In a previous post I explored some musings on ways of approaching Paul's language regarding wives in his letter to the Ephesians. Some misinterpreted it as an argument for a particular position. In fact I was looking at possible ways of understanding reality (that fit available information) that make positive sense of what Paul says.
In that post I intentionally left out Paul's comments that come immediately after the ones on wives. Paul moves directly into addressing husbands. This separation was intentional. Even though the two sets of comments fit together so well it can be helpful to single them out and apply them to the concerned party: the comment about wives to wives and the comment about husbands to husbands. The reason being that it is so easy for us to use the other comments to indict the other party.
So, husbands are to love their wives as Jesus loves the Church. How does Jesus love the Church? He beats her and yells at her and shames her into doing what he wants right? Wait, no, he gives her orders and sets strict limits on how big her life can be. That isn't quite right either. Oh ya, he pours himself out and lays his life down for her to empower her freedom so that her life can be ever more expansive.
Interesting. This is not the normal male behavior. However it is the normal female behavior, especially in a mother toward her children. This Christ-like giving of self is what mothers do when they carry, birth, nurse, raise, and defend their children. This is pretty consistent among mammals. As for males there is somewhat more ambiguity. For many species the primary danger to the young is the father. For instance, a mother bear will at times need to defend her young from their father because he will eat them. Now, most human males are more highly evolved than bears: they won't actually eat their young. However, neither do they have the oxytocin flood that bonds a mother to her baby. Males are, in the norm, quite able to dissociate from the deep wellbeing of others. (This would be why God compares his love to that of a nursing mother rather than a father watching a football game.)
Men need to be told to lay their lives down. Wait, you say, what about the father laying his life down to save his family in a crisis? Yes, when push comes to shove, most men will behave in such a way. The thing is we are not talking about "push comes to shove." We are talking about normal every day. Taking out the garbage, deciding where to live, conversations about the bills, day to day interaction. It is an active way of living for the benefit and building up of the wife. It is not that the husbands desires are not important, it is that if those desires are not for the increased power and freedom of his wife they are wrong desires. The husband is to act toward the wife as Jesus did toward the Church "sanctifying," "washing," presenting as glorious. This is language that points to the cross. This is not to say that husbands are to be "martyrs" in the pejorative sense any more than Jesus was a martyr in that way. Rather, as Jesus actively and willingly and consciously laid himself down to win freedom and power and glory for his "bride" so husbands are to work actively consciously and willingly for the greater freedom and glory and power of their wives.
One of the snags here is, what does that look like in the concrete? What does the guidebook tell me to do in this situation? You don't get a rule book. You get a command to take something as a guiding principle and then you are stuck doing it live. You are stuck making mistakes and succeeding and working hard to mature and learn from both. One thing you may not do is shallowly decide what is best for your wife and build her into that under the auspices of "doing what is best for her" (as if you have any real clue what is actually best for her.) This move makes me sick when I see it because it is just rank immature selfishness that the man who says it thinks he can masquerade as virtue. Men who say this are not fooling anyone. Your job is not to control or shape or determine your wife, your job is to set her truly free and put your greatest energy into supporting her strengths in the way that she and God think they should develop.
And that, coming from me, a chief among sinners.