Nancy and the kids were already in bed. Josh was in his home office, finishing up a major presentation for work. As Josh was about to shut down his computer, the monitor faintly illuminated a nearby picture that captured his attention. Josh picked up the frame, sat back in his chair and began to reflect on its image.
Taken over ten years earlier, it was a picture of the newly-married couple's customary first dance. Nancy was absolutely stunning in her white, tastefully-sequined wedding dress. The veil no longer shrouded her face, but formed a translucent drape over her dark hair that softened its ebony shade. The look in both of their eyes, along with their unrestrained smiles, evinced their love for one another and the possibilities for their future.
Josh stared into space and fondly remembered those early years. He and Nancy knew they were a "match made in heaven." They both took their faith seriously and held to the same basic values. During premarital counseling, they had talked about everything from finances to martial expectations. Each session served to deepen their commitment to one another, and confirmed their mutual, authentic love.
Neither he nor Nancy had wavered from their marriage commitment. Since their first dance, their family had grown. They now had three children, ages 8, 5 and 2. Josh's income provided them a modest life-style and allowed Nancy to be the stay-at-home mom she had always envisioned. They both were involved in their church family and residential community. Though there were those typical moments of tension between them, felt generally good about his relationship to Nancy.
Yet, as he held the picture in his hand, Josh couldn't help but wonder: Does Nancy still feel toward me as she did on our wedding night? Is it possible for our relationship to experience deeper intimacy and increased joy? They had worked out the necessary roles and responsibilities that come with running a household. And, they had responded in generally positive ways to various crises that presented themselves. Yet, Josh still wondered: Can there still be more to this marriage? Is it possible to "dance" once again?
Many couples find themselves in this quandary. For the most part, their marriages are intact, and their lives are fairly well managed. They may not be facing any major relational tension, but the typical rigors and stresses of life's responsibilities leave them somewhat dull of heart, longing for deeper connection and intimacy.
Such growth in intimacy and connection is possible. Marriages are not predestined to devolve into mere social contracts in which a husband and wife simply fulfill roles and responsibilities while passion and romance become inevitable casualties. A basic understanding of God, and how He created humans, will help develop deeper intimacy in marriage.
When we learn that God, Who is love, created humans to exist in intimate relationship with Him and one another, we are in a better position to develop our relationships. By allowing God, the ultimate and infinite source of authentic love, to flow through us, we find ourselves loving each other in divine ways. We begin to experience marriage more as a "sacred dance" than a human contract.
This series will explore the theological basis for this human longing to connect. In so doing, it will consider the real source of authentic love, and some possible ways we can tap into it. Finally, it will flesh out some practical relational implications from these basic principles.
Like Josh and Nancy, most couples begin their marriages with great expectations. In time, however, life's stresses begin to take their toll on the relationship. Bills must be paid, home repairs demand our time and jobs consume much of our energy. Additionally, as studies show, the arrival of children typically brings greater stress to the marriage, pushing husband and wife further apart.1
Human beings have an innate desire to connect, to experience dynamic relationships with one another. And, the deepest, most intimate relationship exists in the marital bond between husband and wife. What is the source of this human longing?
Considering all biblical information, God exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian construct has profound implications both for God and human beings. Rather than a mathematical or mere conceptual depiction, God as Trinity indicates that God, in essence, is relational. There is an internal dynamic that characterizes the God who created. Interestingly, ancient theologians used the word "perichoresis" (lit. "a dancing around") to describe this dynamic relationality of God.
Because of this inherent relationality, God appropriately is described fundamentally as "love" (1 John 4:7, NIV), since authentic love occurs only in relationship. The triune God created humans to exist in relationship, not isolation, just as God exists in eternal relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Hence "man" (Heb. adam) who bears the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) consists of male and female to exist in relationship. In this fundamental way, human beings reflect the image of God – we long to connect in meaningful ways to one another.
Genesis 2 gives a more detailed description of the creation of human beings. The Creator expressed dissatisfaction with the aloneness of the man. Possibly to expose or solidify the man's sense of relational need, God paraded representatives of the animal kingdom before him. In the process of naming these animals, the man discovered that none of them completely corresponded to his humanness.
