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Book review by Cassie Watson
Some questions matter to us more than others. There’s a difference between the quick “How are you?” that we throw at the supermarket cashier, and the same question we ask when we’re hugging a friend who has just been through a devastating loss.
Questions about spiritual things should be among those that matter deeply to us. By asking good questions, we learn to carefully consider Scripture and understand it rightly, as Simonetta Carr demonstrates in Questions Women Asked: Historical Issues, Timeless Answers. This book contains 31 short biographies of Christian women throughout the ages, framed by a question they wrestled with and their journey to find biblical answers.
These were not objective, merely intellectual questions—they were asked by women enduring deep suffering. In the opening sentence of the first chapter, we read: “Marcella became a widow after seven months of marriage” (1). Then there’s Marie Durand, who as a persecuted Protestant in France was imprisoned in a tower for 38 years. And Kata Bethlen, who was widowed twice over and lost all her children (two were taken away by her first husband’s family, and three died in an epidemic).
Through their various sufferings, these women searched Scripture for the answers to their questions, things like:
They are a model to us as we bring our laments and sorrows—and joys as well—to God, seeking to know how he wants us to live in all the complexities of life.
To help us explore these questions for ourselves, Carr provides insightful reflection questions at the end of each chapter. These questions are rich and well thought out, asking us not only to reflect on our feelings but also to search the Bible for ourselves. Carr also points interested readers to sources where they can learn more about each woman. Even those who are well-versed in church history will find something new in this book—I had only heard of a few of these women.
Despite the distance of time and culture, Carr’s subjects asked questions that are still pressing for women—and all believers—today. Mothers will find great help in the chapters about women who wondered how to pray for their children or raise their sons to be godly men. Those who struggle with doubt and assurance have a sympathetic companion in Anne Steele, the hymn writer, who expresses a constant battle to truly experience what she knows to be true about God.
As a writer, I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Lucy Hutchinson, who wrote an account of her and her family’s life, as “a means to stir up my thankfulness for things past and to encourage my faith for the future” (144). She proves the value of intentionally recording God’s faithfulness, even through suffering. Lucy became a widow after 22 years of marriage, leaving her to raise seven children. Instead of giving in to despair or self-pity she was determined to continue praising God for his work in her life.
These are just a few of the women that you’ll meet in Questions Women Asked. It’s a wonderful book that makes a unique contribution to the study of church history. I read it all the way through, but you could jump in to whichever questions resonate with you. Since there are 31 chapters, it would also be a perfect book to read a chapter each day for a month—perhaps alongside a friend. By the time you’ve finished, you will have gained many new friends and guides in these faithful believers.