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Balancing Act

January 8, 2014

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.  Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”  Genesis 3:16

There it stands, in the awful aftermath of sin and rebellion it comes as a pronouncement from God; part of a wider explanation of the consequences of the fall.  For some this verse is seen as prescriptive; as a solution God offers to solve the mess Adam and Eve have gotten themselves in.  To them, as part of the redemption plan, God is placing men in charge.

I’m going to ignore those who see it as punishment; who see a petulant and angry God reacting in a snit.

But to others, me included, this verse is predictive.  It is a frank telling what is now going to happen.  It is no more prescriptive than the subsequent “thorns and thistles.”  Nobody assumes that God included thorns in a redemption plan.  Instead he is saying “this is now what you are going to face.”  This was not God’s answer to the problem, it was part of the problem sin has caused.

And it sure has come true.  Men assume a position of strength and dominance; women end up in a position of weakness and vulnerability.  Down through history this has been the case.  In some dark places this has resulted, and still results, in horrifying abuse.  It is only through turning our backs and not wanting to see that we can ignore the abuse women take.  In more “enlightened” places we still see women denied rights, denied opportunities.  Please don’t see this as a feminist rant; I am just saying that the male/female relations that are really out there are never what God planned.

What was, in the beginning, a balance, has seen the scales tip.  Men went up into power; women down into submission.  The woman was “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone” and not the one who needed ruling.  She was also the recipient, alongside the man, of the command to rule and subdue creation and instead ended up being ruled.

My wife, who is active in ministry to women in suffering places around the world would be quick to tell you that where the Gospel has gone women experience freedom and healing in many ways.  The redemptive power of the Gospel tends to tip the scales back into balance.  But even for us, both men and women, balance is hard to achieve.  Sin still knocks at the door and the “he shall rule over you” curse still echoes.

Alive in the church today is a movement, well-intentioned for the most part, that seeks to emphasize the rule/submit dichotomy.  They exhort men to be godly and Christ-like rulers, women to submit with grace.  They see the tip to authority for men and submission for women as right and necessary.  Again, most mean well, and some are cognizant of the dangers of ungodly applications of this tilt, but they strive to teach and apply the tilt as what we need to solve the problem.

But, as I hear these folks speak, a great uneasiness always comes up.  It always seems to me that the danger they fear is not that men in the “up” position will abuse this power but that women in the “down” position might not want to stay there; might indeed fight to get “up.”  I am always uneasy when the church jumps in on the side of the powerful instead of the powerless.

Yet the verses they cite to support the “up” role of men are actually in the Bible.  What do we do with them?  For me, to understand them properly we have to see the goal as restoration, and as seeking the balance God always wanted.  When I see the focus on scolding and worrying about what the “down” side is doing to get “up” I can’t help but think we’ve got the matter backwards.

Men, what does the leadership you are told to aspire to look like?  If you are to take seriously the admonition that it is to be “as Christ” then what does that look like?  It means that you need to empty yourself (Philippians 2:7); to give up right to a position.  It means being willing to assume the most humble of servant tasks (John 13:4&5).

It means assuring her that she will do greater things than you; it means not demanding or coercing her to obey; it means not insisting she help you but being willing to do whatever it takes to see her restored to the beautiful balance God always wanted.  As Jesus gave everything to his bride it means doing the same; not in some hypothetical boast that “I’d die for you” but in day to day demonstration in the smallest humble ways.  It means a leadership that looks absolutely nothing like the world defines it; a leadership where the leader is washing the feet of the follower and no onlooker could guess who the leader was.

And submitting?  Frankly, seen in this light, it doesn’t seem quite the same.  When sitting on the downside of a scale that has tipped it means helping your partner who is striving to bring back the balance in every way possible. It means reaching out and taking his hand as he pulls you up.  It means seeing the restoration of balance not as a tug-of-war to stay “up” or get “up” but as a joint effort in the same task.  It is a task that can be done best by loving one another and serving one another.

We will always be weak and imperfect.  But can we set aside the talk of leading and submitting?  Can we just admit that our goal is the same; that the task is just one and we share it?  Can we admit that, in this task, the terms leadership and submission are just two sides of the same coin and not distinct acts?  Can we agree that our goal is equality and that the only way to achieve this balance is to lift up that which is down?

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