What the heck does this mean?
I was sitting at the table last night eating dinner with my wife of 27 years when she looked over and asked me if I wanted her to be submissive. Sensing a trap I […]
All joking aside, that really happened (not the sensing a trap, I always miss that part).
Since I’ve been out of work I have a lot more free time to waste on the internet. So I started this blog in part to improve my writing skills, which if you’ve read any of this you know it hasn’t. Anyway, I read somewhere that the secret of good writing is to read a lot of good writing then forget where you read it, so I have also cruised other blogs and found some interesting people and some capable writers. As a “bible thumping” christian I seem to end up reading a lot of favorable and unfavorable stuff people write about Christianity (I’m pretty squarely in the favorable camp). One of the hot button issues is this Ephesians 5:22 thing about female submission.
We Christians are sometimes embarrassed by the whole anachronistic, club wielding, troglodyte attitude it seems to convey. Some of us form whole doctrines and sects around this passage (this is a different and usually more severe problem). The truth is I don’t think much about it. I’ve been a Christian for awhile now (almost 40 years) and I admit I tried the
you’re my wife, you’re supposed to submit
thing once or twice in my first marriage. I don’t know who that works for, but it didn’t work for me, and since I’m not as dumb as I look I figured I must not be doing it right so I gave it up. For the record that wasn’t what did in the marriage, we had much more serious problems. Moving on.
As I have been reading, commenting and thinking about husbands, wives and Christianity the problem of this passage has come back. So if I believe (as I do) that the bible is inspired by God then I should be able to resolve the intent of the passage within the context of the book (deftly sidestepping any issue of infallibility). Said another way the intent of Ephesians 5:22 should fit into the general message of the bible and feel like part of the whole.
Some basic principals we should be able to agree on about the bible, as Christians we are encouraged to:
- Love one another.
- Esteem each other above ourselves.
- Submit to each other.
- Live in peace with each other.
Pretty simple non-controversial respect each other , love your neighbor as yourself kinda stuff. Probably not a bad idea for married people who, let’s face it, will have some difficult moments in interpersonal relationships to deal with. Charity, as they say, begins at home.
So what is this “wives be subject to your husbands” thing? Why a distinct difference in husbands and wives? Husbands, by the way, are entreated to give themselves up for their wives.
It gets worse. By the time we get to the end of the chapter Ephesians 5:33 we find:
But each individual man among you must love his wife as he loves himself; and may the wife fear her husband.
Yeah, that’s healthy.
Or is it?
The question is can mutual love and respect be reconciled to Ephesians 5:23 and 5:33? I think it can, bear with me.
Someone told me once it is important to take things in context. As it turns out this section of Ephesians starts with the imperative to be subject to each other (#3 in the list above). Not only that but this whole chapter deals with how we are to live. If you think of these suggestions as a sequence they are:
- Submit to each other.
- Wives submit to your husband.
- Husbands love your wife.
I can see this as a recipe for dealing with interpersonal conflict, and I think it works like this. Step #1
- Submit to each other
When things are working and we have no issues or issues are resolved without conflict we are naturally submitting to each other, the rest of the stuff doesn’t even come up.
A side note here: Any man who doesn’t listen to his wife is missing a big part of being married. She is there to help (and you need it). I value my wife’s role as sanity check in our relationship (and I believe she values mine). When I think about doing something I’m not sure of, I can ask my wife about it to see if it passes the “sniff test”. Sometimes even when I don’t ask her she usually has the good sense to point out I’m doing something stupid and I’m even stupider if I don’t listen. When we agree about stuff I’m very confident it is the right thing to do because we have very different perspectives and talents. So the whole doormat, milquetoast, insipid act should be nipped in the bud. I want a partner not a rubber stamp, just say no!
But sometimes things don’t go smoothly and we both get stubborn and fleshy and human at the same time. In that situation we go to step #2
- Wives submit to your husbands.
The reason for this is that by and large men are larger (bigger faster stronger) than their spouses, and the women seem to like it that way. When I was in school the physically fit alpha males got dates and the nerdy beta’s got directions (where to go). I’m not complaining, things worked out for me and we all grow up, but this is still a consistent pattern. The point is it makes a lot of sense in an impasse with someone who outweighs and outguns you to acquiesce. Every kid in the playground either knows or learns this. When you are confronted with a situation where continued escalation will bring you to a place where you can’t win (I know the truth is in that case you both loose but we’ll get there) the wise choice is to give in, seek peace, bring it down a notch.
Did I say every kid in the playground? The girls might not have this same experience when playing with girls (well today they do but I’m not sure that classifies as advancement). If the girls have not learned this unfortunate truth someone should tell them – thank you brother Paul.
Remember step #2 only applies when we are both out of control and step #1 is not reeling us in. Submit to each other comes first.
Finally if we are both so out of control that even self preservation no longer holds sway we have the ultimate directive – proceed will all haste to step #3
- Husbands love your wives and give yourselves up for them as Christ did the Church.
Men do not under any circumstances treat your wife like a male peer at this point. Your responsibility if it goes to the edge is to get hold of yourself and give up, yield, stop, quit, take a breath, go for a walk, anything but take it to the next level. If you give in to that urge you may regret it for the rest of your life (which could be sooner than you think if you plan on going to sleep in your old bed again). And in this context wives LET HIM GO. Respect the fact that he is bigger than you and remember he is human too. That word “fear” in Ephesians 5:33 is one of respect, just like I respect God. I know He loves me and only wants my good, but He is still Almighty God and I will do well not to try to put a stick in His eye.
Now that makes sense to me and it doesn’t contradict anything else I know about how I am to conduct myself as a Christian, my self worth or my partner’s.
I’m gonna ask my wife about this.