Friday, July 3, 2009

Feminine Fearlessness

Having had some vacation time recently I have been writing early in the morning before the family gets up. Thus I thought I would put an excerpt on the blog. The first part of the book is called, "God Loves Common Ground." Within that section I describe the "callings" of God to husbands and wives as presented in the New Testament. I have tried to come up with larger themes that I present broadly in the first part of the book and then narrow them down in the third part of the book where I talk about "Fighting for Common Ground." The two postures I talk about that I see evolving from the NT for wives are "awe-inspired cooperation" and "restful fearlessness." The section below is in the second part (restful fearlessness) where I talk about the need for wives to aim for fearlessness.
Marriage calls a wife to engage vulnerability. She is called to grow the faith to ask more or less of her husband depending on what will be best for the marriage. Restfulness helps her to ask less of her husband because she knows God is her ultimate defender. This invites her husband to look beyond her and see God. In addition to seeing God a husband must need God to go deeper with Him. Therefore, a wife needs to be free to point her husband towards more. Like all of us a husband will often only choose God’s ways when everything else he has tried fails. However, no one is quick to genuinely admit failures especially in the heightened atmosphere of marriage. In fact, we often distance ourselves from those who make our inadequacy clear. As such, a wife will detest the distance that comes from being a light in her husband’s life. She will naturally trip over the moments where she can illumine the darkness in her husband’s heart because she dislikes the distance it will create between them. To ask more of her husband calls a wife to faith and courage.
This is why Peter urges women act like Sarah’s (Abraham’s wife) daughter. He says, “You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do,” (1 Peter 3:6). If you are at all familiar with Abraham’s lack of character displayed in the Genesis narrative you will appreciate what Peter is saying to wives. In the long Genesis narrative Abraham responds to God well only two times. Initially, when he leaves Haran and many years later when walks up the mountain with Isaac. In between that span for over 20 years Abraham wrestles to believe and trust in God. Sarah lives in the wake of Abraham’s growing and stumbling faith. In his fear and cowardice he concocts a lie to tell foreign leaders that Sarah is his sister because he worries that the leaders will kill him because Sarah is so beautiful. First, Pharaoh takes Sarah as his wife until the Lord supernaturally intervenes. This is not enough to help Abraham change because later Abraham does the same thing with Abimelech. He too takes Sarah as his wife until the Lord intercedes. God says to Abimelich, “Yes, I know you are innocent. That’s why I kept you from sinning against me, and why I did not let you touch her. Now return the woman to her husband, and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet. Then you will live. But if you don’t return her to him, you can be sure that you and all your people will die.” Sarah is fortunate to have God as her protector.
The Old Testament does not detail the relationship between Abraham and Sarah other than to show that Abraham lies to protect himself and seems willing to sacrifice Sarah. The narrative does not help us ascertain how Sarah related to Abraham in response we only know that from Peter’s comment she must have continued to endure with Abraham and somehow displayed courage and faith in the process. Yet, if we consider what Peter went onto say in the rest of his epistle it provides an indication of Sarah’s behavior. Right after he counsels wives to act like Sarah he sums up his overall advice on submission and says, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:8-17)
For Sarah to be affirmed several verses before his conclusion on submission I have to believe she embodied what Peter is espousing. Thus, when a wife grows in living righteously as a response to God and not an attempt to change, manipulate, or nudge her husband she becomes a megaphone that God is more necessary to the husband than he often wants Him to be. Sarah must have helped Abraham grow in his faith with God because when an offended party continues to walk in faith and not make their primary response discontentment over the wrongdoing they actually provide a deeper exposure of the sin. I want to suggest that the times where Sarah endured with character she helped facilitate moments that exposed Abraham’s unbelief.
It would be nice for wives if Godly responding meant a smoother relationship right away with their husbands. However, when a wife responds in faith, husbands will often become angrier in an attempt to shelter their sin. This is why Peter says, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” This is why femininity involves fearlessness.
When a wife doesn’t change her behavior to collude with her husband’s sin and instead exposes it by pursuing holiness she ups the ante and risks her husband’s anger or disapproval. The rest of scripture would affirm that humans don’t respond well to exposure of sin. Consider this Proverb, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue,” (28:23). Initially, the rebuke brings displeasure not acquiescence. Exposure of sin is painful and the person being exposed will often hide from the exposure or blame the person who did the exposing. It takes time for the exposed party to accept the reality of their sinfulness. It is waiting through the period of acceptance that calls a wife to fearlessness. Like the first husband God confronted, husbands all through history have been echoing the blame Adam put on Eve, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate,” (Genesis 3:12) .
Thus, when Peter wrote, “You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husband’s might do.” I hear Peter’s saying, “Do not let your husband’s misuse of his advantages and the time it takes him to really hear and trust what God promises to cause you to shrink down into fear and anxiety where you answer his sin with sin. When you respond well or grow in holiness it may make your husband angrier and he may even make you pay for the attention your life brings to his sin. It will take deep faith to respond well but it is the best way to help him cry out for God. At times you will help awaken your husband to things he needs to see and hear. Do not be afraid.” Eugene Peterson paraphrases the above mentioned verse as, “Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as ‘my dear husband.’ You’ll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same, unaxious and unintimidated.” It is all such a paradox. God gives selfish husbands an advantage and tells them to use it for their wives. He designs wives with a disadvantage and tells them to not be afraid of their husbands. It is as if he loves faith. Like without faith and dependence on him we could never experience Common Ground as a couple.