I am currently doing a Bible study by Jen Wilkin on 1 Peter (I highly recommend this by the way!) The last few weeks of the study have been on one of the cringiest words in all of the Bible (and no, it’s not loins.)
It’s ok ladies, take a moment, let it knot up in your stomach a bit, roll out all of your knee-jerk preconceptions and ice them over with some Christian-ese sugar. This word that has been abused and twisted, power-played and thrown like daggers.
Now, I can’t assume that everyone reading this has the same authority issues I do. I will however, make a sweeping generalization and say that you, as a living, breathing, thinking human being, have some area where you NEED to be in control. In each of us there is an area (or areas) where the word submission pokes at our fight instinct and we raise our fists — DON’T TREAD ON ME!
Peter spends nearly two chapters on this word. He is writing to newly converted Christians who are facing some of the most gruesome persecution in the history of the church. Peter tells these believers to submit to every human institution, to honor the emperor.
Now unless you’re up on the historical context of this letter, you might not understand the severity of this command. Nero was the emperor at the time. If you don’t know about him, here is a brief summary: it is suspected that he set Rome on fire (it burned for days), he then blamed the arson on Christians. Then to punish them he did things like dressing them in animal skins and letting packs of dogs tear them apart, or dressing them in hard wax shirts, setting them on fire, and using them to light his elaborate parties.
Honor Nero, says Peter, the emperor who would eventually be the cause of not only Peter’s gruesome death, but his wife’s as well.
Then comes chapter 3: the notorious chapter on marital submission. I’ve known women who have specifically crossed out the submission part of their marriage vows, so disturbed by the concept that they can’t even utter such a promise. I’ve often skimmed through this chapter, but I noticed something that grabbed my attention this time. Peter uses Sarah, wife of Abraham, as his example of how a woman should submit. Let me tell you why this could potentially be problematic. . .
Sarah and the “S” word
Sarah, in her submission to her husband leaves her home, her family, to follow him to a foreign land. On the way, he fears for his life, not once, but two times, and tells her to lie and say that she is his sister. The lie is awfully convincing to the rulers old Abe feared, and Sarah was apparently quite the looker. On both occasions the rulers TOOK Sarah to be their wife! Can you even imagine! With our society in the era of #metoo, this one would go viral! Her husband sold her off to save his own skin–TWICE!
Dear Abe, misogynist much?
Sarah is saved both times by none other than the God of the universe. She continues to follow Abraham, and years later, when she is wrinkled and tired, bent over from life, they receive some visitors. She serves them and listens in on their conversation. One man promises old Abe a child by Sarah. She laughs, because even she knew menopause had taken that hope away decades ago.
Yet, she has a son!
When God speaks His words become flesh. Isaac (son of laughter) is born and grows, no doubt, under the joyful eye of his elderly mum. Still a young boy, Isaac learns from his father how to worship the Lord. The rhythms of their daily life revolved around the need for sacrifice and cleansing from sin. Yahweh required it, and they desperately needed it.
Abraham, still chasing after the Lord, faithfully obeys when He tells him to take Isaac (the promised son) up the mountain to be sacrificed in place of a lamb. Isaac carries the wood for the burnt offering on his back. He walks the path he had walked so many times with his father, probably chattering on as young men do, but this time, his father walked silent, sullen.
Sarah’s voice is never hear during this part of the narrative. Her son is spared by the same God who rescued her so many times before–and yet I still wonder about Sarah.
My most common internal mantra lately is: “Don’t play interference.” Within our family dynamic it is natural for me to want to jump in and smooth over any rough patches between my husband and my daughters. As the parent that stays home, I tend to have a fuller understanding of their day-to-day. I also just really really want them to have a good relationship. I jump in when I feel he’s being to overbearing, or too soft, or not giving them enough attention. I find myself making excuses for either side’s behavior rather than letting them work through the necessary tension of relationship.
Now, looking at Sarah I cannot imagine the inner turmoil she must have felt. Even if she was fully in the dark about the plan to kill Isaac, there was no way she didn’t suspect something was up (this is fully assuming Sarah was still alive during this event, she was over 100 after all!). Here is where submission and faith collide–and, I believe, where we find our answer to what it truly looks like to submit.
Sarah’s submission to Abraham came from a heart that was submitted to God first and foremost (and thereby under HIS protection when old Abe failed). I think in order to understand this we have to grab hold of some hard truths.
Christians are not promised a life of safety, health, or happiness. In fact, we are guaranteed quite the opposite. We are not put on this earth to fight for our rights or freedom, Jesus did that on the cross. Our day-to-day is not about finding our intrinsic value or worth, in fact, without the cross, we are all totally destitute in our sin. In this, the playing field has been leveled. Those with authority have been given it by God for one purpose: His glory. Those who are called to submit do so with the same purpose.
ALL is for His glory. Authority and submission are not a system of organizing worth, but an intimate design of checks and balances that should cause each of us to fully place ourselves under the authority and protection of Christ.
Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash