Tuesday, January 19, 2010

from the archives: submission strong and beautiful

Submission is beautiful. Submission is strong. Submission is not a dirty word.

Submission is beautiful. It makes us like Jesus, who gladly submits to the will of his Father (Jn 8:29). It makes us like Christ's glorious bride, the church, who joyfully submits herself to the Husband who laid down his life to win her (Eph 5:22-33). Its beauty is seen in every Christian who obeys God willingly, in every child who honours their parents, in every safe and ordered society. It springs from the unchanging, inner beauty of a "gentle and quiet spirit", one of God's most precious treasures (1 Pet 3:4).

Submission is strong. Only those who are confident in themselves, or (better!) in God, don't need to throw their weight around. Sarah left her home and follow her husband Abraham on the journey of faith to an unknown country, because she trusted in God and didn't give way to fear (1 Pet 3:5-6). Only women with a big picture of God - a God whose eternal purpose in making men and women was to display the love between Christ and the church, and who works every circumstance for our good and his glory (Rom 8:28=29) - are able to submit with trust and joy.

Submission is not a dirty word. We honour submission in Jesus, in Christians, in children. But when it comes to marriage, we have a mental block. When the "s" word comes up in a talk or a Bible reading, it makes us squirm with embarrassment.

The word "submission" may bring to mind mental pictures of a (perfectly dressed) housewife taking (perfectly baked) biscuits out of her (perfectly polished) stove, or the "little wife" who brings a "masterly man" his slippers and pipe, or the human doormat who has denied her own intelligence and personhood to say "yes" to everything her husband asks, however demeaning or stupid.

My own journey to seeing the beauty of submission was a long one. I don't remember thinking much about submission in marriage as a child. As a teenager at a girl's school, the idea would probably have seemed repellent. During my Arts course, I became a thorough-going feminist. Steve, who is now my husband, was also a feminist in those days.

I only accepted submission as God's will for marriage after much study, conversation and heart-searching. I debated every side of the issue with wise Bible teachers, read books representing different points of view (the most memorable and influential being Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), and spent many hours studying the Bible passages on men and women (Gen 1-3, 1 Cor 11:2-16, 14:26-40, Gal 3:28, Eph 5:22-33, Col 3:18-19, Tit 2:3-5, 1 Tim 5:14, 2 Tim 1:5, 3:14-15, 1 Pet 3:1-7).

Despite all the debates, in the end it seemed to me (and to Steve!) that the Bible is actually very clear: "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (Eph 5:24). You have to jump backwards through many exegetical hoops to get it to say anything else.* So we made the good old promises of love and submission at our wedding.

Even then, with not many models of submission in marriage to imitate, and few older, godly women who practise submission to teach me the practicalities, it's taken many years for me to understand what headship and submission look like in a healthy marriage.

These days, I find young Christian women much more willing to accept the idea of submission. But they are still confused about the practice. One of the questions I'm asked most often by young women is "What exactly does submission in marriage look like?" In a day or two, I'd like to write about the practicalities of submission in marriage.

* I know I've left acres of questions unanswered. This isn't the place for a huge theological debate. If you'd like to follow the issues up for yourself, can I suggest you start by listening to Claire Smith Different by Design. She is fair, thorough, compassionate, and well thought out. She answers the various objections to submission logically and well. And if you'd like to talk more about what I discovered about the Bible's teaching on submission, feel free to contact me, or write in the comments.

1 comment:

Fiona said...

Jean, I loved your description of submission as beautiful and strong! Submission is at the heart of being a Christian, as we submit to God as our Lord and depend on him as our Saviour, yet (as you observe) it is such an unpopular concept today. Our society values autonomy and individualism and rights and "freedom", so we have to fight to believe and to teach that submission (to the proper authority) is indeed a beautiful and strong thing!

Fiona McLean