Once the man was aware of his isolation, the Creator caused a deep sleep to fall on him. Taking a "rib," or perhaps better, "scooping flesh and bones from his side," God makes (Heb. banah) woman. This unusual word in the creation narrative literally means "to build." God uses the very substance of the man and "builds" it, forms it and molds it into the woman. The word suggests a delicate process in which God carefully, artfully constructs the woman.
When the man awakens from his divinely-induced slumber, he sees this different, but completely-human, being. Literally in the Hebrew, he exclaims: "This is this time"—in contrast to his experience with the animal kingdom—"bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, she will be called 'woman' for she was taken out of man" (Genesis 2:23). Man (ish) and woman (isshah). Linguistically linked; essentially the same; sexually distinct; made for one another.
The divine commentary on this human connection was: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). This gives a theological basis for the ubiquitous longing for male/female relationship. It's as if God "split" the singular human into male and female, and there is, therefore, a primal yearning to reconnect physically, spiritually and emotionally.
While these will be fleshed out in subsequent articles, some helpful implications for marital relationships emerge from this biblical description of human creation.
In the following article, we'll consider how God's intent for marriage has been adversely affected by human brokenness and draw out some implications on how to mitigate its effects on our relationships.
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By most standards Nancy and Josh's marriage was exemplary. Their middle-class status was comfortable. They both loved each other and adored their three children. Josh was involved in the men's ministry at their church, and Nancy taught the junior high bible class. The kids were generally well-behaved, and everyone respected this family.
Josh and Nancy had no major issues confronting their relationship, but lately an inexplicable tension was building between them. Nancy began to complain that Josh expended so much of his time and energy at work that he had very little left for her and the kids. In his mind, Josh was simply fulfilling his responsibility to his family by providing for them. He was trying to be a good husband and father, but his efforts seemed to be increasingly criticized. And Josh, like Nancy, was becoming progressively more frustrated.
Nancy and Josh's difficulty is nothing new. In fact, Genesis sheds some light on this relational state of affairs. Prior to the first human couple's rejection of God's goodness, they lived in a protected environment, with unlimited resources and an intimate connection between each other and the Creator. There was no power struggle between them, no critical view of the other. In biblical language, they "were naked and not ashamed" (Genesis 2:26).
As husband and wife, they lived in full openness before one another and God as they "walked in the cool of the evening with God." There were no barriers, no personal agendas, no unrealistic expectations of the other and no attempts to find life from the other. They both expressed to, and received from, each other the authentic love of God peculiarly mediated through them as male and female. They participated in the sacred dance of marriage, living in the full, dynamic life of their mutual Creator.
This beautiful harmony within human relationships and, in fact, the entire creation, eventually devolved into dissonance. Once they pursued life from a source other than God, the man and woman introduced into human relationships conflicts that continue to afflict us all. They first hid themselves from one another with leaves, and then they hid from the Creator among the trees. The deep, spiritual harmony that existed between the man, woman and God was disrupted.
Once banished from the garden, they entered a hostile environment with limited resources. The woman began to depend increasingly on the man, where she previously received freely from God, and the man began the arduous task of providing for his family by the sweat of his brow. The "battle of the sexes" began: "You shall desire him, and he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16). Sociologists have long recognized that power struggles occur in relationships primarily due to conflicts over limited resources.1
Whatever one thinks of the Genesis description of human relationships, it rings true and offers some valuable insights for marriage:
In the following article, we'll consider in more detail some ways that couples can move into deeper intimacy.
Josh's work ethic impressed Nancy. A trait she very much admired about him was his ability to focus and complete tasks with excellence. While she still admired this aspect of Josh, she began to feel like he really never focused on their relationship. It seemed to her that he approached his time with her and the kids as another task to perform, rather than an experience to enjoy. She longed for deeper connection to him – to feel a part of his life.
Nancy had that social, spontaneous spirit about her that Josh loved. She never met a stranger, and everyone seemed to feel at ease around her. Nancy loved conversation, and Josh felt completely at ease sharing his feelings with her. Through the years, however, Josh began to feel that Nancy wanted more of him than he could give. As he sensed her frustration with him, Josh became increasingly frustrated with Nancy in this regard. Every previous attempt to address this tension left them both feeling more disconnected.
All couples, like Josh and Nancy, have certain issues that threaten intimacy. And, often our attempts to address them end up hurting each other, rather than healing the relationship. From the biblical material alluded to in the previous articles, here are some suggestions to help ease relational tension and nurture deeper intimacy: