Monday, 19 March 2012

Equal But Different

(Picture from Mama Bear's own personal collection).

I have had a lovely Mother's Day! Oh I was so spoilt! So many treats and presents, and a lovely rest from my usual Sunday duties too! It was a perfect day from start to finish, and what was especially enjoyable was how we all had such a wonderful time - not just me! Papa Bear had a big smile on his face because his football team won their game (and he got to see it on TV!), and the cubs were happy too because we'd spent the whole day all together, worshipping and doing fun things as a family, which nowadays doesn't happen quite as often as it use to when they were younger. One thing that we did do, was switch off all our electronic gadjets (apart from the TV when the football was on!) and it made a huge difference to how much time we were able to spend together, and the quality of that time. Papa Bear especially was pleased at the extra time it bought us all, not having radios, computers, laptops and iPads switched on. He said that from now on it would be a good thing if we made it a regular, weekly rule that we cut back on our use of gadjets on a Sunday. And of course, we all agreed!

There was really no argument about it, as we had all felt the benefit of the extra time, with no distractions, that being together as a family had brought us. And we all found that we were more than able to enjoy our own entertainment - sharing news, reading together, worshipping together, singing together, playing games together. We also went for a walk when the sun finally came out and the football was over - and that was lovely too! But even if we had not personally felt all the benefits of this deliberate decision to avoid technology for 24 hous, we would still, the cubs and I, have agreed willingly with Papa Bear, in principle, because he is the head of the house. We might later have suggested that we try a compromise, after a month or maybe 2 of doing things his way, if we felt it wasn't working well. But we are happy to let him take the lead on decisions about how our family life is lived, because that is God's will for him - and for us too. And do you know, for us, this works beautifully, because we're all much at peace with the order of things in our home, and secure in the knowledge that as the "captain" of our "ship", Papa Bear is almost always steering it in the right direction!

A while ago on this blog I mentioned a book by Martha Pearce entitled "The Excellent Wife - A Biblical Perspective". This is quite an academic book and written in a slightly more literary form than I am use to. As a result, I have not yet read this book from cover to cover, but I have read one very important chapter in it, chapter 13 - "Biblical Submission - Basis of the Wife's Protection". I understand that the book needs to be read in context to get the full message and breadth of what Martha Pearce is writing about here, but I have found that this chapter has some powerful things to say, as a stand-alone piece of text about the Biblical role of women in society today.

One of the most valuable passages that I have read in this chapter relates to the often overlooked and misunderstood teaching of Ephesians 5, in which women are commanded to " ... submit yourselves unto your own husbands ..." (Ephesians 5, 22). I've read many criticisms of this passage of Paul's teaching, in which people argue that this command of Christ, if taken (as it should be, if we are to be God's servants) literally, implies that women are to make themselves doormats - submitting to each and every whim of our husband's, even if these are damaging or dangerous. Not only are women, these Biblical opposers say, making themselves into feeble, childlike little weaklings, shadows of the sort of women that they say we should be, by obeying God's commands - unable to make a decision for themselves, too powerless and insignificant to be allowed to have any choices or freedom in their own lives - but in addition, they are, by so doing, making themselves vulnerable to the abuses of men who are taking advantage of a distorted interpretation of the Bible's teaching about the role of husbands in a marriage.

But this is wrong! This isn't what Paul is teaching us at all, in this passage in Ephesians. Read only a little further, and you will see what he says Christ has commanded for husbands. Men, he says, are to cherish and adore their wives, as they would their own bodies - not to treat them like slaves! This is God's will for the married couple, because as the wife is in submission to her husband, so is the Church is in submission to Christ Jesus - it's the natural order of things. Husbands aren't directed to enforce this submission, or to take advantage of their wives, or to bully them. They are to LOVE them -

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having a spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself." (Ephesians 5, 25 - 29).

This is a really important passage of teaching in Scripture that is often overlooked by those who choose to oppose the clear and powerful teaching of God's Word. It is not at all His will that men and women should not be equal. We are ALL made in His image - not just men. Once again Paul, this time writing to the Corinthians, reminds us that because we belong to God, we must all treat our bodies with care and respect -

"... know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." (1 Corinthians 6, 19 - 20).

However, we are DIFFERENT. God created us with different roles in mind. We are not, as Martha Pearce writes, to be "passive" (p 137) victims that submit without question, even if our husbands are commanding that we engage in an act of sinfulness. She writes quite clearly that the wife is not "inferior" (p 139), but "different" (ibid). We are to submit because our ranking, in the natural order of things, places us beneath our husbands, but this does not make us subordinate in value before God. We are to support our husbands, as they lead our homes (and only OUR husbands - that's what verse 22 in Ephesians 5 teaches - "submit yourselves unto your OWN husbands"), in order that the work they are commanded to do, as heads of the home, is done efficiently and effectively. I like Martha Pearce's analgoy of an army squadron - with the husband as the Sergeant Major, and the wife as the second-in-command! That's a little like the way I see our domestic arrangements - I like to imagine that our home is like a boat, that's being steered across an ocean which is normally quite calm, but occasionally does get a little choppy, when storms crop up - some anticipated, others unexpected. It needs a brave and experienced captain in charge - but a crew of able-bodied seamen to assist, and a very skilled chief cook and bottle washer to support his endeavours! The boat wouldn't be able to get where it needed to go without all of us aboard, but it only needs one captain to steer it. And that's just how God wants it to be. We all have our roles to play, within the family. Roles that are distinct, and Biblically delineated, but nevertheless, complimentary and mutually supportive - and equally valuable. Without each person playing their role, the family unit won't function properly, and that's when problems begin.

I'm glad that I can take on my role so enthusiastically - and embrace it so joyfully. I'm lucky. As I've said before, Papa Bear and I were raised in a culture where the roles of men and women, quite aside from the teaching of the Bible which we've also grown up with, are still maintained in the time-honoured and traditional ways, and it hasn't been at all hard for us to adopt these and maintain them in our marriage - or for our children to follow in our examples. I can understand that for many people, raised in today's modern, secular culture, it can't be so easy, to turn away from this. There are many temptations and distractions. There are strong feelings about the roles of men and women - views that are being coloured by some very controversial values and ideas that are being discussed today, in England and abroad. It's never felt more important to turn back to the teaching of Scripture on such matters, and be reassured of what God's commands are, for men and women, husbands and wives. There can be no doubt then, and that's what is most reassuring for me. Whatever the words of the world are, I know what God says, and those are the only words we really need to hear.

"And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed
." (Genesis 2, 18 - 25).