This last October I put up a post called Bitterness and the Unsubmissive Wife. This generated some comment at the time, not to mention since then, and because there are some aspects of this that really are difficult for some to grasp, I thought I should make just a few more points about the whole issue.
1. One of the things I did was argue from Gen. 3:16 and Gen. 4:7, saying that the ongoing tension between the sexes was a result of the curse. The first misunderstanding to address is the idea that I am somehow saying that bitter unsubmissiveness is defined by disagreement with this exegesis. But these are entirely different things. A woman could disagree with my understanding of Gen. 3:16 and be the polar opposite of a bitter, unsubmissive wife — in short, a wonderful wife. Further, another woman could agree with my exegesis completely and still be a shrew. Now bitterness could certainly be displayed in how someone might disagree, but the disagreement itself need not be an attitude problem at all. When bitterness is a problem, it is primarily the result of not understanding your own heart properly — which is not the same thing as not understanding Gen. 3:16 properly.
2. For my second point, I need to first reiterate the qualifications I made in that post, make them yet again, and then move on to my new point. In that post, I made it clear that I was not trying to pave the way for any “domestic mussolinis” or “angry and abusive husbands.” I said this:
“So I am not at present talking about lousy marriages that are lousy because the husband is violent, or angry, or resentful, or lazy, or misogynistic, or unfaithful, and so on. I know that such exist, and I am unalterably opposed to every last one of them. I am especially opposed to them when the name of Jesus is invoked as an excuse for the sin.”
I have been doing marriage counseling for over three decades, and believe me, when it comes to misbehaving husbands, I have had a seat on the fifty yard line. The last thing I would ever do is try to pretend that husbands are not a driving force in all of this.
But here comes a new question. Why are such qualifications not heard?
One of the reasons such qualifications are not heard is that our generation has successfully politicized certain character flaws. In other words, character flaws now have a constituency, and any attack on the flaws directly is taken as an attack on the group most susceptible to them. But in the Scriptures, certain temptations go with certain groupings of people. Paul tells children to be obedient to their parents (Eph. 6:1-3), he tells older women to guard against drinking too much wine (Tit. 2:3), he tells husbands not to be harsh (Col. 3:19), and he tells wives not to be disrespectful (Eph. 5:33).
In doing this, he is not saying that an older woman can’t be harsh, or that a husband can’t be a drunk. He is simply generalizing, which in our hyper-sensitive age, you are not allowed to do. He even does this with ethnic groups. Cretans are evil beasts, lazy gluttons and liars. But this is not saying that Cretans have to be that way (he tells Titus to rebuke them sharply, so that they won’t be), and it doesn’t mean that Irishmen can’t be that way. But if we were in a situation where tensions were running high between Ireland and Crete, any criticism in either direction would tend to be heard in sweeping and universalizing ways. An overly sensitive hermeneutic therefore indicates the presence of other issues.
This same dynamic was in play, incidentally, in some of the responses to my recent post about Millennials. To say that Millennials are vulnerable to certain temptations is not to say that not one of them has ever resisted these temptations, or that other generations are not tempted by anything at all.
And so this indicates that when the statement “some wives sometimes fail in this way” is heard as “no husbands ever fail in other ways,” there is some kind of tension, or bitterness, or hostility somewhere.
3. So to come at the central point from another direction — both men and women are sinners. When men sin, they sin the way men do. When women sin, they sin the way women do. They sin, as they do everything else, in line with their general makeup and character. And one of the things that all sinners tend to do is try to create a situation where pointed identification of that sin is difficult, if not impossible. Sin always seeks to evade, or hide, or change the subject. When Jesus identified the sin of the woman at the well, all of a sudden she wanted to talk theology.
Now one of temptations that some men face is that of abdication. One of the temptations that some women face is that of usurpation — whether Gen. 3:16 is talking about that or not. When a wife is bitter, resentful, and hostile, and her husband is afraid to help her identify that problem, you have a bad situation. You do not have a universal situation, but you do have a bad one.
When a situation is not like this at all, I am delighted to acknowledge that it is not. I am not in need of additional intractable marital situations. I have plenty. I want the number of them to go down, not up. But if a husband and wife really are at odds, nothing is gained by pretending otherwise.
The way out of such tangles is always repentance, always turning to Jesus. He forgives every sin, and while we may identify sins by means of generalization, He always forgives them specifically.