We didn’t end up with the 8-10 inches of snow for today that was first predicted. This morning the boys and I walked down to the beach to check out the lake. It had melted enough and gotten cold enough again over the past several days to be covered in flurries and a thinner layer of ice. The boys were light enough to be able to walk and slide on it and not break the ice. The difference in weight between me and the boys was just enough so that any ice I tried to walk on cracked or broke through.
I’m taking a break from working on my paper. I had to stop this afternoon to read the biblical book of Esther for a discussion assignment due by midnight. Our assignment was to share our favorite or least favorite theme or event from the book and why. I took the more negative route and shared how almost immediately I felt anger toward King Ahasuerus for making such a rash judgement call following Queen Vashti’s dismissal of his request. Not only does his personal request seem selfish, but when the queen does not do what he wants, she is swiftly removed as queen. One of the king’s advisors, Memucan, imagines and fears an extreme scenario where word will get out about the way Queen Vashti refused the king, which he says will then lead to women throughout the kingdom holding their husbands in contempt. Instead of any self-reflection of his own behavior and motives, or working things out between him and the queen (probably a naïve proposal for those times, I admit), the king clamps down on his own power and strengthens the kingdom-wide grip of men as rulers over their wives.
“Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also against all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus”, Memucan says in the presence of the king and his officials. In the king’s humiliation, a woman is blamed. I’m not saying Queen Vashti wasn’t somehow in the wrong. Whatever her reasons were for refusing his request, she likely could have done so in a less humiliating way for her husband. But it is the king, in this story, who is sinning left and right.
In a lot of the Christian resources I have read over the years about the relationships between men and women, I have typically seen it described how one of women’s chief sins and desires is to rebel against male authority. This isn’t just in books I’ve read. At a pastor’s wives conference last fall I listened to a deaconess speak about how women have trouble accepting that they are not in charge. We all have an inner feminist inside of us who wants to rebel against the divine order and grasp at male authority.
It came up in Bible class a few weeks ago when the pastor was talking about laws being passed for sex education in the public schools. He said we can’t just speak out about what is wrong. We also need a picture of what is right. He then went on to describe God’s design for marriage and the way God created men and women, as well as the ways that sin has distorted it, including a woman wanting her husband’s position. I sat through a pastor’s conference just a few years ago where a loved and respected seminary professor taught a room full of pastors and a few present women that Genesis 3:16, which says, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”, means that women will desire to control their husbands. I learned quietly and remained silent, without so much as even raising my hand to ask any questions (For the pastor’s conference. This past recent time in Bible class I said something). I used to hope my husband and the other pastors would notice how feminine and godly I was, as that is what I thought the good men cared about and praised. I was afraid of what men might think of me or my husband if I raised my hand to speak. I didn’t want to humiliate my husband in front of these peers of religious men for having an unsubmissive wife.
I used to believe this about myself, that I wanted to rule my husband and that in turn I needed to submit to his authority, which I didn’t think would be too hard since the desire to usurp his authority wasn’t something I felt. I believed that any dissent or disagreement rising up in me was simply my Genesis 3 tendencies coming out to rear their ugly heads. I interpreted my actions and desires by filtering my life through the lens of this long for me intriguing verse. The solution was to deny my thoughts, my feelings, my own rebellious personhood and unsubmissive voice. All of this I put on myself. This belief was a double-edged sword that resulted in more and more self-denial and a stunting of my growth toward relational health and wholeness. In books, and blogs, when it would talk about a women desiring to rule over her husband, I wondered if maybe I just had it easy and didn’t feel this desire to usurp and rule like other women. I was proud I wasn’t rebellious like apparently the rest of the women of the earth were. To control and rule over my husband was not my desire at all. I wanted him to love me and I wanted his heart like I had it once before.
I have issues with the complementarian interpretation of Genesis 3:16. One, I don’t like it because it makes women look bad. Two, I don’t like it because I’m 95-97% certain it’s not true. Kevin DeYoung, pastor and writer, and one of the main supporters of complementarianism in online circles, wrote an article back in 2013 responding to women who at the time were respectfully challenging some of the popular complementarian teachings and beliefs. Their Genesis 3:16 interpretation was one of the main issues of these women’s contention. In his article New Wave Complementarianism: A Question and a Concern, Kevin writes:
(In order for the next quote to make sense it’s important to know that Susan Foh is the woman who wrote the article What is the Woman’s Desire that states that a woman will desire to dominate her husband, and that the husband, in turn, must rule his wife. The first time I read it I had an extremely strong urge to stand up and scream, “LIAR!”. Links/parenthesis below are all contained in the original article. I added the bold).
“Susan Foh – Her argument that the “desire” in Genesis 3:16 is the women’s desire to domineer over her husband makes sense to me from the parallel passage in Genesis 4:7 (cf. Claire Smith’s excellent post defending this view). Alsup believes this is an entirely new interpretation that was never before heard of until Susan Foh argued for it in 1975. Even if this were the case—and my quick perusal of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture shows that Johannes Brenz (1499-1570) wrote about “when women aspire to dominate their husbands in running the household” in his commentary on Genesis 3:16—it doesn’t do much to alter the central point; namely, that the blessing of the male-female relationship has been twisted into a burden by sin. Husbands, who can be tyrannical, need to love their wives; and wives, who can chafe at submission, need to respect their husbands (Eph. 5:33). This basic point is hardly dependent on Foh or her almost 40 year old article, which no one but a handful of scholars has heard of or references. “
The point I’m trying to make is that the way people teach and interpret the Bible matters. If Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood had said, “You know, this is a difficult passage to translate, so we can’t say for sure what exactly it means, but the general idea is that the blessing of the male-female relationship has been twisted into a burden by sin”, that would be one thing. If Johannes Brenz or Martin Luther or John Calvin or Kevin DeYoung or any of these men with more authority had said, “I wonder what the women would say, it might be worth at least asking them…”, then we gladly would’ve had a deep and loving conversation. But the way it stands now, there is a very specific belief being taught to women and about them. If I am wrong and this view of women taught from the Bible is correct, then I trust the Lord will work in my life and show me I’m wrong. If it is the actual interpretation and teaching that is wrong, then I would argue that this greatly matters. It means that pastors, teachers, and men and women in the church have been bearing false witness against women for years.
Thanks for your reflections, and for your invitation for men to wonder what women might say. I agree that this is the path from monologue to dialogue, where we meet the living Word.
Thank you for your kind and gracious reply to a post like this, and for that word “invitation”. The things I write here are often a lot of my unrefined thoughts, even if they are things I’ve thought a lot about. To meet the living Word is the lovely gift we are given in Christ, a joy of which the invitation, in him, is always open.