What does Submission mean to me as a Woman? – Part I

Editors note: Regula’s testimony is a continuation of an article by her husband Marcel about Marriage and God’s orders.

As a young Christian and self-assured teacher, I had given little thought to the subject of marriage and being a man or a woman. After all the years of study, I loved my newly-won independence, my own kingdom in the school, and the opportunities to combine my hobbies with my profession. I am not naturally ascetic and (even today) like to have a pleasant and diversified life. Thus I had decided to make myself useful, but in a way which pleased me.

Do I need a head?!

During this time Marcel and I began a friendship, after a long period of hesitation on my part. This was also when I began thinking through topics which had previously had no great meaning for me. You just happened to be either a man or a woman. When I came upon such Bible texts as Ephesians 5, I used to just skip over the problematic statements. Now they suddenly hit me very personally and of course, like so many other women, I was annoyed by the principle of submission presented here, and by the thought that I needed a head. I felt set back and made dependent. I found it unjust, humiliating and besides, simply not modern!

There were few marriages around us which could have served as examples for us, and still fewer married couples who would have been willing to formulate for us their life as a married couple, to reflect on it and to let us look behind the scenes. Marriage and family were seldom a topic in the congregation. So in view of a marriage, we began to think through for ourselves God‘s order for marriage, as well as the concepts we had brought with us. In numerous conversations and discussions we attempted to grasp God‘s central thoughts in order to apply them to our life.

Women in second place?!

I had the deep desire for my marriage to be according to God‘s thoughts, even if they were incomprehensible and far removed from me. I simply didn‘t understand why God, whom I had known to be a just God, could set up such an unjust order in which the woman should be the man‘s subordinate! Why was God not interested in partnership, in equal rights and equal value?! Why did He simply give the women the second place?! I tried in all possible ways to explain God‘s thoughts, to relativize and interpret His word and to excuse Him. But this immoveable word stood there: As the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. – In everything – that too!

Does God mean well with me?

The question of God‘s order for marriage became my very personal controversy with Him. I was confronted with the basic question whether I wanted to believe and trust God‘s word in everything – or would I orient myself more by general contemporary values. And if I wanted to believe His word, could I still trust Him that He meant well with me, even with me as a woman, although at that time I did not understand Him on this decisive point?

A further basic question regarding my relationship to God crept into these thoughts: When I turned to Him, it was always to God the Father or to Jesus, also a man. Wasn‘t there any orientation or identification figure whom I could turn to as a woman? Does God address primarily men?

My concept of men

In all the questions I asked God and in the discussions with my future husband, I also became increasingly aware of the concept of men, on which I had based my study of man and woman living together. I was deeply convinced that men are selfish, egotistical, and much too concerned with themselves  to truly be capable of bothering about women‘s needs. Every time a man was obliging, even if it was mere politeness, I viewed this suspisciously as another attempt to buy me. Therefore it never occured to me to truly apply the comparison «as Christ is the head of the church» to men. It seemed to me unrealistic and wide of the mark.

Nor was I willing to lay all my cards on the table in my conversations with Marcel. Inwardly I was often on the watch, ready to defend my rights and my territory. It required great effort and a large portion of trust for me to formulate myself completely openly before Marcel. In my relationship to him and my experience of him as a man relating to me, a new image of men gradually grew inside me. I saw how Marcel often stood by me even when it cost him an effort. For example, when we had differences of opinion, I experienced that he did not react disapprovingly, but tried with many further questions to really understand me. He did not distance himself from me.

Decision to trust

Thus I could whole-heartedly enter into our agreement to be completely honest in our relationship to each other, not to make any pretences before each other, and not to withdraw from the other. Of course, this noble decision was not enough in itself. Again and again we had to remind each other of this promise and take steps towards the other. But this agreement made all further conversation a great deal easier.

Therefore we formulated this point of mutual trust quite explicitly in our marriage promise. Even if we did not yet understand God‘s thoughts about marriage in context (at least, so it seemed to me), we were nevertheless determined to simply put into practice what had become clear to us – even though it could not yet be the whole thing. For me this was the expression of my trust in God and respect for His word.

For by now I had comprehended that for God, submission could never mean subordination or oppression! And even if I didn’t understand everything, I wanted to hold fast to the fact that His word is correct and valid through all times and cultures. For me this first step was also a conscious renunciation of my own ideas and concepts of my life. It was a step of dedication to God, away from all self-realization.

It was not always easy for me to hold onto this decision. I moved in a society where exactly this point of man and woman‘s relationship was indecisive, and even explicitly different from God‘s opinion. I had to admit to myself that I was no longer up-to-date, but that could no longer be my standard.

