We assume that this verse means that the husband should lead his wife, but does Christ really lead the church? We have no record of Jesus ever giving directions for how to build a church after he was gone. He established no rituals, no holy days, and his directions for membership were fuzzy at best. And, with all apologies to those who believe that somehow their church takes directions directly from God, Jesus doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in how the church does what it has to do. I don’t think leader in the sense of “having the right or authority to direct of course of action” is a very good description of Christ’s relationship with the church.
The description that the bible does give us of Jesus and the church is one of groom and bride. This is interesting because the best marriages are marriages between people who are pretty equal. Not the same, per se. But research does show that we seem to instinctively seek out and bond with those who are about as intelligent, passionate and attractive as we are. The goal of marriage is to share life, in all its permutations, as one unit. The church is being prepared to be a partner to Christ – to share in His life and His work. Not as an inferior (unless we want the old model of women as quasi-children to make a come back!), but as a full partner in life. This is one of those places where we can understand what is happening better by looking at how things work in the real world. We don’t seek partnerships where one partner is a drag on the other or where one partner is so inferior to the other that the marriage can’t related spiritually and emotionally. God’s not dumber than us and certainly doesn’t want a marriage for his Son and the church that is inferior to the ones we put together for ourselves.
The other overlooked issue is that the church is being prepared to be a bride. This leads to, but is different from, being a wife. A bride and groom have decided that they share enough in common, are passionate enough and attracted enough to each other to want to learn to be husband and wife. A wife is already sharing in the life and work of the family. A bride has not yet undertaken that responsibility. The bible tells us that God sees in us the necessary ingredients to make a good spouse for His Son and we are in the process of basically being shaped and civilized to bring out the beauty that God put in us from the beginning.
Now, the story of the rescued bride is a very old, classic one. Think Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty or even Beauty and the Beast. Why is this? This is where the church as the bride of Jesus and the husband as head of the wife start to come together. The rescued bride has resonated through the ages in part because the position of women has traditionally been so oppressed and subject to so much abuse. Men could prove themselves worthy by feats of bravery, cunning, physical strength. Women could prove themselves worthy by having people fall in love with them. A worthy queen was beloved by her subjects. And a more typical woman could prove herself worthy by winning the love of her husband and children. What the woman was capable of herself was rarely the subject of much praise or attention. And even “winning love” wasn’t a reasonable option for most women. Most women came from poor families. And rich or poor, they were passed between families in marriage with little say.
And this is the point that all of the heurmetics about the role of women and relationship between husband and wife almost completely leave out: out of all God’s creatures, women – whose creation He crowned all that He had made with – were the most oppressed, the most heartbroken, the most vulnerable, the most weak, the most despised, the most ignorant, the most powerless. But I have never heard this spoken about in church. I have heard pastors preach on poor, oppressed men with women tagging along behind. But when Paul tells men that they are to be the head of their wives as Christ is head of the church, the fact that their wives were in need of rescue from their oppression, pain and powerlessness is not what they talk about.
When Jesus announced his ministry, he read from Isaiah 61: 1-3:
The LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion–to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
This is Jesus’ marriage proposal to all of us. This is what Paul is telling us husbands were called to when he said that they were to be the head of the wife as Christ was head of the church. This is supposed to be part of Jesus’ provision for the most oppressed, hurting of God’s children – the women. A husband’s job is not to direct his wife in the way that she should go. A husband’s job is to give his wife hope and comfort and the freedom to become who she was created to be (a secret only her heart knows, btw), just as Jesus offers hope and comfort and freedom to become who we were created to be in the Kingdom of God. This has nothing to do with power and authority and everything to do with love. Paul was telling men that they should be empowering their wives to be who God designed them to be and presenting their wives to Christ as an example of how well they loved. This is very deep stuff here. But . . .
Paul was writing in a time and place which was, praise God!, very different from our own. I tell my kids frequently that I thank God often that I was made a woman during this time and this place, because at no other time in human history could I, as a woman, enjoy as much freedom, respect and control over my own life as I can today. I will take the difficulty and stress and heartbreak of the modern world gladly over someplace or time when they would mutilate my genitals as a child or where I could not show my face in public or be expected to bear all pain, loss or hurt without complaint and without comfort. And how did we go from being a world where women were universally oppressed to one where I can live comfortably? Well, I don’t think it’s any co-incidence that the part of the world where women enjoy freedom and equality are those areas where Christianity took hold. God was looking out for His girl children and providing for their rescue. And it has taken a lot of time, but this antipathy towards women runs so deep in the human race that it has been called humanity’s real original sin.
The question for us now is what does an idea like the headship of the husband mean in a time when women don’t need to be rescued from the law and custom and religion in order to be free? Here’s where we run into a problem; is there something inherent in women as opposed to men that is in need of rescue? If not (and I would argue not), then it’s the circumstance, not the nature of women that triggers the headship behavior. In which case, just like love and submission, this is something about how we all should view our relationships. Hmmmmm . . .
More to think about as I am heading to bed! But as food for thought, I will throw into the mix John and Staci Eldredge’s explanation of what woman was created to be for man(which I will have to look up later) which points out that the word that often gets translated as “help” in other contexts is only used to describe God himself coming to help in times of extreme peril. Hmmmmm . . .
So, anyhow, that’s what I’ve been thinking of as I go to bed. And you?