Our relatively recent explosion in technical and scientific progress has shaken the foundations of traditional society, especially that of the nuclear family. Women are more able to enter the workforce today than ever before in history. Activists like to think this is because they have beaten down patriarchal discrimination, but the truth is that the supposed patriarchy invested enormous amounts of time and money creating, out of thin air, a society that was amenable to women, and with negligible additional benefit to themselves. On this note, it is curious to me how men and women are so different in their appreciation for tools. I would think that women would love tools, and men would be indifferent at best. Just consider that for a moment: Tools make men’s jobs easier and more productive, but they do not shorten their workday. They are able to do more in less time, but in most instances, they are actually working longer hours because of their better tools. Whereas the traditional jobs of women have been reduced to trivialities because of tools. At one time, washing clothes was an all day job. In many cultures, they have recipes for meals that simmer unsupervised on the stove or bake in the oven all day, since women were not able to stand over a stove for several hours stirring. Red beans and rice on monday is a notable example of this. But now the washing machine has made washing clothes a small nuisance instead of a job that at one time consumed 10% of a woman’s entire lifetime. And the added bonus is that many times women don’t even have to do that job themselves: Men and children take turns throwing a load of laundry into the washing machine. (Some of you women reading this are wondering who and where those men and children are.) Many other tools have had the same effect on almost every aspect of a woman’s life. And the time devouring activities that have not been addressed directly with tools, have been ameliorated indirectly by tools, such as dry cleaning and ready-made meals. All of this has surrendered back significant time to women allowing them to engage in other activities, like careers outside the home. So, I would think that women would LOVE tools, but they are generally ambivalent towards them.
Christianity has wrestled with this transformation of society and its far-reaching implications. One of the biggest changes has been in the general view of the structure of the marriage relationship. It is quite normal to believe that the “old ways” were better than the new ways. However, even the Bible warns us against that simplistic apprehension towards change. First, what we call the “old ways” are often only old to us, and in fact are rather new from a broader historical perspective. We have a tendency to romanticize our parents’ or grandparents’ generation, often very inaccurately. But second, not everything new is bad. There are innumerable improvements in modern society. Only a fool would think that they would be better off had they lived 1000 years ago, or even only 100 years ago. Despite the dangers and pitfalls of modern life, we are all better off than any people who have ever lived on the face of this planet since Adam ate the fruit. Men who fantasize of going back to a time when women were clearly and unequivocally subordinate to men are not only indulging a chauvinistic dream that women do not share (which means they would have to force that time travel on women) but they are self administering a intelectual hallucinogen. There was never a time when women cast themselves docilely at their husbands feet; My Fair Lady is theatre, not reality. Paul did not include in the ‘domestic duties’ instructions to women that they should submit to their husbands just to cover all the bases or to not leave anyone out. Women have always resisted subordination. The difference is that, unlike men, women shirked their domestic duty to their own peril, as it was more legally and socially accepted for a man to impose his will on his wife than for a woman to impose her will on her husband. And that certainly isn’t something we should dream of resurrecting from the ash heap of history.
So, due to our modern culture and social progress, Christians are grappling with what the marriage relationship should look like today. Our first goal should be to order our marriage according to God’s will. We often confuse technological and scientific advancement with moral and spiritual advancement. It is true that the people of the Bible were absolute ignoramuses when it comes to anything ‘scientific’ (in the modern sense of that word) and especially technological. A young child today has more knowledge than Solomon, Paul, and Luke combined. The authors of the Scriptures never laid eyes on the moon’s surface. They never comprehended the electromagnetic field that surrounded them every day, much less harnessed it the way an elementary child can in a simple science fair project. They didn’t have an inkling of genes or DNA. Because of this, the world looks at them as being backwards and foolishly transposes their technical and scientific ignorance to moral, psychological, and spiritual ignorance. The result of this is a widespread contempt for the teachings and instructions that are the bedrock upon which our modern society was able to be built in the midst of the destruction and chaos of inferior philosophies and worldviews.
Christian teaching on the proper interaction between spouses was not the only theory proposed or tried. Christianity was not merely perpetuating what had always been. Both Jesus and the Apostles developed a doctrine of marriage that was not only shockingly dissimilar to the one common among the Gentile world of their day, but it was also fundamentally different from that of the Old Testament. If we put aside the matter of deity and revelation, and consider it solely from a sociological perspective, it is fair to say that their theories on marriage were the culmination of centuries of trial and error. They perfected a set of theories of interpersonal relationships and codified them into a series of natural laws. These laws were not placebos; meaning that you do not have to believe them for them to be true or for them to work. If you put them in practice they will produce the promised result and if you do not put them into practice they will produce the forewarned consequences. The source for these laws was a deep understanding of the God-Christ-Man relationship that these human relationships modeled.
