11 August 2005

We are on a global desert, and violence in marriage is our desiccation.

Today, The New York Times published Sharon LaFraniere’s troubling article “Entrenched Epidemic: Wife-Beatings in Africa.” Just to get us situated, note how LaFraniere concisely states the problem with this example: “About half of women interviewed in Zambia in 2001 and 2002 said husbands had a right to beat wives who argue with them, burn the dinner, go out without the husband’s permission, neglect the children or refuse sex.” In short, it seems that sub-Saharan Africa suffers violence because of a global misunderstanding of God’s design in sexuality and marriage.

Though there’s a heap worth saying about the social urgency this article stirs in me, I simply want to make some observations here about what two of the interviewed men say. At the very least, they reveal fear that results in the particular degradation of their wives and the general diminishing of marriage as a glorious display of God’s character and an ideal symbol of His greatest unifying work. Observing this fear and hating its result (particularly, politically and culturally condoned marital abuse) will point us to a pressing need: we must understand and delight in our Lord, especially in His design of marriage, so that we might love Him and hasten toward holiness.

First, listen to Kenny Adebayo: “If you tell your wife she puts too much salt in the dinner, and every day, every day, every day there is too much salt, one day you will get emotional and hurt her. . . . We men in Africa hate disrespect.” Adebayo lacks self-control ironically because he fears losing control (over his wife particularly) and losing respect (from his culture generally). He blames his wife for all this, justifying his emotional outbursts and violent behaviors by the persistent presence of superfluous sodium chloride in his diet. If only it were so easy. Truthfully, he does not beat his wife because his wife pushes him over the edge; he beats his wife because he loves violence and hates gentleness, because he loves himself and hates God.

Now consider Emmanuel Osibuamhe. The journalist carefully observes him pacing, increasingly angry the more he thinks on his marriage. He says that consistently beating his wife was wrong, but listen as he speaks: “You can’t imagine yourself beating your wife?” he says. “You can’t imagine yourself being pushed to that level? But some people just push you over the edge, and you do things that you are not supposed to do.” Like Adebayo, Osibuamhe offers his wife’s defiance as reasonable cause for his violence. He loves himself more than God’s design for marriage.

Now, to be fair, perhaps Mrs. Adebayo does maliciously refuse to change her salt shaking. And perhaps Rosalynn Isimeto-Osibuamhe deliberately agitates her husband. Wives have unusual and intimate access to their husbands’ buttons. But no matter how insipidly wives provoke their husbands, we can justify no resultant violence whatsoever, whether subtle emotional isolation or knives to throats. This is not because human beings deserve better treatment or even because those women’s stories break my heart but because God is supreme and deserves all worship.

In fact, God has designed marriage gloriously, and undermining that design indicates a great idolatry. If God has fashioned human sexuality in general and marriage in particular so that He might display Himself and describe His relationship with people, then to violate that image with selfish motives and personal abuse reflects misplaced worship. Indeed, God invented marriage so that we would have language and imagery displaying the strange intimacy of His covenant with an unapologetically faithless people (1).

Consider, for example, how in Hosea’s minor prophecy God compares the adulterous whore Gomer to Israel. She even uses gifts from her compassionate and tender husband to pay others so they will agree to her prostitutions, and yet God tells Hosea to go woo her and pay any outstanding debts she has, because this is how he will treat Israel when Israel is like Gomer. And she will be. We will be. Everyday even God’s chosen people are like Gomer, faithless and fearful of everything but our perfect heavenly husband.

God designs and defines marriage as He does to demonstrate His jealous and unending commitment to a faithless people, making them whole and blameless for His glory. So may Adebayo and Osibuamhe and every sub-Saharan African and everyone the globe over repent and speak with Israel: let us take with us words and press on to know Him. He is my everything—my evergreen, my cedar, the dew for my lily—and I will love nothing else.

(1) Piper, John. “Sex and the Supremacy of God: Part I.” Sex and the Supremacy of God. Ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005. 26.


Denny Burk said...

Good word. Tonight we are watching the BBC's production of Pride & Prejudice. I am reminded that all of the bad things that happen in the story are attributable to the failure of men to be the men God created them to be.

Mr. Bennett indulged the "looseness" of his younger daughters, while Mr. Darcy left Mr. Wiccam's bad character concealed. Perhaps I'm interpreting this wrongly, but the bad characters are a direct result of the failure of patriarchy to be properly patriarchal.

(Now if that doesn't generate discussion, then I don't know what will!)

Jen Strange said...

Huh, "the failure of patriarchy to be properly patriarchal." You're right to note Mr. Bennett's wussiness: perhaps he thinks he is keeping some semblance of peace by bending so spinelessly to his contentious wife and his sometimes fickle daughters, but he in fact abdicates his responsibility for servant leadership in the process.

Now, I'd be willing to suggest that much of the world's trouble has historically been the same. Perhaps this is too sweeping, but it's at least clear that patriarchal failures affect more than just Austen's novels and Africa's peoples.

Gilbert and Gubar claim that "Even the most apparently conservative and decorous women writers obsessively create fiercely independent characters who seek to destroy all the patriarchal structures which both their authors and their authors' submissive heroines seem to accept as inevitable" ("Infection in the Sentence"). But I would offer a counterclaim from your notion here that those characters don't need to destroy patriarchy; instead, they need a proper patriarchy that lifts them by serving them, as Christ does the Church.

So our culture needs not anti-patriarchy but a reformed patriarchy.


Amen to that!

As a married Christian female who hopes to return to South Africa in the near future on misson, this blog entry was incredibly poignant. I'll be adding you to my blog list tonight :)

Denny Burk said...

Yes, reformed patriarchy! That's what I meant. Good post.

Grp. Capt. Mandrake said...

blah blah blah