Uni and I like to watch movies at home. At times we have difficulty determining which to watch out of the nearly infinite selection available. Lately we've been watching some movies of the type often labeled "chick flicks" - those with some sort of romantic interest - no shoot-em-ups, no car chases, but lots of sad faces, tears, kisses and occasional bedroom scenes.
What got me to thinking as I watched the last three was the common depiction of the female lead as having some sort of weakness or need that the male character in some way attempted to meet.
The Notebook - She is an elderly woman who suffers from dementia - loss of memory - which her husband tenderly attempts to recover by reading the story of their romance from her notebook/diary.
Labor Day - She is a single mother, living with her preteen son. Her husband has left her for another woman because of her depression over her inability to have more children and she feels she can never love again. But she finds love from an escaped convict who chooses to hide out in her home.
Seven Pounds - She is dying from congenital heart failure, when the male character, trying to find personal atonement for his past, literally gives her his heart.
I'm not trying to make light of these movies. I cried along with Uni through the pathos, perhaps even more than she. But I was struck by the common theme.
My first thoughts were of how old-fashioned and outdated these stories seemed to be. We live in an age of feminine empowerment. In our lifetime we've seen women's roles change dramatically - women taking on activities that were not long ago thought of as only the province of men. The women in these movies seemed weak by "modern" standards. (Of course, the men had their weaknesses too.)
But a passage from the New Testament kept coming to mind. "You husbands likewise, living together with them in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, granting your wives honor, as fellow heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7).
This verse is packed, but it is the phrase "weaker vessel" that stands out to me, especially after watching these three movies. And it is this phrase that has caused much debate in various Bible studies that I have led or been involved in. There are those men who take this as somehow granting them license to dominate. There are those women who question the description of them as "weaker". Arguments from traditional male dominance; arguments concerning relative body strength, upper and lower body strength, child-bearing - I've heard them all. But is this what it's all about - physical comparison between the sexes?
A little context might help: Peter is addressing believers who are scattered in a hostile environment. He addresses his readers as "strangers and pilgrims." They appear to be recent converts from paganism with all its vices. They have to live among people who are suspicious of their behavior.
Peter exhorts them to live lives of exemplary behavior as a witness of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. One of his recurring instructions is to "submit" in their human relationships - "to every human institution" (2:13); "slaves to masters" (2:18); "to their leaders" (5:5); and most importantly in our text, "wives to husbands," especially if the husbands are unbelievers (3:1).
So when Peter urges husbands to do "likewise," he is urging that same submissive spirit on them as on their wives. It is to be a characteristic of every follower of Jesus.
This passage is not making a comparison between the relative strength and weakness of men and women. It is an exhortation addressed to men - husbands - about how they are to relate to their wives. The burden is on us!
Because this verse has been misinterpreted and misapplied in so many ways, I feel it's necessary to say a little about what it does not say. It doesn't say that the wife is the weaker vessel. Nor does it say that she is the husband's vessel.
The husband and wife are two "vessels" in the household of God. This is an analogy that is used elsewhere in Scripture. They are called "fellow heirs" - two members of equal importance to God. Because the society of Peter's day was relatively patriarchal - male dominated, there was a need for stressing this equality of the wife and the husband.
And then note this: he is to live together with her and grant her honor (or value) as with a weaker vessel. That "as" is important. It speaks not of the physical condition she is in but of how she is to be treated.
It means that I am to regard my wife as something special. I am to handle her with care. This can mean many things and can be carried out in many ways, but it always means that I owe her special treatment. I must protect her from danger. I must take note of her actual weaknesses. I must listen.
I must handle her like fine China!
At this point it would be easy for me to make a list of the various things that I do or have done in this regard and tell every husband reading this that these are his oughts. But that would end up in frustrating legalism. My advice: get to know her. If you think you already know her well enough, you're doing better than I am after over 60 years with Uni` (57 years of marriage).
And be gentle; don't be afraid of embarrassing her or yourself. She'll let you know what she likes and what her needs are.
This past Friday Uni and I attended a wedding of a young couple. Though most of the ceremony was traditional, there was one surprise, one thing we had not seen before.
The groom got down on his knees, carefully removed his bride's shoes and washed her feet!