Don't let her gentle smile and easy laugh fool you: Liz Curtis Higgs is a bad girl. As fans of her "Bad Girls of the Bible" books know, Higgs is in touch with her dark side, and she's scoured the pages of the Bible to learn how God deals with women like herself. The result is a series of serious-fun books that bring the Bible's female characters to life and mine their often-dark stories for rich spiritual lessons.

Higgs is a prolific writer, with bestselling Scottish historical novels and children's books in addition to several Christian teaching titles. She sat down with Patton Dodd last summer to discuss her work in anticipation of her latest book, "Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible."

For our readers who are not familiar with Bad Girls of the Bible, can you explain why you’ve written this series of books?

The lives of biblical bad girls have always fascinated me, probably because I have trouble identifying with the good girls in Scripture. Ruth, Esther, and Mary were faithful, courageous, and innocent, while I am clearly none of the above. I stumble regularly in my walk with Christ, am not always brave, and am anything but innocent.

When I embraced the grace-filled life 25 years ago, I found out the church was full of women like me—hiding a shady past or a questionable present, longing to connect with other sisters who've been down the same road, and searching for answers about the depth of God's forgiveness. To help answer those questions, I've explored the stories of 24 infamous women, including Jezebel, Delilah, Bathsheba, Herodias, and other ancient sisters who took a walk on the wild side.

What have you learned about God and his character by looking closely at these tales of bad girls?

As Jesus said, "No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18). God's divine goodness stands in sharp contrast to our badness, and that of these women. When we discover that God extended mercy to the woman caught in adultery, that he reached out to Rahab the harlot, that he delivered Mary Magdalene from her seven demons, we can begin to accept his unconditional love for us, flaws and all. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (1 John 3:1).

What have you learned about yourself from looking at these biblical bad girls?

First, I discovered how very much we have in common. My own temptations and sinful inclinations became very apparent as I dug into their sordid stories. Some are cautionary tales with gruesome endings, such as Jezebel being shoved out the window and trampled by horses. Others give us hope, like the story of the unnamed prostitute who anointed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. The Lord's response—"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much" (Luke 7:47)—offers a balm to us all. Whatever the outcome for each bad girl, I found a point of identification with her situation and with her sin, and so learned from her example.

You say you were a bad girl. Can you give us a taste of your bad girl story?

In a nutshell, I threw away a decade of my life in pursuit of pleasure: sex, drugs, drinking, spending; the more risk involved, the better. It's a miracle I survived without getting arrested or contracting a disease. When I hit bottom, two dear souls—new to the faith and full of grace—gathered me in their arms and loved me back to life. They didn't say, "Believe in God;" not at first. They said, "God believes in you. God loves you, Liz. God has a plan for you." I was skeptical, but I was willing to listen. What I heard was the unwavering truth of God's grace: "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Finally, I believed those words and realized I was loved and I was forgiven. His grace truly is amazing.

What do you believe are the core pressures facing women today? How does your work address those pressures and offer guidance?

Perfectionism is a biggie. We feel a huge amount of pressure—much of it self-imposed—to excel in every arena of our lives: work, school, church, home. We extend no grace to ourselves, instead pushing, pushing, pushing, which not only wears us down but also negatively impacts those we love. No wonder we're all stressed up with nowhere to go!
When we understand that the word “perfect” actually means “complete,” then a verse like “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) makes more sense. Our heavenly Father is the only one who can complete us—perfect us—bridging the gap between our insufficiency and his all-sufficiency. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect on our own; he wants us to be dependent on his strength. In all four books in the Bad Girls series I address this core issue and all the sins perfectionism spawns: jealousy, greed, selfishness, lying, deception, manipulation...well, you get the idea.

This latest book, "Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible," focuses only on the women in Genesis. Why is that?

In the previous books we looked at a few of the Genesis bad girls—Eve, Lot's wife, Potiphar's wife, and Tamar—but this time I wanted to focus exclusively on the wives of the patriarchs: Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel. We think we know their stories and assume they must have been good girls, since they were married to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What a surprise to look at their stories in depth and realize they had serious control issues, just as many among us do today. Yet the subtitle of the book says it all: "Flawed Women Loved by a Flawless God." The patriarchs aren't the heroes of this book: God alone is our Hero, a Savior who loves and blesses strong-willed, independent-minded folk like us.

Some readers might be surprised to find that you consider Sarah and Rachel bad—even if only “slightly”—because other Christian writers have held them up as standards of virtue or as heroines of some kind. How did you come to approach Sarah and Rachel differently?

When you look at what these women actually said and did in the biblical account, you get a far different picture than the sanitized, flannel-board figures we met in Sunday School. When Sarah said to her husband, "The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant" (Genesis 16:2), we're not seeing faithfulness in action. And no sooner did Hagar become pregnant than Sarah "mistreated Hagar" (Genesis 16:6); that is to say, she abused her. Oh dear. Not what I'd call a standard of virtue.

As for Rachel, she did one brazen thing after another, becoming "jealous of her sister," then railing at Jacob, "Give me children, or I'll die!" (Genesis 30:1). She, too, gave Jacob her servant as a wife (Genesis 30:4), then later struck a shocking bargain with her sister, Leah: "Very well," Rachel said, "he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son's mandrakes" (Genesis 30:15). You mean, she traded her husband's sexual services for a handful of plants? Well! Hardly the work of a heroine, I'd say.

The good news about studying the Genesis account firsthand and discovering the truth for ourselves—sorting out good from bad, fact from myth—is that we can see Sarah, Rachel, and company for who they really were: flawed women who were nonetheless blessed by God. Frankly, I find that reality more encouraging than if they'd turned out to be ultra good girls. Since we're far from perfect, we need to know how God can work through imperfect people.

How would you suggest that women read the Bible? Is there a specifically feminine way of approaching and understanding Scripture?

I believe women should—and do—read the Bible in exactly the same way men do: verse by verse, chapter by chapter. We should ask questions without fear of God's disapproval, and seek answers from the Bible itself and from trustworthy scholars who've dedicated their hearts and lives to understanding what these ancient texts mean for modern men and women. Because I am a woman, with a passion for studying the women in Scripture and a particular calling to minister to women, my writing has a distinctly feminine feel, though many men—pastors in particular—have written to say they enjoy my work and find it useful in their own ministries. I'm grateful for every reader who's willing to open the Bible with me and watch these timeless stories come to life.
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