Saturday, December 27, 2014

Submit yourselves to God

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve (2 Tim 2:12-13).
A few preliminaries before I get to the main point:
i) It's not my intention to exegete this text. But I'll make the following thumbnail observations. I suspect the background for this is a house-church setting where wealthy women opened their doors to host Christian gatherings. In the NT, we see some examples of affluent women who patronized the church. In itself, that's a good thing.
However, it carries the potential for abuse. Since it takes place under her roof, there's a sense in which she's in charge. Likewise, upperclass women outranked many male Christians on the social ladder. Whenever one person has power over another or others, there's the temptation to abuse their power. To throw their weight around. 
ii) Nowadays, many women rankle at this text. And you have some husbands who abuse their authority. You also have situations where irresponsible husbands can put the wife in an untenable situation. 1 Sam 25 is a case in point. So there can be some understandable resentment.
iii) That said, there's a sense in which we've come full circle. Just as some men abuse their authority, some women abuse their authority. In our own culture, you have men who find themeslves on the receiving end. For instance, in the current education system, you have female teachers or professors who discriminate against male students. Likewise, you have gov't officials (e.g. Kathleen Sebelius, Justice Sotomayor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mayor Annise Parker) who abuse their authority. Just as there are women who suffer injustice at the hands of men, there are men who suffer injustice at the hands of women. 
iv) Getting to my main point, submission is a universal principle. By that I don't mean mutual submission in the faux egalitarian sense. Rather, I mean that even–or especially–in the case of male headship, men must be submissive to the will of God. There are Christian men who've had to endure hard providences. Christian men who've had to persevere in the face of a crushing loss or setback. Yet they soldier on as best they can. That's a submissive attitude. This isn't just a feminine virtue, but a masculine virtue. Not just a feminine duty, but a masculine duty. For instance:
Samuel Rutherford
His wife, Euphame, died in 1630 after suffering intensely for thirteen months. With the exception of one daughter, all the children she and Rutherford had died at an early age. Rutherford himself fell seriously ill with a high fever about this time. Then, in 1635, Rutherford’s mother, who had come to live with them, also died. 
In 1640, Rutherford married Jean M‘Math, described as “a woman of great worth and piety.” He had one daughter, Agnes, from his previous marriage, and six more from the second marriage, all of whom died before Rutherford. Two of them died as infants before Rutherford left to attend the Westminster Assembly. Two more died while he and his wife were in London.
Robert Lewis Dabney
Dabney was to eventually have six children - all boys. In 1855 tragedy struck his household. In November - his second son died of diphtheria in his arms. It is a terrible disease of the throat - where your throat slowly swells to where you can't talk - then swells more to your can't breathe. Dr. Dabney held his small boy in his arms and helplessly watched him die of suffocation. The next month his oldest son Bobby died of the same disease. He had lost two out of - at that time - three of his children within a few weeks. 
In the late 1880's, Dr. Dabney developed an astigmatism and eventually glaucoma. Surgery at Baltimore in 1886 proved unsuccessful. From 1886 to 1889 his sight became dimmer and dimmer until the light went out absolutely. 
He did not give up on life. He employed a private secretary to write at his dictation and to read for him that he might continue his studies.
Win Corduan
Thanks for beginning with this personal question; I just hope that readers will not be put off by my answer and that they will continue to the next item. To be perfectly honest, life has been challenging. If I hadn’t been experiencing the limitations associated with my condition (Parkinson’s disease), I wouldn’t have needed to retire on disability. So, I have had to learn to attempt to live with much greater restrictions on how much energy I have and what I can produce than I had expected. Furthermore, continuing to speak with embarrassing honesty, our financial situation has been disastrous. I will spare you any further details, except to say that, when you go on disability due to a health condition, and you lose all forms of health insurance, and your income is reduced to about 50% of what it was previously, life gets a bit uncomfortable. I’m not totally sure why I’m telling you all of this, but these last two years have been nothing like what I had hoped for. I had thought in terms of settling in, spending my days basically devoted to studying and writing, enjoying the ideal life of the Christian scholar, but it’s been anything but that. Nevertheless, the Lord is bearing us through this time; June and I are rejoicing daily in the love and relationship he has given to us; and there is a certain amount of light on the horizon. It takes two and a half years on disability to become eligible for Medicare, and that is supposed to set in this coming January, which will hopefully ease the financial burden. In the meantime, I have been plodding on with various writing and research projects; I have had the chance to fill in  a couple of small slots at Taylor; I am determined to keep my blog going; and recently spending a week at Veritas Evangelical Seminary, teaching a module on world religions, has been a real shot in the arm.
