Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Love that bears all things. . .

Unless you have been living under a log in the swamp, you have watched the ongoing drama within the Southern Baptist Convention regarding the role and place of women.  It included advice to women to remain in abusive relationships as their godly duty and, indeed, opportunity to shape the heart of the abuser.  It made the headlines when multiple examples of everything from poor taste and inappropriateness to the encouragement of lust and the views of women that under gird such abuse was slowly addressed by a reluctant leadership of a church body and seminary (Paige Patterson).

It has long been the presumption of those who find the Biblical principle of complementarity between male and females merely a cover for male dominance and abuse that the Church is, in reality,  misogynist.  Nothing could be further from the truth, unless, of course, you define misogyny as anything that might distinguish men from women or the promotion of any order within the home and the Church.  Yet, when foolish and inept people are allowed to distort and exaggerate the Biblical imagery into a justification for abusive men and wives to suffer in silence, that is exactly what the world around us hears and believes.

Perhaps the real core issue here is that the world does not get how anyone might sacrifice for another rights and privileges that they claim for themselves as part of their essential humanity.  The world around us loves to find the inconsistencies such as we saw play out in the Southern Baptist drama and with prominent voices like Paige Patterson and to use those to discredit any kind of love which surrenders right for service.  While that certainly applies to the Biblical idea of family that St. Paul promotes in Ephesians 5, it is most profoundly seen in the Lord Jesus who does not claim His equality with the Father but serves the Father by giving Himself up for unworthy and undeserving sinners.  He laid aside His right for the sake of sinners who by all rights should have been left condemned by their sins and subject to the death they freely choose.  He who came not to be served but to serve is the ultimate conundrum to a world in love with rights and drunk upon the idea that these rights are so precious and essential that they cannot be laid aside for any cause or person.  Truly St. Paul was right when he admitted it was hard to find someone to die for a good and righteous person much less for sinners.  Yet this is the heart of the Biblical relationship between man and woman, husband and wife.  It is not about subservience imposed out of law but grace in which the husband loves as Christ and the wife respects such love with her own love and it is all shaped by sacrifice and not by right claimed or demanded.

The world sees only two paths -- the right demanded and abuse sanctioned.  That is not simply a problem with respect to men and women, husbands and wives, homes and families.  No, indeed.  It is the whole problem with the Gospel.  Who can wrap their head around such other worldly truth?  Only the Holy Spirit can prompt faith in this love or move us to echo it on earth.  It is not a reasoned explanation that offers a sensible logic (a means to get what you really want) but the profound and otherworldly character of the love God has for us and the love that shapes the relationships within the Christian home.  Men who abuse women or treat them as objects are as far from this love as those who insist that a woman who serves her husband or her children is an idiot and a fool.  Both the abusers and those who cannot tolerate such love stand as the challenges the Church faces not only in the teaching of marriage and family but of the very Gospel itself.

When men abuse women or treat them as sexual objects or demean them as less than themselves, they betray their own stone cold hearts and the lies that make them demand instead of give as their right.  When women reject marriage and family life because they refuse to serve anyone or put the cause or needs of another before themselves, they admit their own cold hearts guided not by love at all but only by fear.  In the midst of this, the Church speaks the Word because the Spirit works through that Word.  It works in respect to the Gospel proclaimed to the world and to husbands and wives who stand before God to make such promises no one can keep without His aid and blessed.  When such men or women insist that love lasts only until its happiness has worn off or when they approach marriage from the vantage point of what they get instead of what they give, they betray the cross before which they stand and pledge themselves to each other.  Yes, it happens.  Christians fail in their promises and manifest the horrible behavior no one should countenance.  But that does not make the goal any less nor the life of those who live together under the cross anything but the most noble of all relationships on earth.

Albert Mohler is right to distance ourselves from those who in the guise of religion would encourage lust or tell women to tolerate physical abuse.  But none of us dare to abandon the shape of marriage that reflects Christ's own self-giving love unless we want to surrender the Gospel as well.

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