I have a feeling that those two words as a title are going to bring a lot of page views for this article and that the vast majority of readers will leave unhappy. But here goes.
Yesterday our adult Sunday School class managed to finish a two-week study on the passage in I Peter that focuses on wives submitting to their husbands and husbands honoring their wives. We did this without exploding into major controversy, probably because we stuck to what the passage actually says and avoided any deep “how do I apply this in my marriage” discussion. I have no shame in ducking that question because, after he says what he has to say, Peter too does not give specifics.
This of course does not stop all sorts of people from being absolutely sure they can define this down to the smallest degree. There are whole organizations devoted to explaining this to us ranging from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to the opposing Christians for Biblical Equality. Both organizations have many thoughtful examinations of biblical texts that support their views and any number of articles willing to explain to the rest of us how to do it right.
In addition to these organizations, both of which I respect if not totally agree with, there are all sorts of other voices shouting at us. A few of these voices, on both sides, might be characterized as the lunatic fringe but one of the charms of the internet is the way so many people can cheerfully (or otherwise) add their voices to the mix. In times past everyone knew and tolerated at least one neighborhood crackpot on some subject or another but now we get to hear from a global community of them. I’ve thought about trying to organize a “Council of Biblical Crackpots” but am probably too lazy to try.
The good news in this debate is that there are a lot of Christians deeply committed to correctly living out our faith in our marriages. The bad news, obviously, is that we then gallop off in all directions on how to do that. I can’t help but think that one of the reasons for this is a strange by-product of our obsession with biblical inerrancy.
Many of us start our studies with the assurance of an inerrant Bible and then assume that absolutely every passage of Scripture is supposed to have a clear personal message for me. Perhaps the peak of this relentless quest for direct instructions from God came in “The Prayer of Jabez” by Bruce Wilkerson written back around 2000. He took one obscure verse from I Chronicles and turned it into a best-selling book specific prayer we all need to pray.
But back to our marriages. Since we want to know how to have God-honoring marriages, and since the Bible does seem to say something about this, then obviously God wants us to obey the specifics of how to do this– if we can figure them out. But what if God never intended to give us such specifics? Even more, what if He doesn’t really care what those specifics are?
The idea that my wife and I are trusted to work out a good marriage that honors God, and that I am free to ignore the reams of advice on specifics that I can find, is exhilarating. Of course, if I have this freedom I am not allowed to impose my ideas of such a marriage on others. The idea that I can have a good marriage and still be clueless on how to instruct others to do the same is galling.
But in any event, I am sticking with the idea that God is not all that bothered about the details of my marriage. Even if I am wrong about that, the belief could then qualify me for membership in the Council of Biblical Crackpots.