The essence of these laws is that children should obey and honor their parents. Parents should build their children into adults. Husbands should prefer their wives. (I am using the word prefer in the Biblical sense of putting them in the place he would normally put himself. It means to love his wife as himself, meaning, instead of himself.) And wives should obey their husbands. Few modern people take issue with any of these laws, except for the one dealing with wives. The word “obey” is highly inflammatory, and not just to radical feminists. Most women, even most Christian women bristle at the idea. But they are not alone. Most Christian men are also uncomfortable with this word choice. Overly eager submitionists do not help matters any; their commitment to proclaim the gospel of female subordination and spousal obedience in the most simplistic humblebrag possible is repelling to nearly everyone. They are doing more harm than good.
The resistance to this relationship law is very complex, and there are a number of reasons why both women and men are squeamish to embrace it, even those that practice it. Historically, there has been great abuse of women by men, and in many parts of the world there still is. It was not uncommon for women to be regarded as subordinate to all men, not just their husbands. Which is why the Apostles made it clear that their teaching on submission was to their own husband, not to every man. But this means that subordination is contextual, and therefore predicated on the marriage relationship and not the wife’s gender, and as a consequence it is voluntary. Some might decry these observations, however, any alternative explanation that does not reach the same conclusion of it being voluntary is either quixotically theoretical or morally perverse, since there is no practical way to impose or enforce this subordination; especially in our modern society. If nothing else, women can simply refuse to marry men, and all the chauvenist’s sophisticated theories will crumble into dust. The option to abstain from marriage appeals to an ever increasing number of women. However, they should not be so quick to embrace detachment, as it carries with it frighting drawbacks. Ultimately it results in far greater harm to women than men. Just take a gander at the social condition of modern Western society. Men never have to grow up, commit, provide, or even call the next morning. Women sacrifice everything and the only thing they get in return is to, allegedly, not obey a husband. This is a tradeoff that only a Romans 6 servant of sin could consider a ‘win’.
Women should carefully consider that marriage is a designed relationship. It is not a consequence of evolutionary sex selection. God carefully crafted an organizational structure to not only serve His own purpose, but to benefit each of the participants as well. And that structure largely consists of an hierarchical order. It is undeniable that every sentient structure exists in some form as a hierarchical framework; and there are two ways that these hierarchical frameworks can develop: First, is natural selection. The strong subjugates the weak. The second is Divine design. God ordains an order. It is understandable that neither option is appealing to women, however, consider that if you reject the Divine design theory, then you are condemning yourself to subjugation by force–the ruthless type of force we observe in brute beasts. It is critical to appreciate that God’s instructions on marriage do far more to constrain men than to subordinate women. Women, by the undeniable fact of their relative physical weakness were already subordinated. God decreed an arrangement whereby women would be equally benefited, and this is accomplished in the same way as all legitimate governments: By stripping away rights from the strong and bestowing them on the weak. In contrast, natural selection still subordinates the woman but with no constraint put on the man. That is to say, ‘Mother Nature’ subjugates women by force and imposes no corresponding responsibility on men.
Men’s bodies are designed for intense, competitive physical activity. If we compare the top specimen of both sexes, the physical gap between them is greater than any other difference between men and women. It is an overwhelming superiority.
Consider that the strongest and fastest professional female athletes in the world cannot even compete with the middling High School male athletes. (The female Olympic record in the 100 meter race was bested by over 10,000 High School boys that same year.) Add sin on top of that physical superiority, and you have a situation where men have an incontestable ability to subjugate women at will, there isn’t a thing she can do about it, physically. This is why an argument with an unconstrained man will often become physical, even if he doesn’t put a hand on her. He will raise his voice (his voice is louder and more commanding than hers is, which again is a physical attribute), he will make himself tall and wide by flexing his neck, chest, arm, and jaw muscles, he will hit something, throw something, usually something heavy. All of this is about physical intimidation. Because the man knows that the woman can never compete with him on that plane. Holywood femme fatale movies notwithstanding, women are innoridately inferior to men along the physical dimension.
