Genuine Intimacy in Marriage and Faith
The simultaneous experience of vulnerability and safety is not found exclusively in marriage. The apostle Paul felt that people could be closer to God and to those they loved if they were not burdened with a spouse and children at home (see his extremely personal confession in the entire seventh chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians). There is obvious truth in this, and all of God’s children are offered special moments of intimacy. If we expect to find these moments only or always in any special relationship, I believe we are risking idolatry. Most of what is said below about genuine intimacy applies to celibate singles as well as married people. It does not however apply to having sex outside of marriage, or even dreaming about it in “emotional affairs” (see Matthew 5: 27-30).
THE PSYCHO-SOCIAL NEED FOR GENUINE INTIMACY
Society is crying out for authentic romantic connection. We need guidance, wisdom, and encouragement about this intense longing that so often goes unfulfilled. All too often, it gets prostituted in the idolatrous dance with images of false intimacy thrown up to the lost by Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and cesspool sites on the internet. It is time for something to be done.
Our society has no good models for intimacy, either theoretical models to explain what to do and why, or role models to show the same by word and deed. And it’s not just intimacy that we’re in the dark about. We’re clueless about every phase of courtship—early selection, wooing, steady dating, engagement, and marriage.
Stripped of meaning and common sense, slick counterfeit versionsof intimacycome from our movies, TV, celebrities, magazines, and internet presentations. To their consumers, they do not portray good intentions that last, much less intimacy that grows through the years. Society’s images are as false as they are fast and easy. The romantic notions of self-proclaimed soul-mates, of permanent and genuine love-at-first-sight, and of opposite-sex friendships being wise, wonderful, and harmless are just a few of Hollywood’s favorite hoaxes. (See my “Resources for Opposite-sex Friendships”).
There are other examples. The first courtship phase of initial attraction in our culture is all about chemistry and nothing about character, all about intensity and nothing about integrity. It’s the linesthey speak, the looks they give, and the look of the lines– the physical body lines and the fiscal bottom lines. Later in courtship, it’s more of the same superficials, and less of the substantials – honesty, commitment, career integrity, personal growth and maturity, family and community involvement, etc. Approaches to physical affection are typically all or nothing—sex short on love, or vice-versa. One leaves you with nothing to look forward to, and the other with no adventure now.
Growth and balance are two key ingredients for intimacy. