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.
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.