Within the world of medicine there are often illnesses that are misdiagnosed. Diseases like Lupus, Fibromyalgia, and even strokes, are commonly misdiagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis. Patients with Lyme disease are frequently misdiagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Thyroid disease.
In the same way, in the Christian sphere there are also spiritual conditions that are misdiagnosed. Take the area of marital submission, for example. As the swashbuckling Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride would say…
…I don’t think it means what you think it means.
A current example of Christians misdiagnosing and misunderstanding submission can be seen in the new reality program, “Submissive Wives Guide to Marriage.”
In the opening episode we see Mark, husband to supposedly unsubmitted wife Kristin, rising up early every morning, getting their kids ready for school, giving them breakfast, taking them to school, and then going to work, while Kristin sleeps comfortably in her bed. The house is a mess, the laundry is overflowing, and a homemade dinner is a rarity. Kristin definitely needs to get her act together.
Enter Tara, a self-proclaimed submission guru. Tara instantly makes the diagnosis that Kristin is not a submitted wife. Her prescription for Kristen, and for wives everywhere, is that she, ”help her man, serve her man, submit to her man and sleep with her man.” She continues by saying that Kristin is not to deprive her man physically, and it doesn’t matter how she feels, she has to “suck it up” because it is her “job.” She promotes a wife committing her life to pleasing her man, and in her own home we see her serving her hubby a snack the moment he arrives home from work; giving him back rubs; and suggesting a “quickie” in front of the television cameras. Tara believes that everything in a wife’s world is about serving her man and making him feel like a king.
This is her definition of submission.
But that is not submission.
There has been a misdiagnosis.
Kristin, and a lot of other women like her, do indeed have problems, but I wouldn’t call these problems a lack of submission. In Kristin’s case, a lot of her problems relate to slothfulness and selfishness. She doesn’t get the laundry done or make dinner because she is lazy, not because she isn’t a submitted wife. She has a messy home and her husband has to take care of the kids because she is selfish, not because she struggles with submission.
It’s also really nice that Guru Tara makes her husband snacks, and rubs his back, but again, those things don’t relate to submission, they relate to the mandate for ALL Christians, male and female, to serve one another. So while Tara is making a snack, I would hope her hubby would be checking the oil in her car. And when she gives her man a back rub after a long day at work, I would hope he would reciprocate and give his woman a foot massage because she’s been on her feet all day cleaning the house. All these things are about kindness and consideration, and putting the needs of others above our own. They are not issues related to submission.
And what about Tara’s idea that Kristin needs to suck it up and sleep with her man because it is her “job?” No. Just no. What man on earth wants his wife to sleep with him because it is her job? The physical relationship between a husband and wife should be a relationship of love and affection. It is a prostitute’s job to suck it up and sleep with a man. It is a wife’s job to care about her husband’s needs and share an intimate time with him because she loves him.
So if all of these marital problems have been misdiagnosed and they are not about submission, what then does it mean to submit?
First, let me say that submission is not a cut and dried issue. It can be complicated and tricky. But for the sake of brevity in this post, submission basically means that when a husband and wife have a decision to make and they have discussed it, prayed about it, and sought godly counsel regarding it, but still cannot come to an agreement, the husband gets to decide. There is a hierarchy of authority in a marriage and family and it is the husband who has the responsibility, and must bear the weight of the consequences, good or bad, in making final decisions. But hold on there! Even then there are times when a woman does not have to go along with her husband’s decision. There are occasions when a husband makes a decision that is sinful, illegal, or immoral and the wife has the authority to stand up and just say “no.”
Consider the Biblical example of Abigail.
Abigail was married to a real stinker named Nabal. When Nabal made a decision that endangered his own life and the lives of his household, Abigail didn’t stand back and say, “Oh gee, I guess we’re all going to die because I have to submit to my husband.” Nope! When she found out what her husband had done she took matters into her own hands and counteracted his decision, saving everyone’s life including the life of her rodent of a husband. Abigail understood that there are times when husbands make sinful or immoral decisions, decisions that even endanger their families, and a wife is not expected by God to go along with them. I will give a warning here though: wives need to be extremely careful not to use the example of Abigail as an excuse to justify their own selfish desires, but rather to understand that when a husband’s behavior is sinful, illegal, or immoral, she has other options.
Hey, I’m all for doing nice things for our spouses. I’m all for serving each other out of kindness and respect. And I believe that husbands and wives should have loving sexual relationships. But not because a wife has to submit.
Submission is not servitude. It is not about the man being the master and the woman his slave. And it doesn’t mean that a man is king and ruler over his familial kingdom. Submission is a tie-breaking tool. When there is conflict in making a decision the man has the final say. God has placed him in authority as the leader of his home, but God also requires that he live with his wife with understanding and lead his family lovingly, not harshly and selfishly.
So when it comes to submission, let’s understand it properly and make a correct diagnosis. Let’s not label every problem as a lack of submission, but instead carefully examine and accurately diagnose the true ailments in our marriages so we can find effective treatments and an eventual cure.