the women of Jesus’ church? Absolutely.
So, women of the church: read Proverbs 31. The load of divinity is off your shoulder. The load of divinity gives way to the freedom and beauty of refraction.
No woman can be it or do it all at once. But over the life of women of God, that refraction will shine through in such a way as to point to His infinite glory.
And so, by God’s grace, your hands refract the wisdom of God (v13, 19, v20). Worn though they are with the weariness of the day, those hands stretch out in love toward those nearest her with a desire to provide even as God has provided for us. It won’t be perfect – it’ll be a beautiful refraction.
In Christ, the women's mind refracts God’s wisdom (v16, v18). She becomes a finite capable decision-maker, seeing how God would use her mind to consider the world, perceive it, and leave an imprint that reflects His character.
In Christ, a woman’s inner joy refracts God’s wisdom (v25). The strength and dignity that clothe her reveal a heart united to Christ, the strong and dignified one that has made this woman strong in the face of the sufferings and pains of life.
In Christ, a woman’s fear of God refracts indeed the awe due to God alone (v30). The wonder of this woman is ultimately not her external beauty (v29) or her superhuman capacity. The wonder is that she is an awe of the God who redeems her.
All this refraction will be imperfect on this side of glory. And even in glory, it will be a finite refraction of the infinite God. But it is wonderful.
I’m thankful for the women of God that surround me – in my family and my church – that so point us all to the infinite character of God. Of these women it can be said, as in the final verse of Proverbs, “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (Prov. 31:31).
Lyrics to “Something Just Like This” by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay. It’s a great song. Ask my kids. They love it.