The Matter Of Rank by Doug Wilson

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This Article is originally written by Doug Wilson and can be found here: https://dougwils.com/books-and-culture/s7-engaging-the-culture/a-matter-of-rank.html

Dear Dawson,

We are getting close to the current center of all the turmoil between the sexes. Now I use that word current advisedly. There has always been turmoil between the sexes, and the nature of that turmoil is handed down across generations in proverbs, customs, and lore. But something unusual has happened in our generation.

Up until very recently, men and women both understood the natural order of things. The man was the head of the home, and there you go. This was often violated in practice, in many different ways and for many different reasons, but everyone more or less acknowledged the way things ought to go. When it was practiced, it was honored, and when it was not practiced, it was denied, hidden, or named something else. This is because everyone subscribed to the natural order. Everyone paid it lip service, in other words.

It has been left for our time to abandon this standard as a standard at all. Not only is it not the standard anymore, it has now become a hate crime to profess that you even think it should be the standard.

The desire that a woman has to usurp the rule of her husband is a desire that goes back to the third chapter of Genesis. This is the source of the running tension between the sexes. Finding and marrying a godly woman is going to mitigate this tension for you, but it will not erase it.

“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

Genesis 3:16 (KJV)

Until this mortal life is over, this curse of multiplied sorrow is something that women have to deal with, including saintly women. Childbirth involves travail, and this travail is shared by believing and unbelieving women both. So why should the problems go away simply because we got to the next clause?

The Lord tells the woman two things. First, He says that her desire will be “to thy husband.” Secondly, He says that the husband will rule over her. We know that this is a desire to usurp the husband’s authority for two reasons. The first is because of the context of the immediate past—this sin is what had brought about the Fall. Eve was beguiled and corrupted by the serpent, and took on herself a position that was not hers to assume. She was the one who took the initiative in the sin.

“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”

1 Tim. 2:12–14 (KJV)

he second reason is the odd juxtaposition of the words desire and rule. This construction happens only one other time in the Bible, and it is found in the next chapter. In that place, God is warning Cain about the struggle he is about to go through.

“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”

Genesis 4:7 (KJV)

Here the juxtaposition of desire and rule is a picture of a power struggle. Sin has a desire for Cain, but Cain must fight back and rule over it. In the event, Cain did not do this—sin had its way with him, sin fulfilled its desire. Cain did not rule over his sin the way he ought to have.

But husbands will rule over their wives. The woman wants to usurp the authority of the man, and he reacts, sometimes unkindly, and rules over her. It is a fallen world, and this is a distortion of what authority and submission would have looked like in an unfallen world. Nevertheless, this is how it is now, and it is this way because God has ordained it this way.

“For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”

1 Corinthians 11:8–9 (KJV)

n an earlier letter, I mentioned that women are torn between two impulses—what they are by virtue of creation and what they are as a result of the Fall. In the order of creation, the woman is a man’s helper and companion, suitable for him (Gen. 2:18). She is his crown (Prov. 12:4). She is the glory of the man (1 Cor. 11:7). Her price is above rubies (Prov. 31:10).

But that is not the only order she lives under. In the order of sin, she is a rival. Not only a rival, but a constantly frustrated rival. Her recurring desire will be to usurp the authority of her husband, but in the main her attempts at usurpation will come to nothing, and he will rule over her. Patriarchy can be godly or ungodly, but it cannot be erased. If you spend enough energy, money and time jamming feminism down everyone’s throats, the end result will be a bunch of dudes carrying off all the women’s track and field trophies. Patriarchy wins again, and in this case it is a demented patriarchy. Feminism apparently doesn’t mind being ruled by biological males, just so long as they are godless lunatics.

Feminism apparently doesn’t mind being ruled by biological males, just so long as they are godless lunatics.

Now if an individual woman is a godly woman, dedicated to cultivating the submissive demeanor that the New Testament consistently requires of women (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:4-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-2), she will in large part rule over her own spirit by the grace of God. That means that she can give her husband the very real gift of not having to live in a constant rodeo. But this does not mean that she can be submissive to her husband without a second thought. No, this is every woman’s challenge—whether she is in a good marriage, a bad marriage, or an in-between marriage.