David Alan Black
For 37 years God broke me on the wheel of another's love. She was my hermitage, my dwelling place, and I was her hermit. Her body led through a glorious forest and her heart shot arrows into my own. Two rocking chairs on a porch, a voice on the other end of the phone, laughter squealing around the door from the kitchen. Just to touch her face was more powerful than life itself, and in her arms I could safely die. 
My love, all my searching found its end in you. Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, I had no one like you. You were the best, the cream of the crop. That I knew you intimately still makes me feel thunderstruck. But all this joy, all this light, was nothing more than looking through a glass darkly. Something more breathtaking awaited us when we said our "I dos" those many years ago. "Today you will be with Me in Paradise" has taken on new meaning for you -- and for me. I can tell you, it's mighty painful, but I would not have you back for the world. He gives. Hallelujah! He takes away. Hallelujah! His Name is blessed forever. Hallelujah! And so it will remain for all of eternity. Hallelujah! 
But I miss you no less because of it.
8:45 AM It was late last night and I was reading in bed when I suddenly felt overwhelmed, felt something rising deep within me and clawing its way to the surface, loud and painful. Once again God was challenging me, offering me another opportunity to trust Him viscerally. My mind went to the passage in Philippians we had studied this week in my Greek 3 class, the passage about a man named Epaphroditus. He had ministered to Paul in prison, had gotten desperately ill, but God had healed him miraculously, thus sparing Paul "sorrow upon sorrow." All I can tell you is that, had Epaphroditus died, Paul would have been overwhelmed with grief, wave after wave of sorrow assaulting him mercilessly. 
Well, God in His love and sovereignty allowed Becky to become desperately ill. For four and a half years we battled cancer together. But unlike Epaphroditus, her illness was unto death. It's common for a major loss in life to trigger the memory of previous losses, and if those losses weren't grieved over, the pain begins to pile up, it accumulates and is added to your current pain. The result is often emotional trauma. Paul's honesty in Philippians is refreshing. "God had mercy on him, and not only on him, but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow." This verse is the counterpoint to all the verses in Philippians that speak about joy. To rejoice in the Lord does not mean that you deny the reality of your loss. When a person loses someone precious to them, you needn't admonish them, "Don't be sorrowful. Death is nothing but the entrance into eternal life, into the very presence of Jesus. We are to be content even when someone precious to us dies." At some point during the process of recovery, you will hear those words from well-meaning friends. What they fail to realize is that when someone close to you dies, part of you also dies. You grieve not only for them but also for yourself. You are forever "without" that other person. You feel frustrated, hurt, helpless, and afraid. Sometimes you may even become angry or depressed. Neither emotion represents a lack of faith. They are simply responses to loss. Grief is that 30-feet wave I surfed at the Banzai Pipeline when I was a teenager. It moved over me and broke against me and there was nothing in the world I could do about it except yield to its force and let it carry me to a new place until it ran out of energy. 
Last night, as I sat in my bed, overcome with emotion, I asked myself, What caused this sudden sorrow? What triggered it? And then it became clear to me. I had been checking the national weather map on my iPad, moving from the East Coast to the West Coast, and as I moved into the deserts of Arizona my mind blew a gasket. Before me, staring at me unforgivably on the map, were the places Becky and I had vacationed with our family while we were living in California. Memories began to race through my mind -- Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, Winslow, Canyon de Chelly. I suddenly felt empty, depressed, sad, withdrawn. I felt like Lee at Chancellorsville: outmanned, outgunned, outsupplied. For a brief moment I forgot that I was not alone, that Jesus Himself, the Man of Sorrows, the one who was "acquainted with grief," was sitting right next to me, holding my hand, understanding my loss, weeping and mourning with me like He did at the tomb of Lazarus, not trying to rush me through the sadness but letting it accomplish its perfect work, teaching me how to embrace my grief, and the steps to recovery. Raw and fragile, I receded into self pity. 
And then it happened. I heard the ring on my iPad telling me an email had just arrived. This is what I read:
Dear Dave, 
Just wanted you to know that I am especially praying for you this week.  I have followed your blogs about Becky now for a year and have appreciated them so much.  I don’t pretend to understand your journey but I have been going on one of my own since my dad died a year ago Oct 31.  I know it doesn’t come close to the pain of losing a spouse but he was still my dad for 58 years and I have terribly missed his voice and words of encouragement.  Your willingness to openly blog your pain and your healing process has helped me through mine this past year and I am truly grateful to God  and to you for that. May the Lord comfort and encourage you through His Holy Spirit’s ministry over the coming days. 
Love in Him,
Your brother in Christ.
