My deepest beliefs regarding decision-making in the home.
Sometimes when I fast and write, God feeds thoughts into my mind and I am swept along by delicious ideas, like a child following his nose to a bakery. Today, I am fasting and writing, and I would like to share with you some ideas on the topic of decision-making in marriage. Forgive me if I’m carried away by the gurgling in my stomach. I believe that at the center of all things having to do with power, we find a sort of “hunger.”
Most of the decisions married couples make are “Nothing Burgers”––two buns, a single patty, no condiments. A great many of these decisions are made by default. Your kids were allergic to cats, so you bought a dog. The Girl Scout at the front door was adorable, so five boxes of Thins Mints wound up on your kitchen counter. These are the easy decisions of our lives. They rarely cause trouble. But what about the bigger decisions? What happens when one spouse wants to take a job in another state? Or change churches? Or make an investment that’s too risky for the other spouse? These decisions are more like the fully-loaded “Kitchen Sink Burger,” with the red-onion jam oozing through the brioche bun and the guacamole dripping down the sides. One slip… and the whole thing ends up in your lap! More than any other thing on the menu, this one reveals the way a couple thinks about things like leadership, compromise, roles, equity, even God.
C and I had dinner not long ago with another couple who live in Denver. Fall was upon us and our friends’ deck was the perfect place to watch October spill out across the countryside. From the high vantage point of their home, we could see the entire front range stretching from Pike’s Peak to Long’s. Bob was tending ribeyes while we discussed the topic of decision-making in marriage, particularly as it pertains to complementarianism and egalitarianism. It was a conversation our wives were eager to not be a part of. I think they were in the kitchen, putting together a caprese salad. I can’t say I blame them.
Bob slapped a steak on the grill and pressed until the flames hissed their appreciation. “The Bible says a husband is the head of the home,” he declared. To drive his point home, he added, “Which means he has the final say on things.” I took a sip of beer and looked at my friend. He was no longer a human being, but a bear guarding a piece of meat.
Cautiously, I poked the bear. “Have you ever made a decision that ran counter to Lynn’s way of thinking?” I asked.
“Once,” growled Bob.
“How’d it go?”
“Not well,” he replied. He glanced toward the kitchen, and I watched as the fur on his ears disappeared and his big bear claws retracted, and he was once again a man cooking steaks, wearing an apron.
“Not well,” he murmured again.
Bob is a good man. But the beast in him makes him fear the she-bear, and he responds instinctually. In those moments, he swipes at his fears with the closest thing at hand, even the Word of God. Like all of us, Bob sometimes gets it right. However, on the issue of decision-making in marriage, I believe the taskmaster of tradition has forced him to march in lockstep… and he is off the mark.
Actually, the Bible doesn’t say the man is the head of the home. What it does say is that the husband is the “head of his wife, as Christ is the head of His church.” The word “head” is kephale in Greek. It means “life-source,” and it is much more like the headwaters of a river than it is the image of a CEO or a person with the final say. In fact, to say that Jesus Christ is the CEO of the church is rather denigrating compared to the real meaning of His headship. “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life,” He says in John 14. So, we see that Jesus is more than just our boss, He is our Life––the constant, steady spring that feeds the creek until it becomes a stream and eventually a mighty river. This is what men are meant to be to their wives. Life-givers, not life-suckers. We are to pour ourselves out for them in the same way Christ poured Himself out for us. Words like “final say” cheapen the conversation.
It’s also interesting to note that in a very tangible way, Man gave life to Woman when he parted with one of his ribs, so that she might come into existence. And it has been eloquently noted that Eve was made from Adam’s side to rule with him, rather than from his foot to be dominated by him, or from his head to lord it over him. Instead, the First Couple was to be equal in every way.
God has always intended for there to be one “head of the household,” and it was not the man. It was also not the woman. The real head of the home was God.
From the beginning, God Himself has wanted to have the final say in marriages, in the large decisions as well as the small ones. He made Adam and Eve in His image, to show the world what He was like and to relate to one another exactly as the members of the Trinity relate. (Can anyone say which member of the Trinity is in charge of the other two?) After creating Adam and Eve, God gave them two instructions: “Be fruitful and multiply,” and, “Rule over everything in creation,” (Genesis 1:28). One will notice that in God’s command for the couple to rule over Eden, neither Adam nor Eve is given the position of CEO. They are simply told to rule together, side by side.
But eventually, Adam and Eve sinned. They ate from the Tree of Life and broke the one rule in the garden. No one is sure how long the first couple lived in bliss before they disobeyed God. But we do know that the next time we see the word “rule” in the text is when God pronounces a curse on their circumstances, (Genesis 3:16-19).
To the man, God says...
“Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you. And you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
To the woman, God says...
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children. Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
No matter how greatly men may appreciate the upper-hand that word, “rule,” seems to bestow on them, God intended it to be a curse, not a blessing. Remember, God’s original plan for Adam and Eve was that they rule the garden together, while He Himself remained in charge over the whole operation.
Transfer these thoughts now to the average American household. Transfer them also to businesses, courts of law, entertainment venues, hospitals, political systems, synagogues and churches all around the world, and you will see that in every walk of life a pecking order exists in which men rule over women, and women are weary of it. Thus, we have a planet where women––with the same education as men, the same ability to discern God’s voice, the same giftedness, and capacity to influence, and desire to achieve, and call to change the world––are frequently silenced for no other reason than tradition. Is it any wonder women cry out bitterly against this pecking order? Should we be shocked by the wave of feminism that sweeps across our land? What a sad and bitter meal we serve to one another.
This brings us to our third burger on the menu, and it is the one that Cindy and I find most appetizing. It is a savory sandwich, every bit as good for the soul as it is for the senses. I have never met a person who, after his or her first bite, didn’t immediately want more. In fact, this burger is not only appealing, but from the beginning it was meant to be singularly appealing––the only option on the menu. If you were to read through its list of ingredients, you would see there is not one trace of feminism or chauvinism in it:
1/3 lb grace
1/3 lb humility
1/3 lb love
And 10 pounds of togetherness
It is a simple recipe that has been passed down from a time when God was the head of every relationship in the garden, sin had not yet been tasted, and our only responsibilities were to love one another, listen to God, and do exactly as He told us. Sadly, it may be a long time before the majority of couples choose this option from the menu. But in the meantime…
C and I will have “The Garden Burger,” please.