Saving Mary

God is Not a Hierarchy

Posted on by Deidre Havrelock

#4 What I like about The Shack: God is not portrayed as a hierarchy.

Reading The Shack was surprising, for the first time in  my Christian life I got to see a portrayal of the God-family unit–not as hierarchy–but as a co-ministering family, each person displaying leadership abilities, with no one person dominating the other. This was so different from how Christian leaders usually portrayed a Godly family. I had been taught early on in my Christian walk that men were to lead their wives, and for the longest time I tried to believe this, thinking If God were a family, this is how He would do it.  I often read books that suggested how to go about living as a Godly submissive wife. One author advised that I make my husband an extra yummy lunch and then put my underwear in there with it…because men like wives who are like this (really?!)

I just had to test this theory. At 12pm I got the phone call from my hubby, asking me why I left my underpants in his lunch sack. (Just the fact that I made him a lunch that day, threw him off). I told him, “Men like that kind of stuff.” He replied, “This doesn’t sound like something you’d do.” (And he was right–I would be more inclined to toss a giant pair of granny panties into his lunch–just for a hoot!)

The truth is, my husband and I have abandoned the “men be the leaders of your wives” theory. We did this simply because in a relationship based on love and trust–having one person lead was impossible. It just didn’t work. Instead, we constantly fell into “relationship.” We constantly “submitted to each other in love.” In this kind of scenario, neither of us was leading the other…but we were seeking. We were (and we still do) seek relationship both with each other and with God. The joy of relationship gets us where we need to be.

Just recently I heard a popular Christian pastor tell a joke regarding the hierarchy that Christians (seemingly) love to follow. Below is the joke as told on the internet. (The pastor, however, did not use the word “dominate;” he softened the word to “lead.”)


Is the wife in control?

Everybody on earth dies and goes to heaven. God comes and says, “I want the men to make two lines. One line for the men that dominated their women on earth and the other line for the men that were whipped by their women. Also, I want all the women to go with St. Peter.”

Said and done, the next time God looks the women are gone and there are two lines. The line of the men that were whipped was 100 miles long, on the line of men that dominated women there was only one man.

God got mad and said. “You men should be ashamed of yourselves. I created you in my image, and you were all whipped by your mates. Look at the only one of my sons that stood up and made me proud, Learn from him!” Tell them my son how did you manage to be the only one on that line?

The man said, “I don’t know. My wife told me to stand here.”

Taken From Aha! Jokes

On the T.V.  showwith the popular pastor, everyone in the audience laughed after this joke was told–which seemed crazy to me. So what’s wrong with me (you may be asking)–don’t I have a sense of humor? Don’t I want to be a nice submissive wife? Can’t I picture Jesus up there in heaven chastising men for not dominating (I mean leading) their wives properly? … or, am I one of those women–the kind that dominates their husband?

Actually, it mystifies me why Christians so want to dominate each other? Why can’t we accept “dominion”?


Dominion: authority and rule over a place that is usually your home or your territory.

Domination: to occupy a more elevated or superior position.


The book of Genesis portrays the control and domination issues between men and women arising from the fall of both Adam and Eve.

“To the woman he [God] said: I shall give you intense pain in childbearing, you will give birth to your children in pain. Your yearning will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (The New Jerusalem Bible, Ge 3:16)

Before this scenario in the garden, men and women–together–walked in “dominion.”

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion….’” (NRSV Gen 1:27-28).

Men and women once ruled together–they had dominion. After the fall…things changed. Men dominated (ruled, led) their wives.


“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.”(1 Cor 11:13 NRSV)

This is the verse that many pastors teach “male leadership” from. Men are supposed to be “the heads of their wives.” In fact, I’ve been called “a neck” numerous times during Sunday morning services (again, I’m expected to laugh at the pastor’s cute joke), meaning: my husband is the head and I am more like a neck (I can persuade my husband, but I certainly cannot lead him–that would make Jesus angry.)

But what does it mean to “be the head of man”? Does Christ lead men but not women? Obviously not, because the Holy Spirit leads both of us. Actually, this verse doesn’t speak about leadership at all–it speaks about “source.”

Being the “head” does not mean being in authority (in the Bible the phrase “under the feet” means subjugated under authority[1]). Nor does “head” signify the place where decisions are made (in the Bible the “heart” makes all decisions[2]). Rather, the Bible uses the image of head as being “the source of life.”

In the Bible, when you want someone dead you take their head. OR, if you want to kill a whole army, you take the leader’s head—you go straight to the “source of life.” This action guarantees the death of the whole army. See Dan 1:10 and Gen 40:13 for other examples of “head” referring to “life.” Likewise to “lift up the head” means to grant life and to “bow the head” means to give up your life.

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (NRSV Jn 19:30)


Therefore, Christ is the “source of life” of every man…because he created Adam (in the garden)…and the husband is the “source of life” of his wife…because Eve came from the body of Adam…and God is the “source of life” of Christ because Christ came from God. God doesn’t operate in hierarchy; he operates in a relationship based on love…and that’s why I like The Shack!

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. (NRSV Col 1:15–16).






[1] See Ps 8:6, Ps 18:9, 2 Sam 22:10, Mal 4:3, Heb 2:5-8 for the use of the term “under the feet.”

[2] See Gen 8:21, Gen 34:8,  Mt 9:4, Acts 5:4 for the heart making decisions.


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