Submission might be the worst word in the English language, followed closely by obedience. No matter how many times I read Ephesians 5:21–33, I still bristle at the apostle Paul's admonition for wives to submit to their husbands. Theologically, I've tried for years to understand what this means. Paul admits that submission is a profound mystery and that it refers to Christ and the church. For the most part, I've simply followed Paul's logic up to this point. I've chalked submission up to being too heady a concept to understand.
But Paul doesn't let us off the hook. Mystery or not, he says, ". . . each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (verse 33). Thanks, Paul. You're the best.
I can swallow the spiritual implications of submission to Christ. He's perfect, after all, and seems like a pretty safe bet as far as submission goes. Jesus wouldn't misuse his power. So submitting to Jesus doesn't feel scary; it just feels difficult, like when my pride gets in the way and I don't want to listen to God's whispers to me.
But my husband? He's human. I'm not always sure his motives are pure. How can I submit to him when he's fallible? And why would I let him be the head when I have my own?
And yet, Paul insists on banging the drum: "Wives, submit to your husbands in everything" (verse 24).
Everything? Really? What is this supposed to mean on a day-to-day basis? Does this mean I defer to my husband, Dan, on every decision? Does it mean I play small so he can be big? Does it mean that I have no say in our marriage? I've been fed a lifetime of, you can have anything you want, you can do anything you want, you can be anything you want. Is Paul telling me to surrender all of this for Dan? I'll submit to Jesus, but some days (most days?) I'm a lot slower to want to surrender to Dan.
In this issue, we've enlisted the help of some of our trusted authors and friends to help clear the fog. Kelli Trujillo, married nearly 15 years, examines two pervading views about submission—complementarian and egalitarian. She interviews Trillia Newbill and Jenny Rae Armstrong, two Christian women who are known for their distinctly different views on submission. In the end, Kelli ends up with a hybrid perspective.
Dr. Juli Slattery puts a surprising spin on submission and helps us see that in submitting, we hold more power than we may realize. And Margot Starbuck, always wise and witty, teaches on what it means to "Be a Yes-Woman" to God.
I relate uncomfortably to Margot's words:
"For better or for worse, in my life, submission to God most often begins with, God, let me tell you all the reasons I can't do this thing . . . And on my best days my heartfelt monologue ends on, Whatevs. I'll do it. But only because I want to!"
If I think I'm unyielding to my husband, I'm way more resistant to God than I like to admit. Could it be (and this is hard to confess) that the degree to which I resist submitting in practical day-to-day life, say, to Dan, is actually a manifestation of the level to which I'm willing to surrender myself to God? Ow. That stings. But how many times have I really thought, Not your will God, but mine be done?
On the other hand, if I think I have it hard, according to Paul, husbands are supposed to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Remember, Jesus died for us, the church. Paul instructs our husbands to give up their lives for us like Jesus did (verse 25). Husbands are called to do this so that their wives can be presented holy and blameless before God. In doing so, they build up the whole body of Christ. This is starting to feel mysterious again.
I still don't grasp all of it, but this much I do know: The extent to which I am able to respect and trust and submit to my husband is often a reflection of my willingness to trust and surrender to God. Instead of seeing submission as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea, I'm trying to embrace it and let it do a teaching in me.
Maybe in trying to view this submission thing a little differently, I might come to a better understanding of who God is, as well as a fuller appreciation of who my husband is. I don't doubt for a second that Dan would lay his life down for me. In a million ways he's been doing this for the past 28 years of our marriage. Perhaps it's time for me to regularly extend the respect Paul tells me to give so that he can know unequivocally that I trust and willingly submit myself to his—and God's—care and protection.
You may come to different conclusions about what submission means. In presenting various views and perspectives on the topic, it's our hope that we'll be able to grapple with difficult issues together in a way that brings unity even if we're not unanimous in our thinking.
Marian V. Liautaud