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a life of little epiphanies

I had a bit of a revelation last week. I was discussing Ephesians 5:22-32 with a friend:

"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- for we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church."


There is, of course, a plethora of quibble-points in there, but I'm going to focus on just some ideas that I've learned recently about husbands.

First, one of the elders at my parents' church was speaking on this passage and gave it a focus that was totally new to me:

Oftentimes, people see the Bible as just a set of do's and don't's, but that's not really the point God is trying to get across to us with His CliffsNotes version of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The point is for us to get to know Him better, to see who He is, to fall in love with Him...

So oftentimes, I read such passages and get completely offended because I can only see the words in the context of Thou Shalt Not-- and since I Will-- the passage is thus dismissed. The fundamental problem with the Bible is that in order to learn anything from it (and life in general, actually), I have to humble myself and acknowledge that there is a possibility that my first reaction might be wrong.

From the point of view of just seeing instructions, I first read this passage and sort of skimmed over the bits about Christ presenting His church holy and blameless and all that, because that was just "mysterious religious blatherings" that were mostly irrelevant to the instructions. Maybe if I had time to sit around contemplating these things, I might get as far as concluding that it's some kind of metaphor for the instructions and leave it at that.

But this is missing the ENTIRE point.

I learned that reading the Bible from the point of view of just seeing instructions is to read the Bible from a me-centric point of view. How does the Bible apply to me? And if I can't figure that out, then that bit of the Bible either doesn't apply to me, or does so in such a mysterious and metaphorical way as to be some sort of High Spirituality or something.

But the Bible, while it describes truths about me and all of mankind, is centrally about God. Reading it from a God-centric point of view changes everything. The question becomes: how does this passage describe God?

This point of view not only makes all the passages make more sense, but it also gives us a richer appreciation of the book's writers as real humans who walked the earth and burped and scratched and loved and died, just like us. Ironic that focusing on God brings even humanity into sharper focus. These real humans weren't walking a foot above the ground, expounding on High Spirituality like someone on a bad acid trip. They were on the ground and they saw God and were totally blown away. It is no surprise then that they would be eager to share this amazing sight with everyone who would listen. When you are filled with joy, is it not the most natural thing to find someone and share it with them?

Paul is writing to the Ephesians about "the mystery of Christ and the church," and if we see that as the major focus (and the instructions as the minor one), suddenly even the instructions make sense.

There is, whether we like it or not, an order to the universe. God establishes it, defines it, IS it. It's like God designed a device that works best in a particular way, but we can take it and use it in other ways. Maybe it'll keep working for a little while in our way, but eventually the gears will wear down and the springs will break and it will come to a screeching, metal-screaming halt. On the other hand, if we use it in the way that He designed it, it will give us the optimal performance and will never break down.

God knew we'd break it and yet He didn't leave us to despair because we missed the mark. By living it Himself, He taught us sacrificial love and redemption and hope and peace and He is continually working against the effects of our desire to break things down. He created everything as we know it by speaking all into existence: His Thoughts Given Form, His Word. This Word existed before everything else and by it He created everything. This Word is His heart, His nature, His meaning, His values, all that He is, spoken to us so that we would know Him. It is Life, the Source, representing to us all that He is. It runs through the fabric of all of existence. His master-stroke was to incarnate this Word, to put it in human form, concentrated, wholly and completely, living among us. The Word made flesh. Walking, talking, being, an example and a sacrifice. He let us hate and tear to pieces this representation of Love, of all that He held dear, all that He is--to tear Him to pieces...and then, because it is His Word and is eternal, He showed us that who He is cannot be defeated.

He is so bone-achingly beautiful... this is who He is. Just one breath, one moment, and He is SO MUCH MORE...

The Anointed One (the "Christ"), this Word incarnate, represents to us more profoundly than anything else who God is. The relationship doesn't stop there, however. When the Word died in our place, the demand for the payment was satisfied by His blood. The Justice and the Mercy of God intersected in this one man, thus reconciling the eternal dichotomy forever. Now in God's sight, we are represented by the one man, the Christ, who is pure and blameless and beautiful. He is the firstborn, the first one of us who was born from the inevitability of death into eternal life. God demonstrated His power to redeem us by raising Christ from the dead, because the Word was, is, and always will be. Christ is the oldest member of the family, the head of the family. Christ represents us before God, makes us pure and blameless and beautiful in His sight.

And now, finally, we turn to the instructions in the passage. :)

"For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior."


Well, the bit about Christ being the head and Savior of us all makes sense now. And a head needs a body to be a living, breathing head. Okay. We are His body. Cool. Funky, still more than a little bit mysterious, but I know that this is more than a metaphor. Challenged a bit to take these words literally...but that just blows my mind. It would explain, however, how people who do not seem to be communicating on this earth are working in unison all over the world. We're being directed by the same Head. Hm. Funky--

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."


Ooh! There's that bit about "the word" again...funky, hadn't noticed that before. But the bit about Christ makes sense now, since it's just expanding further.

"In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies."