However, women are as superior to men sexually as they are to them physically. Everything about the female body is sensual to a man. From tips of her toes to top of her head. This is not a single square inch of her body that cannot, all on its own, make him beg for her attention. Men’s constant sexual drive has more to do with the total sensualness of her design than an actual desire welling up independently inside him. Men are excited sexually by what they see, and everything they see in a woman is exciting. Women mistake this for some sort of perversion in the man. It isn’t. It is a weakness. When it comes to sexuality, men’s superior physical strength is of no benefit at all. Every curve, bump, and freckle of a woman’s body was designed to reduce men to slobbering idiots. Women can cover themselves from head to foot in burlap, and if a man catches even a glimpse of her eyelashes, his strength will fail him and he will go weak in the knees. Women often foolishly think they need to wear clothing three sizes too small to excite men. Not even close. The sight of a well turned ankle, a tanned hand, the back of her neck, the unmistakable scent after a hot shower… any one of those is all it takes. (Women will say that they also find men attractive, but it is only after they have combed him, dressed him, and posed him.) Women have taken the strongest men in history captive, reduced them to blind, blithering idiots, and dispatched them like rag dolls; without breaking a sweat or chipping a nail. Men simply cannot compete along the sexual dimension.
The upshot of all this is that humanity left to its natural expression, without the constraining fetters of God’s will, inevitably results in the subjugation of women. Which is the point of the curse. The curse is something to be embraced and deliberately implemented. The curse is the catastrophic result of sin. The curse that sin imposed on the woman was that she would be almost entirely dependent on the protection and provision of her husband, and that he would be unconstrained in his power over her. This was not how God designed marriage nor is it His will for men or women, even after they sinned. But rather sin strips men of the bridle of godliness, enslaving them to their violent self-will; resulting in the too-common-to-be-cliché tyrannical man oppressing a codependent woman who has also been stripped by sin of the wherewithal to demand to be regarded as a perfectly crafted, priceless vessel; not despised as an evolutionary victim. The goal of Christians should not be to enforce the curse. Our goal should be to overcome it through spiritual and physical effort. Christian men should never take advantage of a woman’s physical weakness, but as Paul teaches: A man should spend himself of all his strength to assure the ascendency of his wife. And Christian women should never take advantage of a man’s sexual weakness, but as Paul teaches: A woman should reverence her husband and strengthen him. This is why it is important to understand that the hierarchy in marriage is not an element of the curse. The curse is the animalistic domination that we should eschew. The design of marriage is the godly and glorious triumph of self-sacrifice over self-will. It is at once complete mutual benefit and complete mutual self-denial.
However, when a woman reads that she is to obey her husband, she likely conceptualizes that word in the same sense that the Bible also says that children must obey their parents. Or, servants should obey their masters. Or citizens should obey their rulers. Or people should obey God. This is because all these appear to be similar and they all use the same commandment, “obey”. (Or rather they all use the same word, “obey”.) But the relationship between a child and parent is nothing like that of a husband and wife, and the similarity in the two forms of obedience stops at the spelling. A woman is not commanded to obey her husband as if she were a child, nor as if he were a God. A woman’s recoil against such a misinterpretation is no different than a man’s repudiation of religious priests, who citing the commandment that we should “obey them that have rule over us”, then demand that everyone kneel before them, kiss their ring, and call them father.
The command that a woman obey her own husband, is not a requirement that she surrender her individuality, sovereignty, conscience, better judgment, or her opinion and the right to speak it. A woman has the right to her own spiritual and moral convictions. A woman is not failing the commandment when she corrects her husband or tells him that she does not agree with things he says or does, or that she will not follow him down a path she deems inappropriate. When the Bible says that a woman should obey her husband it also does not include his sexual desires. The Bible is clear that a woman has equal authority as her husband in the sexual relationship, and that this part of marriage must be negotiated mutually. This is clear precedent that the command to obey her husband not only has negative qualifiers — such as immoral or unethical or unconscionable demands like robbing a bank or engaging in group sex or abandoning her faith — but it also has positive qualifiers. She has the moral, and legal, prerogative to be heard and heeded. Any man who doesn’t think this is true, put your theory to the test; sooner or later you will be sitting on the curb with half your stuff wondering what went wrong in your chauvinistic utopia. Now, more than ever, women have all the power in the family and in marriage. They control the finances, they have legal priority over the children, they have all the sympathy of the courts and society. They have thousands of pro-bono, top-shelf lawyers; millions of radical activists; billions of dollars in government and charitable funding to get their way. If they want to put you on a leash and run you around the yard, there is nothing you can do about it but bark and enjoy it. The fact that so few women actually abuse all this power is evidence that most women are not opposed to a legitimate interpretation of obedience.
