Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Created to Be His Help Meet: Part 1 (Men and Women)

One reason I don't trust Mrs. Pearl is because her exegesis tends to be very hit or miss. On the other hand, her writing is actually best when she approaches things pragmatically - ie how to make the best of being married when one (or both of you) can't handle situations in an emotionally mature, Biblical manner. Face it, this book isn't written to wives who basically wish to do well by their husbands and who have similarly inclined husbands. This is a high octane drag race out of marriages that are one mislaid gas bill away from divorce court. Her examples, predictions, and methods are extreme. If Allen and I tried living by these chapters we'd be in counseling within 6 months. Just writing this review I'm noticing myself slipping back into timidity.

All of chapter 11 is pretty much an example of how NOT to read your Bible. I'm almost impressed that her husband (a pastor and supposedly a Greek scholar) would have endorsed so many errors. I suppose the crazy goes deep in their home. And as usual she displays a complete lack of nuance in describing men and women. In her world men carve out canoes with their teeth and use them to go hunting polar bears with spear made from the tusk they wrestled out of a walrus. We ain't got no sissy boys here no sir! The women, naturally, are calm, practical, and rather bemused by these caveman activities. Whenever a man stops punching trees down with his fists to comment on the color of sunset or quote a little Wordsworth his woman is thrilled to see her hulking he-man actually possesses a shred of sensitivity. Yeah........For the record I make a really mean apple pie, and Allen would never have started backpacking if I hadn't persuaded him to come with me. On the other hand Allen likes to wrestle with code monsters the size of Grendel (if I'm reading those muttered imprecations correctly that is) while I content myself with a little old fashioned romance. Who's more likely to read an old book because it's there? Allen. Who's more likely to climb on top of a rock because it's there. Me. Who wears the pants in the family? Allen - all day, every day, and that's the way we like it. But, we were going to talk about exegesis.

Naturally enough Mrs. Pearl takes a big chunk of space going over the Adam and Eve narrative. She has this spiel about how God created man with all this armor that helps men drive to succeed and enjoy challenges and how God created women to stand behind her husband's armor with the understanding that a woman's more tender and trusting nature is necessary for rearing children. As a general outline of male/female temperaments it's fine, but as part of the Adam and Eve narrative it's only the first of many problems. She interrupts this narrative to basically say that men and women have different ways of being spiritual and different ways of ignoring God. She turns this into a claim that most Christian cults (not sure how she's defining that) are brought about by women. To support this she cites Matthew 13:33 which says, "He told them another parable. 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.'” In case this parable isn't fresh in your mind (I had to look it up) it's the last in a series of parables (including the mustard seed story) concerning the kingdom of Heaven and, to my understanding, illustrates how God's kingdom grows and expands. I could be convinced otherwise, but it would take more than the bare statement "Jesus uses this to illustrate corruption" to do so. This is important though because Mrs. Pearl is about to completely exonerate Adam for his role in the Fall. You'd think this would be hard, but by starting with 1 Tim 2:14's statement "And Adam was not deceived" she builds a case that Adam found himself led by his love for Eve to ignore God's rules so that Eve could have her heart's desire. On this basis women need to be very careful with the power they have over their men so as to not destroy their husbands and themselves with him. Right. Adam, lord of creation, whipped! It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me either. On one hand these men of ours are so set in their ways that must resort to placation to preserve peace and on the other hand we can send them to Hell with a little hip sashay. I realize that people are contradictory, but this is going a little too far. As Allen pointed out, Adam may well have been using Eve as a guinea pig to test God's rules because, hey, he could spare another rib if Eve burst into flames. Sounds more a kid saying "you open the cookie jar" than a mature man blinded by self-sacrificing love. Don't know that I'll ever know what really happened in Adam's head, but by that token neither does Mrs. Pearl!

To continue this story of fallen Eve, Mrs. Pearl looks to Jezebel the notorious wife of Ahab. No surprise that Jezebel becomes something of an all-powerful, emasculating force and that Ahab becomes a poor, pathetic loser. According to Mrs. Pearl, Jezebel 1. Led Ahab spiritually, 2. Caused Ahab to become unstable and depressed by assuming "the masculine role (112)," 3. Played Ahab's stress to her own advantage, and 4. Influenced her husband to destroy those she didn't like by using "spiritual pressure (113)." In other words Ahab was led around by his nose. Poor chump never really stood a chance. I think I'll pity him. Oh wait!

