Monday, May 13, 2013

Me? Obey Him? (serial review) [pgs. 11, 12]

If I wrote an entire book for the purpose of encouraging and helping others to do something in particular, like follow a certain state law, would you expect me choose a behavior that is indeed a law? Let's say I'm a super excited supporter of a recently elected governor, and I want to stand by him and see other people do the same. So I go around telling people, "Don't feed the birds. No bird-feeders, even on private property. Governor says so!"
So even though you've been an avid bird lover since childhood, you follow this law... until the day you find out it was never made a law at all, certainly not by this new governor. And then you're just ticked off.

I lied to you. If I was just plain confused about the actual laws, I at least misinformed you. It's a lot like what Elizabeth Rice Handford does with the book Me? Obey Him? and she starts right off with it in the first chapter. It begins with a regaling of sorts of the creation account, and God's good creation of "the single most important relationship a human being can ever enter into with another human being." I'm not sure exactly where she gets that idea, or how she's defining important here, but we'll move on.

She continues with:
He gave man a woman, to be companion, friend, compassionate helpmeet, lover, and heir with him in the grace of creating new life.
Sounds alright. She doesn't define helpmeet that I'm seeing though, and that might be slightly or vitally important, depending on if you want to give someone the full picture of God's intentions or not. If we're going to go around insisting we're created to be a helper to someone, it's probably a good idea to know what helper actually means. (Hint: the word in its original language implied no hint of subordination at all, but was also used several times in the Old Testament in reference to God. Is He our subordinate assistant? Hmm.)

So God gave man a woman, and they loved each other and were heirs together and life was great. And then, what happened Elizabeth? She says:

But one dark day - the darkest day in all the world, darker even than the day Christ gave His life on the cross, because this day made necessary that day - Eve listened to the serpent in the garden. She believed Satan's lie. She touched the forbidden fruit, plucked it, tasted it, and gave it to her husband. Together they inherited, not the God-likeness Satan had promised but the curse of death. 
So this sets us up quite easily to learn what that curse of death looked like. What was it? Elizabeth goes on:

When God walked through the garden in the cool of that somber day, He found His two creatures hiding, shivering in the nakedness of their sin. In a voice that struck dread in the heart of that first woman, God said to her, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." 
There you have it. There's the curse of death. The subordinate and ruling "roles" so preached as God's design are seen clearly here as part of the curse, I don't really see at all how Elizabeth missed it, particularly since she wrote the two above paragraphs right next to each other.

A paragraph later, things become more confusing when she says, "The command uttered that day to the stricken wife still stands: "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."

Two things, here. The big one, the one that invalidates every following argument is that Elizabeth calls this description of the curse God's command. Do you see a command? I don't see a command. Telling someone how things will be is never the same as telling someone how things ought to be. God saying, "he shall" is not God saying, "he should."
There is absolutely no command. And yet this "command" is the premise on top of which Elizabeth builds her entire book.

If there's no command, there's no book. Yet somehow, there is a book, even though there's no command.
Kind of a waste, huh?

Second, let's use the wild imaginations the Lord gave us for a moment, and just pretend (work with me here) for a moment, that it was a command. (Note: You'll have to completely twist around the wording and even change a few words in your head, but you can do it. Everyone does.)
Okay, now that we think for the moment it was a command, does it still stand today? Elizabeth says it does, but does it? It was part of the curse of death, right? What did Jesus come for again? Did He come to establish that curse of death, or redeem us from it? Did He come to further a new Kingdom or the old one? Does He want us living under the curse that created our need for Him and catalyzed His death to begin with?

I'm not seeing it. So this foundational argument that Elizabeth tries to stand on makes the rest of the book quite useless. If her assumptions were true, maybe the rest would make sense. But if the first few pages are completely false assumptions, what good is the rest of it? When God told Eve that her desire would be for her husband, and her husband would rule over her, God was describing something, not prescribing it. The meanings of those words are vastly different. And even if the description were a prescription (which it can't be), that prescription is what prescribed Christ the duty of coming to save and reestablish us as heirs of all God has for us - whether we're male or female.   

The title to the first chapter (Why Did God Command a Wife to Obey Her Husband?), then, is really only as important as its legitimacy. It's not usually effective to ask why God did something if He never did it.


  1. Ouch. That is the most crushing review I ever read of anything. But then, we are called to stand against the lies of Satan, so - Good start!

  2. I've always wondered why Genesis 3:16 is used to bash women over the head with complementarian-style submission when they don't use Genesis 3:17 to say that men shouldn't use weed killer or invent something to make work easier.

    1. Right? Great points. Same goes for pain in childbirth. I know some women who do little to prevent or minimize that as well, but many or most of even the comps that I know are quick to find many methods of alleviating that pain. We were never meant to embrace the curse as God's design.

  3. Yup, the curse is not the command!

  4. I totally agree with the main point of your entry. It really seems like Gen. 3 is explaining the way things are because of the curse our sin brings about, more than it is teaching anything in particular about how we ought to live as male and female.

    One thing I remember from studying Greek tragedy in literature class is that at the end of a particular scene of action, the Chorus will come on stage and describe an event that just happened and its significance. The Chorus, kind of like God, exists outside of time and so is able to provide commentary for the sake of the audience.

    Within the narrative of the Fall, there is an action of disobedience, followed by a commentary from God on the consequences of the action. God is like the Chorus, explaining to Adam, Eve, the Serpent (and us!) what happened and what will result from it.

    The fact that husbands/men sinfully rule over their wives/women and wives/women may in the flesh crave/allow for such an arrangement is in stark contrast to the actual commands of God about mutual love and submission. In the New Creation, nobody rules over anyone. Christ is all, and is in all.

    Just as the shalom of the Garden is disrupted by Satan in Adam, so peace is restored by the victory over Satan at the cross in Christ. Satan is bound through the proclamation of the Gospel, and God's people reclaim paradise through a vision of the world with Christ on the throne. As the living water and tree of life, who nourishes all who come to him, the risen and ascended Lord restores to both men and and women their rightful place as children of God.

  5. One way to tell is who the words are addressed to. Nowhere else in the Bible does God give a command by telling Joe what His supposed "command" to Bob is, expecting Bob to just sort of overhear it. If "he shall rule over you" was a command, God would have given it to Adam. "See that you rule over her," God would have said.