Seeing the Gospel's Beauty Through Marital Dependence
There's an article by the Feminine Firebrand blog making its way around social media entitled, "Why Aren't Christian Women Warned About Being Too Dependent on Their Husband?"
Christian women are often warned about the necessity for independence - far more, in this culture, than they are warned about most other relational pitfalls and patterns. It seems we aren’t able to acknowledge the concepts of male headship and responsibility before a multitude of objections arise, demanding we also acknowledge that women are capable of such things. Not only this, but another sentiment is often promoted: wives should feel more obligated to relieve the burden they place on their husband by being dependent on his provision and leadership.
Before getting too far into the issue, it’s important to note I think the writer of this article means ultimately to warn wives about the subtle line between dependence and idolatry. I do agree this is an important thing for wives to understand. The biblical reality of male headship (and all the responsibilities involved in this role) is regularly taken to unbiblical extremes by some fundamentalist groups and individuals, and it breeds abusive tendencies in husbands as well as an unhealthy “damsel in distress” mentality in wives.
However, it is also unhealthy and unbiblical to equate marital dependence with idolatry to the extent that articles like this are guilty of. The author’s thesis states:
“In my experience, the more prevalent problem isn’t that professing Christian women are being influenced by feminism or secular culture to be ‘strong independent women.’ The more prevalent problem is that professing Christian women are being influenced by religious teachings to be too dependent on their husband. Then, when their marriage doesn’t work out or something happens to their husband, they find themselves in a financial crisis.”
Something that must be pointed out right away is when we view what are meant to be general principles or truths about marriage primarily through the lens of our personal experiences with dating, marriage, or divorce, we are not doing ourselves or anyone else a favor. Our experience of what problems are most prevalent in the church holds little weight in the grand scheme of things. We must refrain from promoting broad conclusions about things as consequential as marriage if we are drawing these conclusions from our own private experiences.
The author goes on to write that “professing Christian women are being taught that the husband is ‘the priest of the home’ (the Bible does not teach this) and to look to their husbands for spiritual strength (the Bible does not teach this either).”
She is technically correct - no wife needs a priest of any sort to mediate between herself and God, and her husband should not be the primary source of her spiritual strength. However, the Scriptures clearly teach in more places than one that the husband is the head of the home and has responsibilities to provide a sense of spiritual and financial stability:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:22-25
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8
“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Corinthians 11:3
Let’s be clear - the Bible absolutely teaches that the husband does have a responsibility to provide financially for and promote the spiritual welfare of his family. And these are heavy responsibilities. They require the support and respect of the wife…and they do become unbearable if they are coupled with an unbiblical pressure to be God for his family. Just as there are verses regarding the headship of the husband, there are also verses that give demonstrations of wives contributing to the household income (Proverbs 31), and these verses show there is no need for mediation in the new covenant besides the High Priesthood of Christ (1 Peter 2:9; Romans 8:24; the book of Hebrews).
When we look at the whole picture of marriage in the Scriptures, especially as it is explained in light of Christ’s covenant, it’s evident marriage involves mutual dependence and unity which works within the roles of headship and submission, not a spirit of individualism and independence that seeks to prove the self-sufficiency of each spouse.
We do not need to throw out Mark 10:7-8 in order to preserve and promote wifely competency. The two have become one flesh, and the body needs its members to work together wholeheartedly - without forsaking the roles they have been assigned - in order for this oneness to work.
In light of this, here is arguably the most disheartening passage of the article in question:
“In my experience [there’s that experiential approach to theology popping up again], women in general, and professing Christian women specifically, are not prepared for marriage. . . I have helped many wives who were too dependent on their husbands for their survival, and I have been the wife who was too dependent on my (soon-to-be-ex) husband. The lesson that I have learned is that women need to be self-sufficient, resourceful, and prepared to take care of ourselves and our children. Maybe instead of drilling anti-feminist messages into the minds of professing Christian women and constantly beating the dead horse of ‘don’t be an independent woman,’ more Christian ministries and women’s ministries need to be teaching professing Christian women to be self-sufficient.”
This phrase “self-sufficient” crops up far too many times throughout the article for us not to take it seriously as being the crux of the author’s message, and it is at the heart of my rejection of the article as a whole.
Neither marriage nor the Christian life have anything to do with self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is not the ingredient for stability in life, yet this is exactly the mentality that the author goes on to promote in the spirit of, “Living as husband and wife is hard, people often change, and you need to prepare yourself financially and spiritually for the end of your marriage, because it’s coming one way or another."
Sisters, this is such a detrimental perspective to have toward your marriage covenant. The fallibility of human beings should not drive us to encase ourselves in a shell of fearful independence. Marriage is a good, God-ordained thing, and He uses it (often in unexpected ways) to show us just how needy, weak, and selfish we are.
This reality should not cause us to idolize our spouses or hike up our skirt-tails and get to work building ourselves a fortress of safe self-sufficiency. Rather, the risk involved in human interdependence exists in order that Christ’s own strength would be demonstrated in the insufficiency of the human husband and the insufficiency of the human wife. And the eternal stability of this is what provides us the strength we need to lean on our spouses in the faith-leap of covenant marriage.
Jessica Hageman is a native to the Appalachian mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, although she now resides in northern Virginia with her husband. She has been a lover of reading since elementary school and a lover of Christ since high school. She is a full time English major, in hopes that her studies will help her more effectively minister to other through written words. Her favorite things in the world are British tea, old books, autumn leaves, dry humor, and rainy weather. Her goal as a writer is to demonstrate how the Gospel, objective truth, and sound theology are not only applicable, but essential, to all aspects of life as a woman, especially in a world that celebrates sin, false doctrine, and self-sufficiency.