What Hath Head Coverings to do with Individualism
In perhaps one of the more debated passages of the new testament the Apostle Paul presents a vision of human relations that is foreign to our modern eyes. The chapter is 1 Corinthians 11 and the vision is one of interdependence. Perhaps the reason this vision of interdependence has been lost is due to the fact that it’s embedded in a long passage that deals with “head coverings”(!!!) which tends to scare off the masses.
The full passage gets at the idea of glory & headship. Personally, it seems that Paul is addressing women’s hair when he speaks of “head coverings”, but that’s not what I want to focus in this post. In verses 11 & 12 Paul writes the following to the Corinthians:
11Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.
This passage brings to the fore a concept that is either completely ignored or rejected nowadays. We tend to believe that people come into the world and begin a new narrative, completely detached from the narratives of others. Paul disagrees with this individualistic ideal. Instead of promoting individualism Paul explains that each individual enters the world into two pre-existing narratives.
On the first level, individuals entering the world participate in a pre-existing filial narrative. Paul specifically shows how man is not independent from woman because man comes from woman in birth. There is a pre-existing story that children are born into, a family narrative; and that is not insignificant!
On the second level, individuals entering the world participate in God’s ultimate narrative. Paul says “all things are from God.” This is a common theme in Paul’s writings as we see similar statements made at the conclusion of Romans 11 (vv. 34-36) and in the Christological hymn of Colossians 1:15-23.
The sin of autonomy can be seen in the rejection of both one’s filial narrative & God’s overarching narrative. Too often we place ourselves at the center of the world. N.D. Wilson says that we often believe that we are the main character in some sort of trendy sitcom where everyone loves our idiosyncrasies and out personality quirks. To the contrary we are actually playing a much smaller role in a much bigger story! Further, the role we play in this bigger story is determined (mainly) by how we interact with other “characters” and not in some sort of individualistic inner-dialogue. Even further, the other “characters” that we are called to interact with the most are those characters who we are dependant on; like mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and husbands and wives. This is one of the main reasons why the pre-existing filial narrative we are born into is so important.
Our dependence on our familial bonds is not a flaw in God’s creation but a built in feature (HT: Douglas Wilson). Paul understood this and admonished the Corinthians to embrace it. The modern, Western ideals of liberalism tend to combine a strange amalgam of individual rights and communistic social theory. Unfortunately this combination is anything but pleasing to God. Our society glorifies independence from family and tradition while the Bible sees great fruit in receiving from one’s forebears.
Food for thought.