The sky suddenly lightened. The wind subsided. The dust settled. The wave released me. God, who had seemed so distance, now felt so close that I thought I could touch Him. Tell me it isn't so, I said to myself. How did this friend of mine, who lives 7,000 miles away on another continent, know that he needed to send me that email at that precise moment in time? This is not normal. It is inexplicable -- unless you believe in a God who sees your vulnerability, sees that something has been ripped away from you, and yet still loves and cares for you. It's as if He was saying to me, "Dave, your grief is okay. It is a statement that you loved someone very much." 
And what of this morning? The disruption, the confusion, the sorrow is still with me to a degree. I learned long ago that I can't just hang up my pain like I hang up my shirt in my closet at the end of a work day. Grief is my constant companion, though sometimes it is more blatant, more in-your-face than at other times. Often, when I least expect it, the grief returns, sometimes like the crashing wave at Pipeline, sometimes like the oozing lava that is bearing down upon Pahoa on the Big Island today. I know that some of you feel the way I do about Becky's loss. You share with me my pain, my grief. I have spoken with many of you. You have your own pain, too, some of you do. You lost a child or a parent this past year. There was a miscarriage or a stillbirth. That infant, though dead, still fills the bleachers of your mind. Loss is not natural, normal, predictable. I want you to know that I grieve for you too. Enter fully into your sorrow. Weep like I did last night. Go ahead and feel the pain of your loneliness (even though you are never really alone). Something absolutely life-changing has occurred in your life. Face it head-on, learn from it, let it do its work. Expect your feelings to intensify in the months ahead. And when deep within you those memories trigger the sights, sounds, and even smells of the past, when your pain overrides your ability to pray even, when all you can do is sit there and mutter over and over again, as I did last night, "Dear God, Lord Jesus," remember that Christianity embraces both real tears and real hope.
"Two are better than one," wrote Solomon, "because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up." For 37 years Becky lifted me up when I fell. And now that is no more. This is an excruciating truth. There is something bitter and painful about it, yet also something peaceful and acquiescent. This truth must be grasped, must be embraced as passionately as when Becky and I first put our mouths and bodies together. There is no escaping the grief and the sense of utter loss and abandonment. Like the brown leaves I see outside on this fall day, marriage is a temporary pleasure, something that is soon swept away. There was once a woman in bed right beside me. She was more beautiful to me than life itself. "Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." She was mine to have and to hold, till death do us part. And yet she was never truly mine. She was His. That is a comforting thought. As a result, my grief has begun to subside. Hope is replacing despair. I'm learning to rest in the knowledge that I will see her again someday, enjoy her radiant smile, and together we will breathe the air of pure grace. By the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, her death will be transformed into a victory song, and we will bow at His feet in humble adoration, just as we did when we took our vows those many years ago -- this time as brother and sister, caught up in the wonder of our God. 
This Saturday will be a star in a dark night, a reminder that dawn is coming, a harbinger that "rejoicing comes in the morning" (Ps. 30:5). As we gather one last time to honor Becky's memory, I will tell her again that I love her, that I miss her, that she will never be forgotten. I will cry buckets of tears. I will say goodbye for the billionth time. And I will thank God for my Florence Nightingale. I will thank Him for His kindness in entrusting her to me and, now that she is gone, for His grace in holding me close and filling my emptiness. 
And then life will return to taking one step, and then another ....

Like anyone who suffers from loss, I feel a need to redeem the experience, to leverage the loss for something good, to use it to bless others. 
In 37 years of marriage, we grew more and more like each other. Now if that isn't scary! Even today I find myself saying things that Becky would have said or counseling my daughters in words that Becky would have uttered. Marriage evens out our differences and draws us into an odd, otherworldly kind of togetherness where you really do become "one." This is an overwhelming reality that I've had to come to grips with since Becky's passing. No, I am no longer married to Becky. But I live as though I am, in many ways...I still wear my wedding ring. It is this unrelenting personalness of marriage that one cannot escape. Just as marriage gives face to unspeakable joy, so it also gives face to unbelievable suffering. Not only does marriage fail to mitigate the struggles of life, it exacerbates them. And just because your spouse is no longer living doesn't mean that you have stopped being delimited and informed by that other person. Marriage always involves a drastic course of action, not least when one of the spouses dies. It cannot succeed without a compete and utter attitude of acceptance. Death is the fate of all of us, and should your spouse die before you do, you dare not harden your heart or let your love grow cold. There are still many others who depend on your loving faithfulness, your constancy, your selflessness, your support, and your resources.
As I ate my dinner today, alone, I kept thinking about all the dinners Becky and I ate together at my table, this same piece of furniture, and I knew we would grow old and gray together and sit on the front porch and talk about all the things happening in the lives of our grandkids and thinking about all the adventures we still had left in life. Those days are no more, but I am not depressed. I have a roof over my head. I have food to eat. I have a family who spends time with me. That's more than Saeed can say as he wastes away in a prison in Iran.

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