This one is late because last week’s was late. Consequences, yo. We’re back to Thursdays starting today, and you get two today!
Last week’s theme on Mission: Zer0 was control: Battle Cry talked about vices that have control over you, in The Word With Friends I talked about submission versus obedience, and in Flashback Friday I rounded out the discussion with guarding your dreams. But today I want to talk about a final struggle for balance and control that is vastly more important for some of us: courtship and marriage.
What a Fool Believes
The Bible is often accused of being wildly sexist; it says women can’t teach, it says women are lesser, it says women are property, it says women can’t be in the presence of men learning, it says women have to be sent away during their periods, etc. If you take the words at face value most of the book is outright hostile to women, and probably nowhere more than Genesis 3:16, which reads:
Unto the woman [God] said, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
The thing about that is it sure reads like a punishment or a curse. Pretty clearly. “I will multiply.” The actual Hebrew there is “הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה” — harebah arebeh — which literally reads “increases I will increase.”
He, the LORD God, is the “I” in this sentence. He is going to take action — arebah is a verb — to make the woman have more pain. And here, friends, is where Christians have got to stop saying things like “just read what the Bible says.” You can’t “just read what the Bible says,” any more than you can “just read what the United States judicial code says.”
Go read any given legal statute in these United States: you will see the failing of “just reading the words.” We have lawyers for a reason: to help interpret the laws where language is easy to misconstrue. We have pastors, teachers, prophets, and evangelists for the very same reason.
Reading the Bible plainly leaves two choices: 1) throw out the Old Testament because the words do not obviously mate to the New and often contradict it, or 2) throw out God because He’s inconsistent, cruel, and psychotic.
Just My Imagination
Genesis 3:16 takes some unpacking, and that is why we have the five-fold ministry. It’s also, more pointedly, why we have the Holy Spirit!
This verse doesn’t appear from a vacuum. The LORD has just come to the garden to see Adam and Eve clothed and hiding. He asks Adam if he ate of the tree and Adam throws Eve and God wholly under the bus: “THAT woman that YOU gave me made me do it!” Since the very first men have been horrible at taking personal responsibility.
God turns to Eve to ask what happened and she throws Satan under the bus: “The snake tricked me!”
To take a brief aside here: the word is not actually “serpent.” The Hebrew word נָחָשׁ — nachosh — means “that which נָחַשׁ — that which nachash-es”. Nachash is a verb that means “to hiss or whisper a magic spell.” A better noun than “serpent” would be “sorcerer.” Chew on that one sometime.
So God, as with any parent, has now heard a chain of “he did it!” and grown weary. The sorcerer is consigned to crawl on his belly and eat dirt. Adam gets the weight of knowing the very ground is cursed because of him and assigned to work the ground, with great strain, and eat what it produces. In other words, Adam has men saddled with the work of cattle for eternity rather than retaining he right to just eat cattle who maintain it.
To the woman, whose initial lack of regard for God’s authority started this, she gets something different.
To recap Genesis 3:16: God tells Eve that 3 things will increase greatly: her sorrow, her conception, and her childbirth pain. He also says she will desire her husband and he will rule over her. Let’s analyze this some.
Her “sorrow” is an interesting one. The word root for “sorrow” there is the verb עָצַב — ‘atsab — and it refers to woodcutting. Specifically it refers to carving a wooden idol, and for this reason it is commonly used to mean “to hurt, to pain, to grieve” or “to craft, to make, to make into a shape.” What He is telling her is that the things she creates in her mind will be increased greatly. An easier way to understand that: her anxiety will be increased.
Her “conception” is a two-fer: it refers not only to having sex, but also to being pregnant. To greatly increase conception doesn’t mean pain. It means there will be more of it. More on that later.
Her “childbirth pain” is pretty straightforward: it’s going to hurt a lot to have a kid.
When it says she “will desire for her husband” that translation is screwy. The real word used is the word for overflowing or breaking over — like an army overwhelming a smaller force. This is why he tacks on “and your husband will rule over you.” She will desire to control her husband, but he will wear the pants in the family. Sort of.
I Can’t Help Myself
Moses (who is presumed to have written Genesis) goes into a lot of detail in Eve’s punishment, but there is an easier and better way to explain what’s going on here.
Firstly: God only says He will increase her anxiety and her conception. The childbirth pain is a result, not part of it. The desire to overwhelm the husband is a result of the anxiety. But both the conception and the anxiety are what are increased. Hold with me here, because I am going to say those are one and the same thing.
Eve’s sin was in dismissing God’s rules in favor of her own — of holding her thoughts higher. The sorcerer convinced her that was a good idea, but the failing was in putting her thoughts first. The effect of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was that she now knows her action was wrong, that her flesh — her carnal mind — should not have been trusted. But because she did trust it the effect is that it is now in control.
Moses renders the sentence in a way that says God is taking the action, but that is only true insomuch as He made the tree and allowed her to get what she wished. The consequences were built into the fruit itself.
Eve ate wanting to prove her thoughts equal to her master’s, and so they became her master. Adam ate trying to shift responsibility, and so he got the responsibility of all cattle: tend the dirt.
