Sunday, October 04, 2009

Inducing Radiance (and Smoothing a Few Wrinkles)

Our Friday morning men's breakfast group looked at Ephesians 5:22 - 33, a familiar passage to most of us, married (most of us) as we are, many of us having attended more than one Bible study focused on marriage, and some of us even "Marriage Encounter" or similar weekends. What could be new?

The passage first talks to wives (vss 22 - 24) and then speaks to men. Our first impression was that the wives passage seems more concrete than the second passage. And of course we are partial to it. We recalled that the passage addressed to women is the more generally familiar passage, more often quoted. And, of course, we are much more comfortable with the first passage, with the idea of submitting wives or, depending on your version, obeying wives. Comfortable? We like it!

But one problem we noticed right off is that there are three verses aimed at wives (plus verse 33b) and 7.5 verses aimed at husbands. That was a little disturbing. Then the idea of one spouse loving the other is described in respect of the relationship of the husband to the wife. Nothing is said to the wives about their needing to love their husbands. With them, it is "submission" and respect. Husbands are to love their wives. That's a little against type, don't you think? Or at least against the culture.

The idea that only wives are to submit and not men needs to be qualified. In verse 21, right before the passage we considered, Christians (without regard to gender and status) are admonished to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Men do not get a pass in the matter of submitting to their wives. But wives are singled out for submission, because (maybe) they have a problem with submission to the person in respect to whom the wives most often are healthier, stronger, live longer, and smarter. Maybe a little cleaner and a bit more couth.

As to men being the only ones called to love their spouse, we need to remember that Christians (without regard to gender or status) are to "love one another." Women aren't really off the hook with love. Yet "love" is singled out for men. As women may have a problem with submission, maybe men tend to have a problem with loving. The culture calls men to study the practice of romancing women into bed. But love . . . ? That's not manly, is it? We're about work, about career, and about collecting points in the game of life. Our families benefit by the way, and are mainly there to provide applause and validation, to be grateful, and to make us look good.

The theology is huge in the husband passage. Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. Obviously, that's meant to be a pattern for the husband. At our breakfast, we see that right off, and we begin to focus on that pattern. What struck us was the purpose for which Christ gave himself up for the Church (the pronoun for which is "her.") He 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." And then the scripture says, "In the same way husbands ought to love their wives . . ."

We considered the matter of radiance. We are to love our wives so that they will radiate. That word has something very important to do with beauty, but it is more. It is the sort of beauty that impacts the person who beholds that beauty, it is heat and light (not something cold and remote), we feel it on our skin as well as in our hearts. It is wonderful when our wives are that way with us. And Paul writes that we husbands have everything to do with having a wife like that.

And then there are the wrinkles. What a concrete condition for Paul to identify. My NIV speaks of Christ's love as something that removes the church's wrinkles, and so a husband's love is to remove the wrinkles of his wife. (We tend to increase them at times, I think.) Women hate wrinkles, and we husbands have the solution. I think of the women I have seen who have had face-lifts to deal with wrinkles, subjecting themselves to risk and pain for a few years of faux-beauty. But wives whose husbands honor them tend to grow more beautiful as the years wear on. They need nothing of what the culture offers in that respect.

Husbands want beautiful wives. Fair enough. The scripture provides that husbands who want wives who grow more beautiful are to love them, as Christ loved the church. It is a profound mystery, as it says in verse 32. But the scripture says that it works. And I know it works.


Ben Ostrowsky said...

I've been unsure how to take any Bible verse that speaks differently to half the human race, since (Galatians 3:28) in Christ there is neither male nor female. I suspect that God (who made humanity in God's image: male and female God created them) does not really see us as different -- but early Christians had different concerns of justice based on existing gender expectations. What do you think?

Paul Stokes said...

Hi, Ben! Good point. I am not sure I am ready to "culturalize" part of this passage so thoroughly. I see gender differences in the here and now and they seem to relate to what I see addressed in this scripture. What is different about the Christian view here (different from what may have been the view in the pagan culture) is that both husband and wife are equally valued (i.e., neither male nor female in this respect), even if their differences are acknowledged (or even prized). Thanks for commenting.