I do believe in the existence of good doctrine. And from time to time I write about those beliefs on this blog. Not in the sort of vague “it has to start with us loving each other” terms, but in terms of real verses that make real commands of us, and what I think of them.
And every time I write about these things, it gets uncomfortable. You see, for the last couple of days I’ve been involved in (and then following) a conversation on another blog about wives submitting to their husbands. The topic was breached in the absence of talking about the husbands role, and inevitably turned to the question of the wife submitting when she disagreed with her husband about something that would have long term repercussions, like family being sent to boarding school. And I tried to respond and did a poor job of vocalizing myself. So I tried to write about it here, and again did a poor job of vocalizing myself.
The idea of submission still holds a great deal of fear for all women. The idea that my husband could make any demand of me, and I would be expected to offer myself up to him as to Christ. That’s terrifying. And anyone who doesn’t find that terrifying and respect the power that such fear holds for women obviously knows very little history. There was a time when women were seen as less than men- as property, as pawns in a game of chess, as a method through which to gain an heir and keep the house clean and often little more. We all should know this fact because that time was roughly when Ephesians would have been written in the first place. And the thought of women as lesser continued for some time. Daughters were the property of their fathers while sons gained autonomy, wives were possessions, women were thought of to gain a soul later in life then men, to be more prone to witchcraft and evil, to need this evil purged from them by a heavy hand as much as possible.
Women were on a level above cattle, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like much of one. Honestly. The right to vote and hold property is still a historically recent one.
And the idea that a husband “can’t” rape his wife is still one being debated in some circles.
So let’s talk about submission, in frank terms, and let’s not mince words. Does anyone reading this believe that I should submit to my husband if he allocates money that needs to go to feeding my children to buy himself a gaming system? Does anyone believe that Ephesians five requires me to submit myself to his will when he demands sex and I’m ill, or tired, or otherwise not compliantly disposed to the idea? Does anyone believe that if my husband heard a word that he should take a second wife, that I should say, “yes dear?” I’m hoping most would say no, because these are extreme examples.
But what about less extreme examples? What if I am sick, and exhausted, and don’t have the energy to cook a meal, and my husband complains that he’s been working all day and shouldn’t have to work at home? Or what if I haven’t seen my family in over half a year and he demands that we spend Christmas with his, meaning that I won’t get to see mine? Or what if I feel God is calling me to a position in my local church body and my husband says that he will not have his wife teaching other men, and forbids me to do it?
Do I really submit to him in all things, to the cost of my body, my family, my calling?
Or by submitting to my husband, would I in some things draw myself further away from God? In order for both my husband and I to follow God and serve him with all our hearts, my submission to him MUST follow, CANNOT be without his submission to God and his loving me as his own body. These things are NOT seperable. Likewise his loving me as his own body and cleansing me as Christ cleansed the church MUST be, CANNOT be without my submission to him.
Both parties must obey God in their commands, or one will get hurt. That is the beauty of the arrangement- the two become one, or they don’t function, period.
Now, in case I haven’t made myself clear:
- The wife does not, by submitting, become her husband’s possession or subordinate. She is his servant, but by choice alone.
- The husband, should he demonstrate a pattern of making unfair demands or abusing his wife’s submissive position, is not acting in a holy manner and should be called on it- first by his wife, then by his church.
- Both partners serve God first and each other second- if either one interferes with the other’s servitude to God, something is wrong.
- Children come first. If either one places demands on the other that interferes with the raising of their children, something is wrong.
- If something is wrong, both need to go before God and their local spiritual leaders and sort it all out.
I’ve seen numerous books on the subject which talk about how women can win over their husbands through loving submission. And at it’s root it’s not a bad thing. It’s in the Bible! The problem comes when it’s taken to far. Anything, no matter how good, no matter how holy, becomes bad when not delt with in reason and moderation. When a woman stays with a drunk who is abusing her kids to win him over in loving submission, it’s not good. When a wife does nothing about her husband overpowering and raping her to win him over in loving submission, I am sure that is not what God intended.
These concepts must be handled with the respect they deserve, because mishandling them takes advantage of weakness and can lead to real damage.
And I guess that’s what I needed to say.