Hang on Sloopy
Woman (Eve) brought onto all her daughters — women — a hefty consequence: their thoughts now have power they shouldn’t have had. Anxiety, emotions, thoughts, plumbing issues… all increased.
We know these things biologically: the left amygdala in women behaves stronger, indicating a heightened emotional memory, which is central in the process of anxiety, preconception, and pain. The corpus callosum in women is thicker, which allows more information to travel between hemispheres of the brain and, we think, is responsible for the fact that women process in a more parallel way (lots of things at once) where men process serially (one thing at a time).
The physical brain became wired in women to give it the power Eve was seeking to gain for herself, and that meant more anxiety, deeper emotions, and greater reception of pain. Where Man (Adam) earned his sons physical strain, Eve brought her daughters mental strain.
OK, so what in the world does any of that have to do with courtship or dating, and why would you ever care about any of it?
I Got You Babe
That word “rule” in 3:16? That’s the word מָשַׁל — mashal — and I have talked about it before. It literally refers to the stomping of grapes or the pressing of olives. It means “to press into service” or maybe “to compel compliance.”
What it is really saying is that the man will pressure the woman into doing what needs to be done. But that can be taken to mean a lot of different things, so what does it actually mean in Genesis?
Consider the whole scene. God tells the sorcerer, the woman, and the man what is happening, so everybody hears the effect on everybody.
Where man and woman were made to help each other have dominion over the earth, the woman is now going to be battling her own mind and the man is battling the ground with his entire body. They are out of balance with themselves, and so they will be out of balance to each other.
When it says the man will rule it doesn’t mean he gets power over her, it means that it’s his job to make sure s*** gets done, and it’s her job to hold the family together. I know that’s an antiquated way of thinking, but anyone in a successful marriage will validate this.
Men are so preoccupied with our jobs or our hobbies or the things we want to do — our “responsibilities” — that personal relationships suffer. If a married couple is to have friends, the majority share of that social bond falls to the women to upkeep. Same with the family unit itself.
Women’s brains are so packed that they can — not will, but can — tend to indecision (“Where do you want to eat?” “I don’t care; anywhere…”) and emotional health in favor doing. When she gets caught in those loops it is the man’s job to help her break free of her mind’s control. That means a hell of a lot more serving than it does ruling!
The dysfunctions introduced in the garden also plant the seeds for how to overcome them, and they require that we account for them in our relationships.
I Want to Hold Your Hand
Stupid men got involved and turned the entire thing into a “women weak, men strong!” thing, but that was always nonsense. We have to get back to understanding ourselves and our roles to date successfully and marry successfully.
Men looking for someone to control are set up for failure, because that’s not what we were given: man and woman are still helpmates for each other. It isn’t control he gets, it’s a support role. He presses her to act because her tendency can be to not act. But when he crosses into directing instead of guiding he touches off the same rejection of control that led Eve to eat that fruit in the first place. He drives her back to it.
Women looking for someone they can change — ie, control — are set up for failure, because they are going to have an empty reign: they are Eve noshing on that fruit over and over and over.
In courtship you have got to understand these things! If you don’t have an understanding of what your role is then you can’t find the right helpmate. A boy who hasn’t learned to provide for himself hasn’t learned responsibility, and will fail in his role of helping to press his girl into action. A woman who hasn’t understood her social urgency in the relationship will fail to keep her family emotionally healthy.
Knowing your role — having your stuff together — helps you to identify those who have their stuff together and who can be potential mates. That’s how you stop the cycle of wrong choices: get yourself in order first.
In marriage the one step to success is to get your role right. That’s it. Do what you need to do and your mate will respond. If you didn’t do great at the picking a mate part up front there may be a second step of “help the other person understand their role,” but that’s another post completely.
Look, I know as I type this there’s some of you saying this is sexist BS, but I promise you that it isn’t. If you think you or your relationship are structured differently you are fooling yourself. Women can be the breadwinner and men can be the socialites, but it’s always the role of the man to get the responsibilities fulfilled and the role of the woman to keep the machine cohesive.
Neither can exist in a vacuum and neither is more important or more powerful than the other. This “women are weaker” nonsense has to stop, as does the “men are mindless brutes” nonsense. Men need emotional intelligence, and we need to raise and treat our boys as such. Women need to understand their equality, and we need to raise and treat our girls as such.
The control in a romantic relationship is never over the other person, it is always over yourself. Might it have been easier pre-fruit? Sure, maybe. But this way is more beautiful, by far. A functioning marriage where both people are moving in their roles is amazing to see and incredible to be a part of.
God Only Knows
Father, this one started to get unwieldy; please step into the hearts of every reader and show them the truth of this topic. It’s SO critical to our society, especially today when everything but biology is up in the air. I don’t know how gender variation or sexuality variation are affected by these truths, but I know that regardless which two humans are courting these rules apply. For the non-cisgendered please, Spirit, show them how this relates to them. I pray all this in the name of Your Word, Your Son, Your designated Christ, and my Brother, my King, my Teacher, and my Savior: Jesus. Amen!