In this first installment in my new series on masculinities and religiosities, we address the issue of the battle of the sexes. Anyone who has spent any time in the world is aware of the struggle that exists, in many cases, between men and women and between husbands and wives. It’s so common that we may ask the question, “Is this normal? Isn’t there a better way?” I have good news for us — it isn’t supposed to be this way. In this post we will look at how the Bible tells us where the problem all began and what we can do about it.
Where did it all begin?
There are only a few parts of the Bible that describe a time without evil in the world. One of them is the final chapters of Revelation when all evil has been removed. Another is the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1-2, that’s why it’s important to start there. The key event of these two chapters is creation, where God created all that exists. One key part of that creation is the creation of humanity, that God describes in this way: “So God created humans in his image. In the image of God he created them. He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27).
Note that there isn’t a lot of description given as to what this male & female human relationship looked like. In the next chapter Eve is described using a word that is often connected with God: Ezer, which is sometimes translated as “helpmeet” or “helper.” While we might be tempted to interpret this as meaning Adam’s servant, in reality it’s a word that is most often used to describe God (Ex 18:4; De 33:7, 26, 29; Ps 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19; 115:9-11; 121:1-2; 124:8; 146:5; Hos. 13:9). In fact, of the twenty-one times this word is used in the Old Testament, only four times it doesn’t refer to God.
A popular illustration pays attention to the fact that Eve came from Adam’s rib, implying a side-by-side equality, rather than from the foot, which would imply subservience, nor from the head, which would imply dominance.
Apart from that, we can suppose that basic biological roles that men and women play in conception and childbirth existed, but beyond that we have absolutely no idea. Nothing is said about domestic arrangements, about work-life balance, about leadership or authority or submission or hierarchy. All we really know is that Adam and Eve were together in the garden and that they had daily conversation and communion with God every evening.
Lots of speculation exists, however, largely centred around the different wording of the command God gave Adam and Eve’s recollection of that command — some make much of the fact that Eve adds the phrase “and you must not touch it” (Ge 3:3). However, it’s not clear if that speaks to issues of authority or to issues of the often non-precise nature of spoken language? Who knows?
Where are we today?
Unfortunately, things didn’t stay that way for ever. The initial identification as merely human gets muddied in the very next chapter when we see the entry of evil into the world. There are lots of effects of that evil on creation, but for our purposes today we will focus on the new relationship that began between men and women. When God is discussing evil’s effect on Eve, he adds an interesting statement in Genesis 3:16 — “… Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Here we are introduced to the core of the battle of the sexes, namely the “desire” of the woman for her husband and the “rule” of the husband over his wife. While this is often cited as being the biblical rationale for patriarchy, the fact that this statement happens after the fall means that it is not the original plan for how relationships would work. Rather it’s a system grounded in evil.
What does it mean? The wife’s “desire” can best be understood by looking at another use of the same term just a chapter later. When God confronts Cain about his killing of Abel, he makes this statement in Genesis 4:7, “if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Notice that word desire? It’s the same word. That tells us that husband-wife relationships with be characterised by desire on the part of the wife — the kind of desire that sin has over us. The word used for men, on the other hand, is rule. Guess where this word appears again? Yup, in God’s discussion of sin with Cain. If Cain wants to counteract the desire that sin has for him, he must in turn rule over it. Interesting isn’t it. So then, both terms describe relationship once evil has entered the world. As such, we can not make them indicative of essential humanity but merely of sinful humanity.
Is there hope?
But there is hope. Evil doesn’t have to dominate in the world. One glimmer of hope is presented to us in Proverbs 31, that is often used to describe the woman of valour. A couple of verses, however, focus on the marriage relationship that this woman has. It says in 31:11-12, “Her husband trusts her with ⌞all⌟ his heart, and he does not lack anything good. She helps him and never harms him all the days of her life.” Isn’t this a great illustration of what Adam and Eve’s relationship may have been like before evil entered the world? And isn’t it a great vision of what things can be like here on earth?
The final chapters of the bible wrap everything up nicely. Here we read once again of a marriage relationship — this one between the world and God. This relationship is described as perfect, the bride is the most valuable part of creation and the groom and bride co-exist. Image this picture from Revelation 21:22-27:
“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Isn’t that a great picture? Doesn’t it wrap up the issue very nicely?
So, what should we do now?
If it is indeed true that men and women began as side-by-side partners, equals, both exemplary human beings, if it is also true that that original situation was replaced with a battle, if it is also true that evil’s effect on the husband-wife relationship can be overcome, how can we make that happen? What do we need to do? wouldn’t you know it but God also provided an answer for that. In Ephesians 5:21, we read, “Place yourselves under each other’s authority out of respect for Christ.” So that’s it. We need to live life today as if the evil had never impacted the world. We need to think of ourselves as being equal. We need to recognise that submission is mutual. That both women and men can act with authority in every situation. Why should we do this? Because in doing so we show our respect for Christ. And of course Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything that he hasn’t already done. He is the ultimate example of giving up everything so that God’s plan to heal the world of evil would happen. Rather than just sitting up in heaven as God’s equal hoping things would work out alright, he “he did not take advantage of this equality. Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Let’s imitate Christ by working at removing evil’s influence in the world.
Now I realise that all of this seems pretty clear to me but you may be reading thinking that there are huge holes in what I have just said. If so, please let me know in the comments below!
Please also click the Follow link below to get the next instalments of this series in a timely manner.
Remember sharing is what friends do.
Image by Artem Podrez on Pexels.