“the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” Romans 8:7
One of my favorite shows when I was growing up was The Three Stooges. It is a sign of my wife’s love for me that she married me in spite of this fact. She can’t stand the Stooges. One of the more common parts of the Stooges was the slap-stick comedy in which somebody was getting their head squeezed in a vice, or nose twisted by pliers, or head spun around three or four times like something out of the exorcist. At some point the person under duress would yell “uncle”. At that time in American slang it meant that you gave up, you surrendered, you submitted to the stronger person.
Of course the Stooges borrowed the phrase from the culture. Kids would wrestle with one another for all they were worth, but when someone got the upper hand and the one loosing was willing to give up all he had to do was say “uncle”. If you were the one winning you would keep prodding your opponent, “SAY UNCLE!” until they finally gave in. To hear your opponent say uncle was to know the thrill of victory. To be forced to say uncle was to know agony of defeat.
The false impression that people have is of some weak, mindless, almost lemming-like following of another, no matter what they say or do. Submission is seen as giving up your voice and having no say in what happens. Many people who have demanded submission of this variety have pointed to the Bible for their justification. They point to verses like Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority” or Colossians 3:18 “Wives, submit to your husbands”. They demand a submission that is complete and total and unquestioning.
That is not what the Bible means when it tells us to submit to our leaders or even to submit to God. The Greek word that the Bible uses for submit has the idea behind it of yielding to someone after a debate or engagement. Think of Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord and eventually yielding or submitting. Think of the Hebrew understanding of the word for woman, which carries with it the idea of “one who talks back”. (insert joke here) The wife was not expected to yield mindlessly to the husband, but to in fact be in a complementary relationship that offers another alternative. The yielding or submission comes once you have expressed your thoughts and wrestled with those of the other person. At some point you must submit yourself to what they decide.
Healthy relationships are ones in which there is a kind of wrestling and debate about issues of importance. People express their ideas. Options are explored. Everything is put on the table and sometimes passionately. We even need to do this in our relationship with God, but in the end we yield to His will. This is what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wrestled with the Father. He proposed other options. He did so with passion and agony. But in the end, he yielded to the Father. The result of the kind of wrestling that results in saying “uncle” is that you then own the decision. You have put forth your idea to the best of your ability. But in the end, you agree with the one in charge. It becomes perfectly clear that you must submit because it is the best possible thing to do.
When we fail to wrestle before we submit there is a tendency to hold on to rebellion in our hearts. We still hold out that we are right and we go along with a grudging attitude. There remains that little voice saying that we are smarter, we know better, we would do it differently. Our submitting to God must be such that with our whole heart we are able to say that His way is right, we have no alternatives that could compare, and we gladly follow Him because we recognize that He is Lord and not us. He has won the wrestling match and we say “uncle”.