And this brings us down to the pinch point. In every relationship between a man and a woman, including the godly ones, there will be adversarial moments. Now when you begin a new relationship, this reality is going to arise at some point, probably very early on. And when it arises, and it comes out that you are interacting with her as though she were an adversary, this is almost certain to hurt her feelings. She will say, perhaps plaintively, “I thought we were friends, lovers, not adversaries.”

You will tell her, if you have your wits about you, that you are indeed not adversaries. But you will add that there are moments when clarity of mind requires that two people who love each other dearly act as though they were adversaries. I said this in my last letter, and it is crucial that you remember it. When you are in this position, you are about to “pull rank,” and so that brings up the whole question of rank.

In the Navy, a lieutenant outranks an ensign. That is simple enough. In my metaphor, everyone who believes this belongs to the patriarchy, the one that everybody keeps wanting to dispense with. Now everyone who believes this knows that when it comes to other qualities, it is quite possible for the ensign to be the lieutenant’s superior—in intelligence, looks, personality, table manners, the lot. But, nevertheless, at the end of the day, the lieutenant outranks the ensign.

In a similar way, the husband outranks the wife. The egalitarian believes that this is an outrage, and that this is the patriarchy that he desires to smash. At this point you might ask about complementarianism. Isn’t that a third alternative? No. Complementarianism is simply an invertebrate form of the patriarchy, and feminists hate it just as much as they do the patriarchy. But because it is invertebrate, they want to squish it instead of smash it. In many marginal cases, a complementarian is an egalitarian who is still stuck with some Bible verses that have not yet been digested, and are still important to the donor base somehow.

Now in a well-ordered biblical relationship, the practical authority structure functions in accord with the formal rank. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). When a wife does this, what is happening in real time is the same thing as what Scripture outlines on the flow chart. Everything is rightly ordered.

But the disparities of ambition, talent, charisma, and sin can cause severe dislocations in a husband/wife relationship. C.S. Lewis points to this dynamic in his essay on the inner ring, in the place where he quotes Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

“Boris now clearly understood—what he had already guessed—that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and a more real system—the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris. Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system[1].”

Tolstoy, War and Peace

In every relationship, one person generally needs the other person more, and the one who needs the other person less is in control of the relationship. That is what happened to you in your break up with your ex. You needed the relationship to work out more than she needed it to work out, and consequently, she was the one in charge, the one who made the decision. She was in control.

I have no doubt that there were certain episodes early on in your relationship where she tested you, and found out that she was in fact in control. In the order of sin, there were times when she liked it like that, because we all like getting our way, but in the order of creation, she did not like it at all. And because she did not not like it at all, she came to discover at the end of the day that she did not respect you. And you were in the unenviable position of losing her respect precisely because you were doing what she demanded.

One last thing, and I will be done, at least for this letter. The Scriptures require two things of us that are relevant to all of these issues. One is the Bible’s teaching on the permanence of marriage. That is important to everyone who believes the Bible. That is a significant player in this, because it is one that is absolutely worked by egalitarian women who pretend to be evangelical. Once the marriage has occurred, provided there is no flagrant adultery, that’s it. This is why it is so important to emphasize that Scripture also requires wives—in multiple places no less—to not be insubordinate. This is because all Christian wives, in all Christian marriages, occupy a subordinate rank. And it is always bad for a subordinate to be insubordinate.

And if a woman’s first instinct upon reading something like this is stumble over the word subordinate, and to rush in to say something like “but in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, ensign or lieutenant . . .” your response should be to say, “that is quite correct, and entirely true, and also not what we were talking about.” And your second response, internally, not out loud, should be to cross her off your list of prospects. You would both be miserable together. Believe me.

This is why it is essential that you look for a woman who loves the Word of God straight, no chaser. She needs to love the way God ordered the world, she needs to love the respective ranks appointed for husband and wife in the creation order, she needs to love the Scripture’s description of these things, and she needs to respect and love you.

You must avoid, like the proverbial plague, any woman who cherry picks her way through the Bible. If she has a high view of the permanence of marriage, and a low view of her responsibility to be submissive in that marriage, then the former promises to become your cage, and the latter will be the sound of her throwing away the key.

You should want to be with a scriptural sweetheart, and not with some egalitarian porcupine. This should not be difficult to understand.

Your uncle,

Douglas

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