ESS stands for eternal subordination of the Son. It is an ongoing theological debate revolving around the nature of the Trinity, with numerous rabbit holes and assorted side issues springing forth, primarily around marriage, headship, and complementary gender relations. I like to follow some of these issues from a cultural perspective, what are they saying about us emotionally, why do these things concern us?
At the root of most of these discussions are issues around authority, human hierarchies, and power, who holds it. I find it fascinating that those roots, that debate, seem to have permeated so much of what ails us culturally, from marriage, to individual identity, to politics. Every where I go I see a struggle happening over the lines of authority and the nature of power. Who gets to define it? Forget that, cut to the chase, who gets it?
This is not a theological treatise, but rather a personal one. I actually feel a bit nauseous reading some of these debates because people are really trying to create God in our own image, rather than allowing Him to shape us. So we have a Supreme Being in 3 parts, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, vastly superior to us and beyond anything we can fully understand here in the physical world. God is both like us and not like us at all. He is bigger than our ability to perceive Him. So right off the bat one of best ways to get a feel for who God is, is complete intellectual humility. Surrender, letting go of what we think we know. That is kind of the opposite of a good heady intellectual debate that flies in the face of “lean not into your own understanding.”
So ESS attempts to assign a human hierarchy, a chain of command to the Trinity. The Father is at the top of the food chain, followed by the Son in eternal subordination, followed by the Holy Spirit. Some cannot even conceive of symbiosis, harmony, shared will, intimacy. They are seeking lines of authority, power handed down the chain of command, so that our lives can better reflect God’s design. Power as an external thing, authority assigned to us and passed down. Who’s the boss?
Forgotten in many of these debates is that “He who is under authority has authority.” Internal power that stems from our relationship with Him, not external power one is assigned. Forgotten too, is that Jesus Christ took the nature of our human hierarchies, our worldly concepts of power and authority, and turned them on their head. So the first shall go last, blessed be the meek, and what you do for the least of these you do for me. Than He proceeded to select some rather rough and tumble guys as disciples, fisherman, not the well off, not the theologically highly educated. He than proceeds to wash their feet. There is profound meaning in that simple act of foot washing. The servant is not greater than the Master. However, “the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
Jesus came for the sinners, not the righteous. He reveals Himself first to a woman, but not just a woman, a fallen Samaritan woman. These are the things that speak to us, that help to give us a feel for who and what God is and how He views our worldly, human definitions of what is important.
The discussion has gotten somewhat heated, with some deciding they no long wish to claim the term “complementary” if it is going to be attached to the idea of ESS. I was chuckling over this, because that is just want we need in this discussion, more confusing and redefined labels! If complementary offends you, just go with “complimentary,” where you simply design your marriage around paying one another compliments. Simple perhaps, but I doubt you can wrong there. Just speak blessings upon one another and see what happens.
So, ESS, not really a concept that I am inclined to embrace. For starters, when one is motivated to redefine the Trinity, to create God more in our image, rather than simply allowing Him to shape us, something is just not right there. It grieves me that anyone would approach marriage as….. “because bible, because God said.” Perhaps, but there is something to be said for simply closing your eyes and feeling the music. If you are listening for the Musician, He will guide your steps.
Not that anyone cares, but I tend to embrace symbiosis, intimacy, harmony, that somewhat elusive concept of “one flesh” that you sometimes get a peek at in marriage, where two souls are dancing a tango together, in sync, in harmony, one reflecting the other. It is a place that exists far beyond my will and your will and enters the realm of our will. A dance that is all about who leads and who follows is actually not a dance at all, it’s a power struggle. Fun if you are having a pillow fight, but not so attractive on the dance floor.