In my post on Thomas Jefferson and headship (which a commenter rightly pointed out is NOT a word that the Bible uses), I briefly mentioned addressing in the future women operating in the kingdom with an absentee head (a word the Bible does use). I’ve been slow to address that, but it is certainly worth exploring. If you haven’t read the other article, this one won’t make much sense.
I know many men whom I respect as kephale cornerstones in their homes and churches. Christ is the chief cornerstone in the household of faith, but these men image Christ out in their little households within the Big Household. They are load bearing men, who leverage their privilege to provide support and direction to those in their care. I love and admire these men. I won’t walk up to them and say anything, because that would be weird. But I note it from afar, and I thank God for what they bring to the household of faith.
I also know a number of men who have walked away from their load-bearing responsibilities. Some call it mid-life crisis. I think many men, including Christian men, reach a fork in the road a few years into the load-bearing responsibility of family and ministry. The naivety has worn off, and the responsibility is hard. And they must choose. Do they lean into their head, Jesus Christ (I Cor. 11:3), for the strength to persevere under the weight of responsibility, or do they extricate themselves from the household altogether? Many men choose the latter.
When a man removes himself from the weight of responsibility for his home and family, what happens? He was a load-bearing cornerstone, and the house sags in his absence. It will fall to pieces if not for a woman of courage and virtue to bear up in his absence. We see in Scripture such women of virtue bearing up in the absence or abdication of the men who should have been bearing the weight with and for them. Hagar. Abigail. Ruth. Esther. Lois. Eunace. These are the main ones from Scripture who come to mind. But they are joined in my head by the many women I know here on earth who bear up similarly. Felicia, Beth, Christine, Katherine, Louise, Tracy. Women who initiate devotions with their children when no one initiates with them. Women who must figure out how to earn an income after taking years off of their career path to have children. Women who tirelessly rally themselves and their children to church week after week with no reward or pat on the back. Women who spend their Mother’s Day serving others because no one is left to serve them.
The Bible calls these ladies women of virtue or capable women. The Bible looks at their role in their homes and praises it. In Proverbs 31, the woman of virtue bears her weight within the context of a marriage in which her husband bears his as well. Scripture implies that he is well respected in the community. This is a man who is a kephale cornerstone, levering his privilege as a load-bearing foundational element of the household. But Ruth was also known as a woman of virtue. Her reputation as a capable woman of strength preceded her (Ruth 3:11) when the kephale stones in her household of husband and father-in-law had died. Ruth was a load-bearing wall, a necessary cross-beam, in Naomi’s life. She couldn’t replace her father-in-law, yet she carried much of the weight that he would have been bearing if he had still been alive. Yet we see clearly from Ruth and Naomi’s life the profound loss in their lives from the death of their heads. Ruth in particular persevered and brought comfort to Naomi, but that did not make the sense of profound loss go away. In fact, it was a new head in the form of Boaz that helped restore Ruth and Naomi’s household and family.
Now, depending on our backgrounds and doctrinal inclinations, we are often offended by one or the other of Ruth’s states. Some are offended by her persevering independence when widowed. She did it on her own, providing for her family, even leading her mother in law in perseverance and hope. Some would say her independence would make her a bad future wife. On the flip side, some are offended by Ruth’s rescue by Boaz. Did she really need a white knight riding in to save her? Could she have not persevered on her own? A woman doesn’t have to have a man, right?
We might recognize this tension better in a modern situation. Consider the divorced woman in your church, a divorce not of her own choice, who rises from the ashes to make something of her life. Is she too independent? Is she perceived as unwilling to submit to another man? Maybe other church members think she brought this all on herself and no godly man would have her. Or, on the flip side, is she too interested in finding a new husband? Is she needy and unable to care for herself? Would you tell her she doesn’t need a man? That she can do this on her own? That’s she’s better off not dependent on some other man who can hurt her?
We don’t need to pit the two stages of Ruth’s life against each other. We don’t need to pit the overcoming single woman without a man against the woman who has a husband who is bearing the keystone weight of his household. One does not undermine the value of the other. Both stages of Ruth’s life pictured overcoming gospel hope, Ruth as a widow bearing undue weight as she persevered caring for Naomi, and Ruth and Boaz as a couple who picture the coming kinsman-redeemer. At neither stage of life was Ruth without the consequences of the fall. Not only did Ruth’s first husband die, her second did eventually as well. She very likely was a widow on the back end of life as well as the front end. And at neither stage was Ruth without hope from her newfound God. These two stages don’t need to be pitted against each other to recognize the great help and structure that Boaz brought to both Ruth and Naomi as Ruth’s head. He provided a foundational fix to the household structure Ruth had been valiantly holding up on her own. We can both honor the kephale cornerstone that Boaz was and say with profound conviction that the house would fall without the woman standing alongside the man, and sometimes standing without him when he defaults on his responsibilities.