There are two ways to understand obedience in the context of marriage: One is a generic form of ‘doing what she is told’, that is so qualified and hamstrung that it doesn’t really mean anything at all. (Just think about it for a moment. If a woman is able to decide which of her husband’s commandments are valid, and is permitted to argue with him, and nullify those commandments by no greater authority than her own conscience and interpretation of the Scriptures, then how is that doing what she is told? It isn’t obedience to do what we are told when we are actually just doing what we wanted to do already. In that case the husband is simply throwing out ideas, until his wife likes one of them, and then he pretends he is telling her what to do. I am sorry if I am pulling back the curtain a little too much for some of you.) The other way to understand obedience in the marriage is that a woman elects her husband as her leader, and she empowers him to lead her. (Leader, Lord, Mister, Superior, etc., these are all just semantics, which means we should use the word that best describes the Biblical relationship while maintaining cultural clarity.) At any time the husband could physically force his will on her, but then that would no longer be “wives submit yourselves to your own husbands”, that would be “husbands dominate your wives”. And that is not what the Scripture says.
The Bible places the entire marriage hierarchical structure under the authority of the woman, not the man! If a wife refuses to obey her husband, if she refuses to elect him to lead her, then he can’t and he won’t. No doubt some will misinterpret this to mean that if a marriage fails it must be the woman’s fault, and that is not true at all. However, she also can’t have it both ways. She can’t object to subordination and with the same breath play the “I’m just the little woman” card. She wants power, and she has power, and with that power comes a corresponding level of responsibility. There are reasons beyond her control for her husband’s weakness and childishness, but she ought to examine her own role with extreme care, in the light of the Scripture, and with the help of a trusted pastor. A wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands. When a woman is virtuous, the heart of her husband surrenders all his trust to her and she is all he wants in life, and she doesn’t take advantage of that vulnerability nor betray that trust.
When a woman elects a man to be her leader she is awakening his virtues, empowering his godliness, and suppressing his animal instincts. This is like giving a confused, angry boy the real responsibility of protecting a younger, adoring brother. When a woman entrusts herself to her husband’s care and protection by saying “I Do”, he truly becomes a man — no longer a beast — he will now use every ounce of his brute strength to live, provide, protect, and die for this woman who has subordinated herself to him. A woman makes a boy into a man, and in turn that man will make that woman his ultimate purpose and treasure. No one else and nothing else will matter. And this in turn triggers her godly sense of nurture, care, and awe (reverence) especially as it pertains to sexual intimacy. Which in turn constrains him to care for her and give her whatever her heart desires, within and beyond his ability. Which in turn…
Just as a bad marriage is a spiralling, vicious cycle of selfishness, hurt, offense, and mistrust. A great marriage is a skyrocketing, virtuous cycle of self-sacrifice, trust, and love. The bad marriage can become the makings of the great marriage almost overnight. It only requires that two people stop seeking their own self-interest, stop defending their own rights and prerogatives, and that they bare themselves to the other — that they make themselves utterly vulnerable; not stupid or oblivious, vulnerable. Essentially they say:
“Yes. You could decimate me, you could obliterate me, and I won’t stop you, because I love you and I trust you. I want you to be a great husband (or a great wife), but I won’t try to force you or harangue you. I am going to put my self in your hands, and I am not going to hold anything back. I am totally and completely yours.”
Of course that is a scary thing to say… if you don’t mean it. But if you mean it, if you really do love your spouse, then that is the language of love. All good people respond positively to this kind of unrestrained trust, and godly men respond exceptionally well, but God has designed them to boldly and proudly accept the insane responsibility of holding another’s life in their hands; not to threaten it, or take advantage of it, but to treasure it, and care for it, and provide for it, and honor it.
These are not quid pro quos. That is too sordid, too crass. This is each, mutually and independently, letting themselves fall backwards into each other’s love; not because they have some assurance that the other will catch them, but because they realize that nothing else will work. If the other doesn’t step up and do their part, then the marriage will not work. There is no other path to marital bliss. Complete trust or complete suspicion. A man wins his wife’s trust by having no other priority, especially not himself. A woman wins her husband’s trust by choosing no other leader, especially not herself. When a man and a woman trust God and his design for marriage, God turns them into a regal, godly marriage. And then when the woman earns her husband’s trust, she turns a childish, selfish boy into a godly, glorious man. And then when the man earns his wife’s trust, he turns an insecure, fearful girl into a beautiful, magnificent woman.