Genesis 3 tells us about the greatest tragedy of mankind‘s history and of its consequences, under which we are increasingly suffering. Man allows himself to be made distrustful of God. He makes his life dependent on other powers and possibilities, and distances himself from God. But distrust makes genuine relationship impossible, for genuine relationship can be lived only on the basis of trust. Mistrust breaks relationship.
As we have often emphasized, God is a God of relationship and created man in His image also as a creature of relationship. So, if a person lives in a broken or unwhole relationship, he is ill, deathly ill. His being is broken and unprotected. This is what the devil wanted from the beginning: to bring a person to break the relationship which alone gave him protection, security and wholeness. For the devil knew that this would mean death for mankind. A person dies in unwhole, broken relationships. By stepping out of this relationship to God, man lost not only the protection, but also the understanding of God‘s reality. Since the Fall, man no longer knows who God is. Because he has lost his reference to God, he doesn’t know who he himself is either. The reaction to the loss of identity is fear, because anyone who does not know God is unprotected from the powers which destroy life.
Loss of relationship = loss of identity
God‘s reality was lost to Adam and Eve when they turned away from Him. Whoever loses his reference to God‘s reality, loses it to his own reality as well. He is robbed of everything which makes him up. That is why it says, “…and they recognized that they were naked” (Gen.3:7).
The nakedness spoken of here is the loss of one‘s own identity, the self-awareness which can grow only from an awareness of God. Poverty, darkness and inferiority became man‘s reality.
The loss of value leads to the reaction that I cannot share myself as I am. I am ashamed of myself because I realize that I am naked and exposed. I cannot stand up for myself.
A battle begins
Since the Fall, the relationship between man and woman has been marked by accusation, assigning guilt, mistrust, suspicion, feeling threatened by the differentness of other people to whom one is exposed without protection; a battle for one‘s own value and self-awareness, a battle for one‘s own place, for the confirmation of one‘s own existence which is demanded from others.
Distance from God led to distance and estrangement between man and woman. In this distance from God all relationships between man and woman are open or unconsciously marked by a greed for life, because God as the direct source of life is no longer accessible.
Therefore we should not be surprised that marriage without God‘s reality is a place of exploitation, degradation, oppression, mistrust, accusation and battle. In brief: It is hell, where both the man and the woman suffer.
Partnership as solution?
Partnership is a term which men, and especially women, like to use because in the battle for one‘s place, each one understandably tries to determine limits and safeguards for himself. A democratic understanding is the basis for partnership.
Partners become partners because they have the same needs and interests and therefore agree to the same rights and duties. When the interests separate again, every partnership also ends. Partnership has nothing to do with relationship, adjustment, or submission.
In a partnership each one starts from his own needs. The goal is self-realization and self-determination, of course when possible under fair and just conditions. Partnership cannot get along without a certain amount of mutual control in order to assure that the partner is not cheating or taking advantage of me. These vibrations generally exist in every partner relationship. So the most intimate relationship remains a battle-ground because one cannot completely let go or open up to the other unreservedly.
In every battle there is a winner and a loser. And because each one is fighting for his life, both lose it, even the apparent winner. “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 21:15). This is how God has regulated His Kingdom. He wants trust, not control; dedication and not self-realization.
A New Order
In spite of all that, God has not given up his goal for marriage! But because the pre-conditions for marriage have changed, God has also adjusted the marriage order to those realities. The regulations in Ephesians 5 require from both man and woman a dedication which includes their lives, in order to attain God‘s goals. These regulations provide the only possible protection for the growth of God‘s Kingdom in marriage.
God‘s commission to the man
For God, there is no difference in value between man and woman. It is written, “There is neither … male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). But God has distributed the tasks in a new way. He commissioned the man to bear responsibility for his wife and also for his descendants, to provide a place where they can experience the God of life. Making marriage fruitful will cost the man everything, as described in Ephesians 5.
The man should carry out his commission not by taking and ruling, not by exploiting and using, but rather by giving himself. The man be concerned about the needs and fears, and the often hard-to-understand realities of a woman‘s life. Not only the woman is man‘s helper, but the man should also help his wife unfold her life.