God is my personal lawyer

I gave my marriage promise quite consciously in God‘s presence, knowing that only He as the inventor of marriage can guarantee this covenant‘s life-long existence. He is the lawyer of my marriage and especially of me as a woman. I knew that it mattered to him how Marcel treated me. On the other hand, I was also responsible to God for the way I treated Marcel. This awareness of having a lawyer, and not being at the mercy of a man‘s whims, helped me especially during times when we were not in unity.

Trust makes recognition possible

I still had the question of what God intended with His instructions. I carried this question with me in my heart, thought about it often, read God‘s word and waited for His answer. Besides this, Marcel and I attempted in many conversations to make ourselves understood to each other, to make ourselves known, to communicate without putting up protective barriers, to open up to each other. Thus a deep understanding and mutual trust was able to grow. (And we still keep this up with daily, short conversations and especially in our weekly marriage evenings, which are totally dedicated to personal sharing).

This openness required and still requires much courage, discipline and dedication to one another. It is not always so easy to formulate the thoughts and feelings which move me. But in order to build up a marriage, it is an existential necessity to bring the truth to the light in the other‘s presence. Otherwise Marcel has no way to react to my conjectures and a relationship begins developing which has less and less to do with reality. One encounters the other only through a veil of suspicions, suppositions (that‘s just what I thought…!) and misunderstandings. We have experienced this, too. It begins in a small and harmless way and grows quickly like a tumor. This openness made it possible for me to recognize more and more who Marcel is – as a man, but also as a personality.

Is God a man?

My conversations with God and my growing understanding for my husband helped me understand essential points which basically changed my whole concept of marriage, of being a man or a woman, of God‘s intentions with each one. While searching for an answer, I had repeatedly read the report of Creation and the subsequent Fall.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27).

God created both – man and woman – according to His image. So God cannot be only masculine, if I as a woman am also created in His image. His character is mirrored only partly in the man and only partly in the woman. Only man and woman together result in a picture of God‘s being which is to some extent complete. Thus He must be masculine as well as feminine.

I began searching the Scriptures for statements about God‘s feminine features. Although I found some here and there, it was not until years later that I discovered that the person of the Holy Spirit presents the fullness of God‘s feminine side.

Does Adam need a friend?

So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found (Gen. 2:20).

As an answer to the first person‘s realization that something was lacking, that he received no real help from the animals, God did not create another man. Obviously what Adam was lacking was not just a friend, but a real supplement, which God gave him in Eve.

I understood from this that God explicitly created the woman different from the man. Otherwise she would not have been a supplement. And I understood that as a woman I bear and mirror God‘s being just like the man does. The woman is thus in no way a second-rate creature, she is created in God‘s image just like the man. That set my understanding of myself as a woman on a new foundation.

The curse of suppression

To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing, with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.’ (Gen. 3:16).

As a consequence of the disobedience, God actually did lay on the woman the curse of being suppressed by the man. And when I looked around in the world, I had to say: The consequences of the Fall are getting stronger all the time. Pregnancy is difficult, birth is painful, and all over the world women are suppressed, taken advantage of and humiliated by men. None of this can be eradicated by any emancipatory movement. Women continue to suffer under this servitude  wherever  God‘s Kingdom has not begun to be manifested in relationships, families, society, places of work, various cultures… Jesus was the first to retract this humiliation of the woman and return her value as an equal creation. But outside God‘s Kingdom nothing has changed.

God values the women

Apart from this restoration, it touched me deeply that God let His son, the Saviour of the world, come into the world explicitly through a woman. Jesus could have appeared as an angel… But even before God spoke the curse over the woman, he promised her that through her the one would come who would crush the snake‘s head. Some of the prophets have taken up these thoughts again and even Paul, who is decried as a woman-hater (which he isn‘t at all!) says explicitly in the letter to the Galatians, But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.

Even if women have second place in this world, in His Kingdom it is different. A woman was the first to hear what the people Israel had already been waiting for centuries when the angel appeared to Mary and announced the birth of the Saviour. When He was risen from the dead, Jesus met the women first and made Himself known to them. For me these are just examples of how God values and cares about women.

Enormous demands on the man

This newly-won self-understanding as a valued daughter of God finally freed me to think about man‘s place in marriage also. Today I cannot explain to myself why I was always stuck on this first point about submission and never went on to the enormous demand made on the man to love his wife as Christ loves the church!

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church (Eph. 5:25.29).

What an enormous task! What a comparison with Christ! What a responsibility which the man must bear before God! He is responsible for the well-being, even more – for the development, growth and sanctification of his wife. In his dedication to her, he is compared to Jesus. When I discovered what that must mean for a man, I was grateful to be a woman and not have to stand before God in this responsibility! Compared to God‘s demands on a man, I found the demand to submit quite easy to fulfill!