There is a definite hierarchy in the Scriptures; there just isn’t any way to get away from this fact. Yet while this is a theological reality, it isn’t always popular today. In the very simplest of terms, here’s how it works: God is over Man; few would argue this part. Male is over female; and so, the arguments begin. Adult is over child; seems self-evident to me. Master is over servant; less shouting for this one.
That the Creator God is over Mankind is an easy one, but it isn’t just easy, it’s also the whole point. Male over female is a metaphor for God being over Man. The traditional roles of men and women in marriage are used to convey the kind of relationship that God wants with His people. It is not a justification for brutish behavior; far from it, in fact. The same is true for adult over child and Master over servant, and in my view, it takes a seriously twisted theology to justify anyone trying to abuse his allegorical position.
Here’s what I mean by that: God is over Man because not only did He create all things, including humanity, but God is all powerful, all knowing and all present; He is not subject to time or space. Yet even though He has absolute and total power, He is most notable by His restraint in using it. Instead, He is in possession of the attributes of unfailing love, unfailing mercy and unfailing justice, and being in possession of these qualities, He does not ever abuse His position to harm Man. The husband is expected to demonstrate the same qualities toward his wife that God shows toward humanity, thus he will be a blessing to his wife and not a curse if he is a godly man. The wife is expected to show the same respect to her husband that the Christian is expected to show for God, because like Jesus, her husband is expected to give up his life for her and sacrifice for her well-being. The result is supposed to be an equal partnership with different roles for the mutual benefit of both partners. The same principles also apply in the interactions between adults and children, and Master and servant.
There is nothing about this that is in any way complicated. In fact, it should be so obvious that Paul reminds us of it in Ephesians 5:22 ff.; he is not anticipating an argument here, but then he wrote in the first century and not the late 20th or early 21st centuries when there seems to be confusion in culture about every sort of human interaction.
Of course, in Ephesians 5:22 ff., Paul isn’t actually writing about marriage at all!
This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:32)
Paul is actually writing about the relationship between Christ and His Church and using the obvious example of marriage to convey his point. Then, almost as an afterthought he says: However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Eph. 5:33) It is as if he threw that verse in, just in case anyone was confused by what should be obvious. Theologically speaking, it really doesn’t get any easier than this, and yet… popular culture rears its head and tries to create confusion and controversy where none should exist.; then social scientists start doing studies in an attempt to prove that men and women are exactly the same in every aspect other than the obvious… and end up proving instead that we are not exactly the same.
The Song of Songs is quite similar to Ephesians 5 in my view, for it uses the relationship between man and woman to illustrate what our relationship should be with God. Also, like Ephesians 5, the Song of Songs has the element of “oh by the way, if you didn’t already get it, husbands and wives can be very intimate together; it’s really OK.”
I wonder if we are ready to be THAT intimate with God…