Thanks to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bryan Chapell, this instruction reads in the context of the Much Bigger Picture that is going on here. The instruction is just God's way of giving us an everyday-life, living-on-the-ground metaphor for the Real Life He's got under, in, and being the fabric of existence. God gives us the idea of marriage so that we can understand His passionate love for us and sacrificial love commitment to us, His wayward lover, His Bride.

How's that for a turn-around? Instead of Christ and the Church being the metaphor for us, our experience is the metaphor for His reality! We are living in the imperfect approximation of His true reality...as C.S. Lewis says, we are living in the shadowlands...waiting for the day that the Light dawns and we are never in shadow again!

Oh--right. I'm getting distracted by the taste, the slightest glimmer that pokes through the clouds, the glowing hairline crack in the darkened mirror... :)

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives, for the husband is the head of the wife. A head is nothing without the body--and likewise the body without the head. A person's face represents them. You don't see torso shots or foot shots of people. You see head shots, and you recognize them immediately. Likewise, the husband (in this order that God has created, this metaphor for who He is) represents before God the combination-body, the husband-and-wife, and by extension, the family.

And as Christ represents who God is to us, the husband represents who God is--sacrificial love--to his wife, and by extension, to his family.

Suddenly, this passage describes this weighty responsibility, this incredible nobility and two-way path between God and the family under the husband's care. This is not a position of domination or arbitrary caprice. It is a position of living sacrifice and responsibility for care.

Like Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings, I'd long been chafing in the place where the men who cared about me wanted me to be. "I can fight just as well as they!" I'd bristle. "Dominating brutes! Fools! Patriarchal Controlling blah-blah-blahs..."

But it wasn't until I was watching the Battle of Helm's Deep in The Two Towers in that marathon on Tuesday that I had an epiphany. These men didn't want to be out there fighting a horde of smelly orcses in a battle that would probably claim their lives in painful, bloody horrors. But there was one thing for sure: they would much rather be the ones dying in painful, bloody ways than allow their wives and children to suffer it. They were willing to die for the faint hope that their loved ones might live. They were living sacrificial love. They weren't trying to repress Eowyn--they were trying to give her the chance to live longer, to fight the battles that they probably wouldn't be able to. To live. It didn't matter that she would have rather died in some glorious way--they knew tales of valour were worth less than another breath in freedom without pain.

But Eowyn got her chance and totally kicked butt, for which they were all grateful. So what's the moral of the story? First, let God delegate that sort of brutal responsibility to the guys. I'm actually kind of relieved that He hasn't commanded me to do that in the marriage relationship, specifically. But I'm still there, as a second point--I'll pick up a sword and give my life for my loved ones, too. But I would not have that particular representation responsibility as a wife.

Whew.

I guess the thorn of a thought that poked me into starting this dissertation was simply that the husband's responsibility in the relationship is a striking metaphor for Christ's position as the connection between God and man.

Totally cool. :)

Comments

"The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church - read on - and give his life to her (Eph V,25). This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, most unworthy of him, is - in her own mere nature - least lovable." -- C.S. Lewis, THE FOUR LOVES

Puts a rather different slant on it, doesn't it? This passage isn't telling men they have the right to control women and force them to submit; it's telling them they must devote themselves to seeking their wives' best welfare, no matter how great a sacrifice this may involve on their part -- and regardless of whether their wives are willing to submit to their headship or not. The command that wives should submit is given to the wives, for them to obey or disobey of their own free will -- not to the husbands (or any other male authority) to impose upon the wives.

Personally, I love this passage. My husband and I recited it to each other (with him reciting the verses addressed to husbands, and me the ones relating to wives) as part of our wedding ceremony. It helps, no doubt, that my parents modeled the principle of sacrificial headship and willing, intelligent submission so beautifully in my own home as I was growing up.

Anyway, great essay. Just an aside: for very long posts like this, it would be lovely if you'd use an lj-cut tag about a third of the way through -- like this:

But this is missing the ENTIRE point. [lj-cut]

Which, assuming you replace those square brackets I've used with the customary HTML brackets, will come out as:

But this is missing the ENTIRE point. ( More... )

And then people who want to read the whole thing can do so just by clicking on the "More" link, but the entry doesn't take up their whole Friends page. Just a suggestion.

Lovely to have you on LJ! Now when will I see you on AIM? :)

thanks!

I love that "Interrupt my Bible study and you will DIE" picture. Where do you find these things? :)

Thanks (!!) for that lj-cut tag, too. Where can I find a list of such useful things on LJ?

I don't generally chat because it inevitably means that I won't get any work done, and I can't do it at home because my computer/connection is like dragging a dead salamander over sharp rocks.

But I might stop in sometime. :) I'll add you to my buddy list. :)

Re: thanks!

Ah! I found the LJ FAQ. All set. :)

Re: thanks!

I love that "Interrupt my Bible study and you will DIE" picture. Where do you find these things? :)

It's a screencap from an episode of ALIAS. When I saw the episode I wondered what book Irina was reading, and thought that it looked awfully like a Bible (which indeed made sense, seeing as she was in prison at the time and probably wouldn't have had access to anything else). After that, it was a no-brainer to come up with a good slogan to make it into an LJ icon. :)