In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. 32 He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. 33 And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. 1 Kings 16: 29-33

For all her "exegesis" Mrs. Pearl never once points out Ahab's own evil character and how it contributes to the story. For instance, it says that Jezebel took the king's seal and signed letters in his name and sent them out in a plot to kill Naboth. Mrs. Pearl takes this as evidence that Jezebel was usurping authority, but in ancient times the one who had the king's seal essentially had the king's voice, and you'd think that if Jezebel had slipped it off his finger one night we'd know about it from Scripture because it would be a Big Deal. It's far more likely that Ahab was sulking like a little boy and only to happy for his clever wife to deal with things. Does that make Ahab weak? Yes. Does it make him fully complicit? Yes. Did God hold Ahab accountable for taking Naboth's vineyard? Yes. If you flip back through 1 Kings you'll see that Elijah doesn't go to Jezebel and rebuke her for usurping her husband's authority and conspiring to commit murder. Instead Elijah goes directly to Ahab and accuses him of murder. Jezebel comes in for her share of condemnation, but Ahab is still clearly the one in authority, and what Jezebel does in the Ahab's name is counted to him.

Honestly this whole story is a bit of a muddle. There isn't much to be said for either Ahab or Jezebel. Jezebel is a obviously a thoroughly evil woman whom (and I'm surprised Mrs. Pearl missed this bit) the Bible says incited Ahab to evil, yet Ahab was already dashing off the sins of his fathers with ease when he married Jezebel. Ahab might have been weak to let Jezebel handle things for him, but one could also say that Ahab used Jezebel to accomplish his own desires when he couldn't be bothered to exert himself. My problem with Mrs. Pearl isn't that Jezebel isn't fully as wicked as she says but that there's no consideration of who the Bible declares Ahab to be. Jezebel didn't take (or do) anything that Ahab wasn't ok with. The Bible doesn't even say that she led him away after idols (and the Bible isn't shy of saying that). That's a different story than Debbie would have you hear.

Debbie concludes chapter 11 by considering some positive examples of Biblical womanhood. I do like that she affirms the strength and dignity of the Proverbs 31 woman. I know a whole lot of guilt and shame comes in the door with that particular passage, but I've become convinced that we should really be reading Proverbs 31 and be encouraged by her strength and humor. Feeling that way it's always good for someone to stop apologizing for why she exists. However, Mrs. Pearl mostly uses this space to trot out her two pet peeves of the overly spiritual woman (who's actually using her "superior" spirituality against her husband and family) and the controlling woman. Not two things I really see in Proverbs 31 and (par for the course) not things that she backs up with reference to Proverbs 31.

Now for good parts of Mrs. Pearl's exegesis. Mrs. Pearl opens chapter 12 by explaining the hierarchy God has placed in marriage and that submitting to this hierarchy is more about submitting to God and taking your role in the grand metaphor of marriage than about submitting to a man because he's earned it somehow. That's something people (women) need to hear more often. We salute the uniform if not always the man in it. It's not, as she goes on the explain, that women are incompetent to lead or teach or hold authority but rather that God has drawn limits around those activities. As Mrs. Pearl put it, "It is not a question of being qualified; it is a matter of being authorized (119)." I'm encouraged that her explication of Deborah on this matter is to the point. Deborah the judge was a very effective leader and mother of Israel, and she knew that it was too Isreal's shame that there were no men remotely capable to be found. If you read the whole story you know that the king himself wanted to hide behind her skirts when he went into battle, and that resulted in even more glory and honor being taken from him. When women rule men well it's a judgement not a blessing, and that goes double for marriage.

So there you have it. It's taken me a good while to get this post up because there's so much I wanted to say, and with good and bad so frequently mingled it's been difficult to state my position with any clarity. Also, there are a couple of typos in this post, and I'm currently getting too cross eyed to go back and check them. So forgive my laziness. Hopefully this review hasn't been too jumbled. I'll try to get something coherent up in the next couple days, but since my in-laws are coming to town tomorrow I may not be getting on the internet much for the next few days.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Natalie! I couldn't find an e-mail for you, but I'd love to take you up on the offer of your Emilie Loring culls, if it still stands--I see you're moving and this might not be a good time! Let me know at pleasantview schoolhouse (no space) @ gmail dot com, if you would! Best wishes with your return to Alabama!