There are few verses that will stick in a feminist’s craw like Genesis 3:16.
(And in case you’re wondering, “stick in her craw” is southern for “annoy.” Or in this case, “send her into a scathing tirade about patriarchy”)
To some extent, this frustration is entirely understandable. The idea that women will desire their husbands, but their husbands will rule over them? It’s all very non-21st century. But more importantly, this verse has actually been used to legitimize abuse. It’s as if subordination is somehow a woman’s lot in life, and there is nothing we can do about it because it came straight from the mouth of God.
Well this is just one of many interpretations that I’ve encountered, but none of them have ever really resounded with me. Most of the interpretations I’ve read were subtly pushing a larger agenda—If you don’t like male authority, then you might talk about this verse as a clear sign of the curse. In your mind, it is by no means a prescription for acceptable behavior. If, on the other hand, you want to reinforce male authority, you might appeal to this verse as a description of the way things are, a reality we should readily accept. These readings are clearly on the far ends of the spectrum, but the interpretations range all over.
This weekend, however, I finally heard an interpretation that sounds about right. In all honesty, I have no idea if it reflects the original intentions of the author, but it has proven to be true in my own life, so I want to run it by you today. It was proposed by my pastor in his sermon on Sunday, and I have found it to be incredibly insightful.
My pastor interpreted Genesis 3:16 in a kind of cause and effect manner–because we desire our husband, he rules over us. Let me tease this out a bit…
For many women, marriage is the the be all and the end all of life. We want a husband, not only as a means to a family, but as a means to wholeness. We won’t feel complete until we have someone telling us we are valuable and beautiful. In this way, our lives becomes centered around finding that man, and holding his attention when we do. Consequently, he becomes an idol that ultimately supplants God.
As a result of this idolatry, our husbands rule over us, but not in the way you might imagine. He could be the most passive, docile person in the world, but because you have made him your lord, he has the power to grant or take away your contentment. You place him in the position of being your god, so he becomes your master. You are a slave to making him happy and gaining his approval, which can sometimes be gratifying, but if you fail it is devastating.
With all of that in mind, Genesis 3:16 is a startlingly accurate prognosis of today’s culture–many women are ruled by their husbands, or the prospect of having a husband, not because of any wrong-doing on the part of the man, but because we desire them first instead of God. While the desire for a husband is not, in itself, wrong, it is spiritually fatal when it becomes an inordinate desire.
Fortunately, that is not our “lot in life.” Yes, it is a temptation to which we often succumb, but we serve a God who is working redemption throughout the world, which means we have the power to resist such temptation. This is not a call to rebel against our husbands or the institution of dating, but we should certainly love them appropriately. The love we have for a man should not be parasitic, but life-giving–a love without fear or need; a love from a woman set free by the grace of Christ.
That, I believe, is one of the best interpretations of Genesis 3:16 that I’ve ever heard. Even today, it gets right to the core of a woman’s heart, and seems to understand our nature in the profoundest of ways. It also pushes me to ask the telling question, “What do I desire?”
So…what do you desire??