My apologies for only showing up on Sundays for the past couple of months. I’ve been involved with a huge project at work that recently went live. It’s sucked up all my brain power and energy. I couldn’t resist piping up on John Piper’s latest, but nothing new, musing on wife submission.
A listener wrote in to Desiring God asking Piper:
“Hello, Pastor John! I know that submission is the requirement of the wife, and I have been working hard lately to hold my tongue and agree with my husband even when I have a different opinion. Recently, he bought a new car. I felt in my gut this was unwise. I made one comment to him about it, but could see his mind was already made up. So, I went along with his decision. Now it turns out my gut instinct was right. The car purchase was unwise. We both know that now. And now I feel especially responsible for not trying harder to convince him in the first place. Am I at fault for not speaking up? I’d like to hear you address the concerns of a disagreeing wife who also wants to submit.”
Piper’s round-about way of getting to the answer reminds me of The Princess Bride when Vizzini has a battle of wits with the man in black:
After a three-point reminder of the importance of complementarianism, Piper’s final conclusion to the listener is that he doesn’t know if she was at fault for not speaking up. He explains:
And my answer to this question is, in her particular case, I don’t know. And a brief explanation for why I don’t know will, I think, help her answer the question for herself biblically. The reason I don’t know is not because it’s always right or always wrong for a woman to share her wisdom with her husband about actions he’s about to take. It’s not always wrong and it’s not always right.(See what I mean about Vizzini? “I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.” Or maybe, “I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.”)
Piper does say he doesn’t think it’s wrong for a wife to express her concerns and provide wisdom to her husband. However, he also thinks a wife expressing her concerns could be wrong based upon “timing, demeanor, tone of voice, choice of language, a history of the husband’s chronic stupidity or a wife’s chronic nagging.” I suppose this means that every time a wife wants to give her opinion to her husband she has to take all of this into consideration.
In the end Piper says,
But in general, I would say that in a healthy, biblical marriage, a husband would quite ordinarily seek — very normally seek — and welcome his wife’s wisdom. And the wife would have the maturity and wisdom and grace to give that wisdom without dishonoring her husband or communicating that he’s an unworthy leader of the home.
Again, it’s on the wife to make sure she is not communicating in a way that is dishonoring her husband. And who determines if the wife’s concerns dishonor her husband? The woman writing to Piper expressed her concern once, but felt like she couldn’t say anything again because her husband made a decision on the purchase. Either way she can’t win – she feels guilty that she didn’t say anything else to change his mind, or she feels guilty about potentially dishonoring him. This seems like a lot of extra emotional and spiritual baggage that a wife has to take on in the relationship.
Personally, I’d rather go against a Sicilian when death is on the line than be in a relationship where I’m constantly feeling guilty about expressing my opinion.