This is the fifth part of an ongoing series delving in Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminist”. The other entries can be found here.
Growing up one of the first times I ever thought about getting married was when I watched the Anne of Green Gables mini series. If you are unfamiliar with the story a quick overview is all that’s needed. The main character, Anne, meets a boy, Gilbert, in school and they move from sworn enemies, to best friends, to husband and wife over the course of the mini series. At four years old I determined that when I got married it would be to someone exactly like Gilbert Blythe. Someone who could challenge me, was kind and loyal, funny, and most of all loved me fiercely.
I found myself thinking about all this again while I read chapter five of Jesus Feminist. Bessey begins the chapter by talking about her own relationship with her husband. She likens it to a dance the two of them are in where each of them take turns leading the other, and where sometimes nobody leads at all; rather they just dance in place. I love this quote
“Well, who is in charge here?“
“Yes, but if push comes to shove, who is the leader?”
“But then who is the spiritual head of your home?”
“Only Jesus. Only ever our Jesus” (p. 73)
Reading that passage I felt a recognition. A recognition of the kind of marriage I want, and a recognition of the kind of marriage I’ve seen modeled by those closest to me. If you asked the younger version of myself who was the spiritual head of my household I probably would have been confused. What did that mean? The answer that eventually came out probably would have been “…..Jesus?” I would have been even more confused if you told me that the man was supposed to be the “head of his household.” That was DEFINITELY not what I saw modeled at home.
Let me clear some things up first. Yes, my father was outnumbered being the only man in a house full of women. Yes, on Sunday afternoons our television was not tuned to any type of sports. Yes, my dad watched every girly TV show, movie, and mini series my sister and I imposed on him. (Seriously he’s seen all of Downton Abbey and loves it). Yes, it was (and still is) hard for him to get a word in edgewise when my mother, sister, and I are all around.
BUT I have never thought that this means he was not the “leader of our house.” In fact, I put that phrase in quotes because I find it laughable. My dad was not the leader of our house. My mom was not the leader of our house. As a child I felt clearly, even if I couldn’t have put it into the words, that Jesus was the leader of our house. He helped my parents figure what was the best choice to make, and they helped Jena and me live those choices out. Period. End of discussion.
When I read the verses about wives submitting to their husbands I always felt a little uncomfortable. I knew that what some people counted as submission did not happen in my house, but I also believed the way my house was run was the best way it could be. It wasn’t until I got older, and honestly, began reading this book that I began to put to words what I’ve known deep in my bones my whole life. The verses written in the New Testament about wives submitting to their husbands are written to fall within the Greco-Roman household codes that existed as law at the time. That is why you see this listing function happen; slave to master, children to parents, wives to husbands etc. Bessey quotes theologians Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe when she says
Peter and Paul worked within imperfect systems because “with Roman officials looking for every excuse to imprison Christians, any challenge would bring scrutiny and persecution for the early church.” The Apostles advocated this system, not because God had revealed it as the divine will for Christian homes, but because it was the only stable and respectable system anyone knew about at the time.” (p.76)
Bessey then writes my favorite line in the whole chapter. “Paul and Peter used the codes as metaphors or scaffolding because they were familiar and daily, not because they were prescriptive or ideal…Life in Christ is not meant to mirror life in Greco-Roman culture.” (p.76) Some might say that a line hierarchy from God to the husband to the wife is the ideal because after all in the Garden of Eden got created Eve as Adam’s “helper.” Bessey, with some help from authors Carolyn Custis James, and Rachel Held Evans reminds us that the phrase used to describe Eve in Genesis, ezer kenegdo is used in three different contexts throughout the Old Testament.
1) The creation of woman
2) When Israel applied for military aid
3) In reference to God as Israel’s helper for military purpose (it’s used 16 times in this context) (p. 78)
When we think of the God who helped Israel in battle do we think of him in terms the way some have us think of Eve as a “helper”? No! As Bessey says “Our God is more than that: he’s a strong helper, a warrior.” This is how God intended women to be not just in their marriages, but in every relationship they encounter in their lives. I love the quote from Biblical scholar Victor P. Hamilton Bessey uses.
“Thus the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior but an equal. The creation of this helper will form one-half of a polarity, and will be to man as the South Pole is to the North Pole. She will be his strongest ally in pursuing God’s purposes and his first roadblock when he veers off course.”
I’m not finished the book so I can’t say this definitely yet but this may be my favorite chapter. It’s given voice to what I felt all along. That marriage is not a line down hierarchy, but rather a triangle with Jesus at the top point, and the husband and wife as equals on the bottom points. This was the model my parents showed me and the one I still see them put into the practice today. It’s the way my sister’s marriage functions. It’s the way every marriage I know and admire seems to function. And it’s the way I know my own will function someday.
What I love about this model is how it frees us from preconceived gender stereotypes. My dad didn’t need to be the tough man around the house telling us all what was what. If you’ve ever met my dad you know this is FAR from who he is. In fact nobody in our house walked around telling us what was what. My mom and dad prayed and asked God for direction. If God didn’t speak to both of them, they stayed still right where they were until he did. When I needed a battle fought for me, mom was the one I called. Not because my dad is weak, but because mom was much more suited for the role. When I needed the knots brushed out of my hair dad was the one I called; he was MUCH more suited for that role. When I needed help in the kitchen dad was the one who offered the most help. Not because mom was incapable, but because dad loves to cook and mom cooks because she has to.
If a girl has a great father the cliche phrase is that she wants to marry a man just like him. In my case this is very true. I want to marry a man like my father because I see how much he not only respects my mother, but delights in her. He feels no compunction to assert his authority because he is secure in the man God made him to be. I won’t settle for anything less in the man that I marry.
What are your thoughts on wives submitting to their husbands? Single people how has this affected the way you think about marriage and relationships? Married people how do you deal with this idea in your own lives? Leave your thoughts in the comments!