Every once in a while, a friend who is not a believer will challenge me with the statement: So, since you're a Christian, that must mean that you believe that husbands should be able to control and oppress their wives. Aren't you commanded to submit to your husband? And how do you like that?
It always makes me a bit sad that such a beautiful passage in Scripture has been so perverted in this post-feminist cultural worldview that says that women should just do whatever the hell they want, hang the opinion and desires of their husbands, and, should their husbands object, well, that's why we have liberal divorce laws, isn't it? And, why do we even have those pesky little patriarchs around in the first place, anyway?
In fact, the responsibility for this perversion of the beautiful analogy that Paul presents -- that earthly marriage between a man and a woman should reflect the relationship of Christ and His bride, the church -- can be laid to a large extent on certain Christians' having pounded the first part into the culture's consciousness, while down-playing the second, much more difficult to fulfill, admonition. When you stop to think about what is written in Ephesians 5:22-33, you realize that the greater burden in this comparison falls upon husbands. Here is the text, from the New King James translation:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her [emphasis mine], 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
How well would you fulfill the charge to love anyone as Christ loves the church? Especially someone that you live with, day in and day out, year after year, seeing them at their worst, at their least attractive, at their most annoying? I know that I fall short of Christian love in much less stressful and demanding situations than that every day, and, yet, my husband is to love me with that unfailing, unfaltering love for the rest of my life. Does he fulfill that charge faithfully without ever stumbling or falling short of such a lofty ideal? Of course not. He is as human and prone to sin as any of us. But, since he uses Scripture as his model, he always tries again, and again, and again. And I bless him for that.
Of course, I fall short often on the submission front. I'm fairly strong-willed, less than some women, more than others, so I like to push stubbornly against my husband's better judgment, occasionally. And yet, I cannot help but think that I got off easy on this marriage thing. That all-consuming, holy, sacrificial love that my husband strives to bestow upon me needs to be translated upon my reception into respect that I am to return unto him. And, really, when a husband is loving you like that, respect and submission are the natural, easy responses. We women love and count on our strong, godly men, don't we?
I think that, in the modern world, women have gotten this idea of power completely mixed up. Women have never been without power and opportunity. I think that that is subtly acknowledged in Paul's epistle. Who has the brute force in worldly matters, Christ or the church? The church, which is so incredibly prevalent that it can become more of an idol than the body of Christ, tends toward power over day-to-day life. The power is only positive and holy when it is kept under submission to Christ. We have countless examples over the past two thousand years of what happens when the church becomes divorced from the commands and will of Jesus. It is not a pretty sight, is it? Congregants are hurt, society is hurt, Christianity is hurt, and, eventually, those churches either go through a radical restorative reformation, or they disappear. Because a body without a head is a monster of power without conscience.
So it can be in a marriage. Look at what happens to marriage when the husband is not at the head. Women become powerful in ways that were never meant to be -- assuming all control, complete responsibility, arrogating a will that quickly becomes destructive. Within a generation or two, men have become irrelevant in family life, as women assume (with a Hydra-like proclivity) all the roles of the household. Then, we get the tragedy of single-mother households -- children rotting away in daycares and after-school programs that run far into the evening, nutritious meals at the family dining table becoming a relic of the past, television becoming a substitute for the other much-needed, yet absent, parent, etc.* Women are exhausted, mentally and emotionally, frayed like a woven blanket pulled in all directions. Children are insecure and needy, suddenly showing signs of physical and psychological disorders unkown generations ago. And men ... men need to be needed, and, if they are not or perceive that they are not, they will fade further and further into irresponsibility and perpetual childhood, until they vanish and men are gone. Oh, there will still be males of adult-size wandering the earth, spreading their semen far and wide into sperm receptacles, perpetuating more generations of fatherless children, but there will be NO MEN. And we need men. We need them, and we want them, despite all appearances otherwise.
Households need heads. They also need hearts. I believe with all my heart that a Judeo-Christian marriage is the model for a household that works the best. When men shoulder the responsibility that comes from being a husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church, women are freed to be glorious wives and mothers. Children are given the gift of a balanced home life and the beauty of watching a harmonious example of "two [becoming] one flesh." It is hard to imagine any woman worth her salt who would not revel in such a love, not return every act of such a love with a gratitude that proves itself in respect and submission. Our pastor once said, when he was preaching from Ephesians, that a woman who is continually disregarded, put-down, oppressed, abused, etc. by her husband -- in other words, a woman married to a man who is not committed to living that love of Christ for her -- was not under obligation to submit. He said that, in his reading of the Scripture, the man's sacrificial love must be extended first, as Christ died for the church in its ignorance and sin. Not many men who cite Ephesians 5:22-24, while conveniently overlooking verses 25-33, want to live that kind of love. That is understandable, since that kind of love is almost beyond human comprehension. But, if men would exert themselves to love that way as often and as well as they can, there would be a change for the better in society today.
*I acknowledge that many single-mother households are not that way by choice. Many women out there are doing the best that they can under sad circumstances wrought by unsought divorce or the tragedy of widowhood. Too many are by choice, though. And even many of the ones that are not by choice are still symptomatic of a breakdown in the symbiotic relationship in marriage, as outlined by Paul. This is not meant to attack women out there doing what they can to raise their children unexpectedly and undesiredly alone. Those women would most likely agree that it is not ideal or positive for their children or society for them to be the head-of-household.