Monday, August 20, 2007

Wives, submit?

Last week, Erich and I finally selected our readings for our wedding. Like the church musician I am, we picked all the music in early June. It's not that the readings were an afterthought--not exactly, it was just something we wanted to figure out separately. Plus, musicians have to practice music; the pastor just has to know what he's reading a few days ahead of time. Thus, we put off selecting the readings until last week.

The readings appointed by the greater church body for weddings are Genesis 2:18-24 and Ephesians 5:21-33. Truly, these two readings are really the only ones in the Bible that speak at length about husbands and wives. Here's the Genesis:

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for [1] him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed [2] every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam [3] there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made [4] into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.” [5]

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Fantastic. I love it--it's all about the creation of marriage, essentially. Lovely, we'll take the Genesis.

But as for the New Testament selection, very few couples actually choose to have the Ephesians passage read at their wedding. Looking back on quite a few service folders saved by my mom and me, the overwhelming majority choose 1 Corinthians 13, which is all about love. But it is not at all specific about love between husband and wife. Though I love that passage, it didn't feel right to have it read at my wedding. There are lots and lots of other love-related passages in the NT, so it would be hard to find one that really sticks out. But Ephesians 5 does stick out because it speaks so specifically about marriage. Why do so few people choose Ephesians 5, you ask? Allow me to ctrl+C; ctrl+V it for you from ESV Bible online:

21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives and Husbands

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. [1] 28 In the same way husbands should love their 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 Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

What an important passage! And it definitely says a lot about husbands and wives. And it is also immediately obvious as to why so many modern couples choose to leave this out of their wedding services. It's terribly un-feminist to even think about saying the words "submit" and "marriage" in the same breath. I imagine a lot of well-meaning people probably read the above and think that it's old-fashioned at best. Maybe something that was true two thousand years ago, but isn't necessarily true now. Just one of those-outdated portions of the Bible we'll pretend doesn't apply any more.

I think people who'd rather pretend this passage doesn't exist aren't really reading it. People see the word "submit" and get completely stuck on it. And, undoubtedly, plenty of people throughout history have probably looked at it and said, "See? I can beat my wife 'cuz she's s'poseta submit." (Such people throughout history had bad grammar.)

The reason Erich and I want to use this reading is because we actually kept reading it through the end. (And our pastor helped us understand it fully.) Wives submit to their husbands, okay. But the greater charge is laid at the husband's feet: Husbands, love your wives. Husbands are to love their wives as their own flesh. Frankly, I want to submit to a husband who loves me as himself, who would be willing to die for me as Christ died for His bride, the Church.

I understand the hyper-feminist angle that would dictate that husbands and wives (they would probably just say "spouses") should be completely equal--that their roles are almost interchangeable. I don't subscribe to this view. Stereotype or no, I am actually better equipped to bear children and keep house. Erich is better equipped to go out and be the primary breadwinner and to devote himself to his family through his love and support, out of reverence for Christ. A husband who loves me that much will always take my views into account, which will make it so much easier to submit to him.

At the heart of the matter lies an emphasis on the difference in roles. Difference, not inequality. We work together, and our unique positions balance each other out and make our marriage and our lives successful. And besides, neither of us is the boss, as it reads in verse 22: "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." We believe the best marriages have Christ in the center. And that is what we intend to have.

1 comment:

pianomomsicle said...

We didn't read this at our wedding, but i do think i understand it and agree with it, too. If there is a man who loves you as much as Christ loves the church, then the decisions he makes for you would be good ones, and therefore should be easy/ier to submit to, it seems to me. There will still be differences in opinion, but the passage doesn't say anything negative about discussion/debate, either.