By Nell Sunukjian

The year was 1963. I married Don Sunukjian that summer. President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed a couple miles from where we lived in Dallas. And Betty Friedan founded the Women’s Liberation movement in the United States by publishing The Feminine Mystique.

Ms. Friedan identified “the problem that had no name,” the dissatisfaction of American women with their role as a wife and mother. She, along with Gloria Steinem, launched the modern female equality movement that today is so much a part of our culture that has almost ceased to be a separate issue any more.

The culture was restless in the ‘60s. And that restlessness was present in the church, too. Women lined up on both sides of the raging debates about the identity and purpose and worth of a woman—debate issues such as, a woman should be in the home rearing her children or a woman should be educated and in the work force; or, a woman is different from a man or a woman is just like a man.

Christians are often misled by the voice of our culture. The world system, led by Satan, gives identity, purpose and worth to a woman only as it is purchased or earned. It has to be bought. And the currency is beauty—a very important currency for women—or talent, intelligence, ethnicity, wealth, education, or even rebelliousness. The world system, our culture, awards identity or worth based upon accomplishment.

Like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, I was seeking to live out my true identity. Like other thinking women, I was trying to understand the almost cataclysmic changes that were going on in the culture. I wanted God’s perspective on my truest worth. I didn’t want to be misled by my culture.

The question became, what does God, my Creator, say about me as a woman? And how can I draw my identity and worth from what God says and not from the lies of the culture? God tells us that he made women and designed us in his own image—that we are like him in crucial ways: we have will, emotion, creativity, relational skills, and decision-making abilities. And we are female, not male.

He created woman, first of all, with inherent worth when he made her. Genesis 1:27 says that we were created in his own image and in his likeness. The two words, image and likeness, seem to be somewhat interchangeable, and expand the meaning and emphasis rather than add a fresh aspect to the account.

Every woman has as great a worth as every man. Suppose two people are in a terrible car wreck. Is the driver of more value than the passenger? Of course not, how very ridiculous that would be. The paramedics are trying to save any life they can with no regard at all for who was driving and who was riding. They give care to the person who needs it most, because both have equal value.

What if the passenger is bi-polar or has blue eyes… does that mean she gets treatment first? You can see how silly this argument is.

And yet, it has been used historically. When the Titanic went down in 1912, the available lifeboats were designated for use by the first-class passengers, even the male first-class passengers! I was shocked when we visited a Titanic museum and learned this fact. The survivors are listed by the category of their tickets on the ship! Very few third-class passengers survived because the ship’s officers mistakenly thought they had less value than the first-class passengers. What prejudice in favor of wealth.

Women and men have exactly the same worth—they are made in God’s image with equal value. Together they more fully reflect the God who created them than does either alone. Out of nothing (Hebrew word bara) God created male and female in his own image and likeness.

God not only gave women inherent worth, he also gave them assigned worth by giving women something important to do with their lives. He assigned them to be fruitful, to be rulers over the earth, and to be partners with their husbands. Let’s look first at the assignment to be fruitful.

In Genesis 1:28 God says to be fruitful, to increase, and to fill—three words that speak of enlarging one’s life and influence. The Genesis author uses three different Hebrew words—parah, rabah, male—to express the meaning of growth. Here the meaning is primarily growth through procreation. And we should not overlook the importance of this in a woman’s life. Becoming a corporate executive, a famous author, or a skilled scientist are not careers of more value to God than being a mother. He created women to reproduce, and we should find great satisfaction in cooperating with his plan to do that. But it also extends beyond physical motherhood into reproducing ourselves through adoptive motherhood, fostering needy children, nurturing nieces and nephews, teaching Sunday School, and babysitting for friends’ children. He wants us to invest with people, especially the young. God, who is himself fruitful, plans for his people to be fruitful, too.

Another assigned role that gives that worth to women is in the task of subduing the earth and ruling over it. The earth was made to serve us (Psalm 115:16), and, therefore, we are to subdue it, starting with clearing out the clutter in our car, and taking charge of the way our rooms and houses are kept. We gain satisfaction and self-accomplishment from ruling. And that’s because God put it in our DNA—we were made to rule. So start with your own domain and move out from there to ruling the world. We will rule in eternity, too—Rev. 2:26 says “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations….” so this is practice for eternity.

And third, God assigned worth to women through being a partner to a husband. At a time when half of our country’s people age 16 and older are single, I still believe that God created a woman to find much of her assigned worth in marriage. The first Woman was hand-made by God from the side of Man to be a helper suitable-to-him, ezer knegdo. The word “helper” (ezer) is a strong word, one that is even used of God himself. It means being able to assist someone in accomplishing his goals, to strengthen another, to encourage a man in his life-long task and calling. And knegdo means that this helper is very much like the man, but different in crucial ways so that she can partner with him. She is the counterpart that makes procreation possible—without Eve, Adam could not produce children and populate the earth. God saw that it was not good for man (ish) to be alone 2:18 so God made a counterpart to Adam, a partner to help him. Adam responded with jubilant words: this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. He was delighted, thrilled; overjoyed would not be too strong. He called her (issah) in verse 23. And women since have found a sense of worth and value in their partnership with their husbands.

But perhaps the greatest evidence of the worth of a woman is that God our Redeemer considered us valuable enough to send his one and only Son to redeem us from our fallen condition because he loves us. It cost God everything to save us, but he did it because he considered women of such great value.

In spite of our sin, God wanted relationship with us and he provided the way through his own Son’s sacrifice. He sent his Son to the cross because of our worth to him. We were dirty, hungry, playing in the dirt, ignorant of God and his purposes, ungrateful, and unresponsive, and yet he loved us first. He sent his Son to be pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and it is by his wounds that we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

It took the wounds of the Healer to make women whole. And that has to mean women have worth, great worth.

Women are of great worth in God’s eyes. Seeing ourselves, and others, as God sees us is living in truth. Not “truth” that our cultures decrees, but God’s truth. Yes, women are sinful, frail, and shameful at times, but we are made in his image with inherent and assigned worth, and with a value so great that the Lord Jesus himself died for us.

Thanks be to God.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.