As we were reading 1 Peter 2 and 3 this past week at study, a student noted that the text made her uncomfortable. As the text was talking about slavery, women, and submission, it was easy for me to understand why she felt uncomfortable. As we noted in our study on Colossians a number of years ago, too often those of us who’ve grown up in the church have seen how submission has been used to validate abuse, or, at the least, make women second-class citizens.
It would be easy thus to dismiss this text as no longer being culturally relevant to today. Yet, to do so would be to lose an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work to challenge what assumptions we might bring to the text, whether that be errors in our own perception or unhealthy assumptions that we have learned from church/Christian culture and/or society at large.
For instance, the dominant voices of our society invite and encourage us to put me first and not let anyone hold us back from unleashing our inner potential. Might our discomfort with the word submission be because such a narrative of me first leaves little space or validation for submission of any sort? What picture of God’s love might we show when we actively choose to let go of some of our own personal wants and desires for the good of others?
Yet, might our discomfort with the word submission be a misunderstanding of the word submission? Might our submission be less of a diminishing of self and more of a living more fully into who God has called us to be, including through challenging systems of oppression, as Walsh and Keesmaat propose in their book, Colossians Remixed?
While dismissing the text might be the easiest way to get rid of the discomfort brought by the text, it is worthwhile to sit awhile with the text and acknowledge that discomfort. Through consulting wise teachers and allowing the Spirit to work (sometimes also through our peers), God can use our discomfort to help us grow in wisdom about the biblical text and ourselves.