Robert Shaw, D.Min.
Excerpted with permission from Created for Covering: Understanding the Concept of Safety and Covering in Relationships for Men and Women.
The concept of covering can be also expressed by the term “headship”, but many might recoil at this term. The idea of submission is also a chronic conflict within the church and society. This will be discussed further in chapter four, but suffice it to say at this point that true headship has to do strictly with function and responsibility. Even though there is unity in the Trinity, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit express themselves through different functions. The same is true of the oneness in marriage. The husband and wife are one, but they are designed and called to different functions. This concept is not to deter us from the truth that men and women are equal in value and worth, and are both to be treated with love, honor and understanding. Both husband and wife desire safety in the relationship and in the home. God does not value men more than women. God did not feel that males were somehow nobler or less sinful than females (Baker 1991). In fact, we have seen that sin and death entered the human generations through the man (Baker 2001).
Nevertheless, marriage and gender roles are in conflict, and this issue, according to Beck (2000), is one that is largely overlooked, even within the Church. He correctly argues that this is an important question for Christian counselors, educators and researchers, though we have not yet acknowledged it as such. The “headship” position, along with the contrasting “egalitarian” position has been seen as too polarizing within Scriptural understanding. The headship position often touts men as “superior” to women, which is not Scriptural. The egalitarian view, on the other hand, has a husband and wife operating separately from each other, to the point where independence from one another exists. Ohlschlager and Hawkins (2001) through their experience and research have found that both headship and egalitarian positions devolve into something far less than what we now believe God is seeking in marriage.
For men, I believe our role or function is more accurately expressed through the idea of covering, as it conveys more closely the model that Jesus provides and that which Scripture teaches. Jesus’ example conveys more of a “servant-leader” approach. Leaders “can only command if we know how to obey. We can only be a leader if we know how to be a servant” (Vanier 2003). The Son of God always remained under the covering of the Father, yet He would operate with great power and freedom and later delegate to His disciples certain areas of ministry. The same is true for men. Men are responsible for the outcome, while not needed to always be “in charge.” This is the essence of covering. Covering is leadership within a family or group. There is a place where the “buck stops”, but it is in a position of function, not superiority.
Husbands and wives can and should partner together and serve each other, but I believe that God will approach the man directly and ultimately hold him responsible for the outcome of whatever he covers. Why? Because a man is not without a covering and he is called to be submissive to the Father. This is a challenge for men, since as leaders, we often forget that we are not “lone rangers”.
Allow me to define “covering” at this point. A dictionary will render several concepts of covering, all of which aptly describe this truth. To cover means to place something (or someone) upon or over as to protect, guard, defend, or shield from harm, loss, or danger. Safety! It also can mean to clothe, as God did when He covered Adam and Eve with the skins of an animal (Gen. 3:21). Another synonym is to substitute for, as if a substitute teacher would say, “I will cover her class”, until the teacher returns. As mentioned earlier, we are stewards of God’s creation, as if we are substitutes for Him, while we are waiting for Him to return.
The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of every woman, and God is the Head of Christ.” As long as Adam obeyed and followed God, he was under God’s covering and influence. However, once Adam succumbed to Satan’s deception and ate of the forbidden tree, Adam stepped out from under God’s covering. Once Adam moved out from under God’s covering, he knew that he sinned and saw that he was naked. Then, he hid from God. In other words, in his attempt to hide, Adam sought out another “covering” – to cover himself from God, rather than be covered by God!
In Scripture, nakedness can denote shame. Nakedness, whether it be physically or spiritually, literally occurs when covering is gone. In practical terms, we are the most vulnerable, or unsafe, when we are naked. Yet God was quick to act in His grace, by slaying an animal, and covering, (re-covering?) Adam and Eve with the skins of the sacrificed animal (Gen. 3:21), symbolizing the need from that point on, for the restoration of a covering, through the shedding of blood. A substitute’s blood had to be shed in order to provide the covering that men and women need to overcome guilt and shame. Since Christ provided the ultimate sacrifice, He is man’s covering, or perhaps more accurately, man’s “recovering”.
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Dr. Robert B. Shaw, Jr. is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor in both Virginia and North Carolina. He works at the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) in Forest, VA in professional development and as membership divisions director. Dr. Shaw is an adjunct professor at Liberty University and a Clinical Trainer for graduate counseling intensives. He is also an ordained minister, serving as an elder and executive pastor in churches for over 25 years. He has also been a middle school and high school teacher and athletic coach in both the public and private school environments. Dr. Shaw spent several years counseling military personnel and their families near FT. Bragg, NC and specializes in abuse and trauma related issues, addictions, depression, anxiety disorders, life adjustment issues, loss and grief, counseling church leaders and pastors, and adolescents and adults. Dr. Shaw has a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from Wagner College, New York where he attended on an athletic scholarship in track & field; a Master of Divinity Degree from Christian International Theological School, Florida; a Master of Arts in Professional Counseling from Liberty University, Virginia; and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Formational Counseling, from Ashland Theological Seminary, Ohio. Dr. Shaw is a National Board Certified Counselor (NBCC), and a Board Certified Professional and Pastoral Counselor (BCPPC). Dr. Shaw and his wife, Lorinda, a registered nurse, have been married since 1978, and have five children together and six grandchildren. He enjoys running, the beach, sports, music, traveling to historical sites, and spending time with family.