This does not mean simply taking over some of the housework, so that the woman as well as the man can seek self-realization. (Help with the housework can also be necessary…) It is far more costly for the man, for example, to help his wife think through mutual questions about the children‘s up-bringing; determining family values, thinking about the children. He is challenged about relationships with the neighbours, structuring the household… The man must invest time and energy to understand, value and encourage a woman‘s thinking and feeling, her world, interests, plans and desires.
This will cost the man more than the sweat of his brow, especially if his wife turns out to be difficult, or when inherited and acquired modes of behaviour turn out to be unpleasant. When narrowness, helplessness, extravagance, basic inabilities or deep, covered wounds become visible, this is when we men have a tendency to distance ourselves. This is when God says to us, “Husband, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…“.
Dedication to his wife
The dedication and love which God demands from the husband toward his wife is not rooted in feelings, as important as it is for the husband to completely develop his feelings. The love demanded of the husband is rooted in the decision he made before God and other people towards his wife. God wants us men to hold fast with our whole being to the Yes we gave. This is a question of obedience and of the fear of God, as it is said of Jesus, “He was obedient to death” (Phil.2:8).
And it says that the husband should love his wife as Christ loves the church. God wants us to be concerned about everything which threatens the life of our wife and children, whether from within (needs, sins, wounds) or from without (conflicts and threats in society and the larger family). He wants us to bear tensions and work through conflicts, looking for God-pleasing solutions, answers and basic help. If we are incapable of this ourselves, it is still our responsibility to see that help comes. Only when we recognize this responsibility, when we decisively stand by our word, when we do not withdraw from our wives over tensions, but rather seek to clarify, defend and bring order, will we experience that God also stands by us men. Then He will lead us into a true authority which makes it easy for the woman to entrust herself to us.
God‘s commission to the wife
For the man it is explicitly a matter of obedience to God. It is a matter of the fear of God, of integrity and reliability, of the dedication of his life, so that living space is created for his wife and children.
The challenge for the wife lies in trusting, in humility, and in renouncing her weapons and her possibilities to create life for herself. One of the woman‘s most effective weapons is manipulation, i.e. the ability to make someone subservient to her desires and goals by circumventing his own will.
“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Eph.5:24). This is first of all a challenge to pride. And it is understandable that everything in the woman rears up against this, for at first this seems to put her in an inferior position.
In many religions and unfortunately in Christianity‘s history as well, this was and often still is understood to mean that God prefers the man to the woman. However, this is not the Biblical testimony, either in the Old nor in the New Testament. Just as God has his woman prophets and judges in the Old Testament, Jesus in the New Testament honors the woman like the man. From God‘s standpoint, the woman‘s submission can in no way mean putting her down. It is much rather a matter of the place God assigns her, which corresponds to her being and where she can most optimally experience God‘s reality in her life. It is an order which should offer protection and development.
Respect for the man
An attitude of respect and trust is expected of the woman. She should expect responsibility and decision from the man and let him go ahead on life‘s narrow path. She should place herself totally under his protection and name, completely standing by him. Submitting also means completely affirming that woman‘s place is different from man‘s. This affirms the fact that God explicitly and exclusively assigned both man and woman to the place where He will give fullness of life and riches.
For the woman also this attitude is primarily a question of obedience, not to the man, but to her God. She will not be able to submit and take her place with her own power. Only when she knows God and trusts Him as a God who is wholly for her, who is her father, who is able in all circumstances to create life, dignity, justice and protection for her – only then can she also submit to her husband. Then she also creates space for her husband to take his place and his responsibility, and to develop his authority.
A place where life can unfold
It is not always easy for the wife to respect her husband and allow him to lead, especially when she knows better. Sooner or later it will become clear that he is neither a Hercules nor an Einstein nor a Billy Graham, but rather much more common and unassuming. Lacks, ignorance and inability reveal themselves. The wife discovers that her husband can not express himself well, that he gets no good ideas, that it is hard for him to make decisions and that he is just not up to it. Now it is anything but easy, with all his weaknesses, to accept his authority, to respect him, to encourage him to take his place. No matter how incapable the man appears, it is not for the woman to take over his responsibility. God assigned her a different place, as the man‘s helper. There she will be blessed.
Many women refuse to respect their husbands, thus hindering their development as men. At the same time they are surprised that they are unprotected and they notice that their children lack a true father. It lies to a large extent in the woman‘s hands whether men grow into authorities or not. In the same way, it is in the men‘s hands whether their wives become creative and fruitful.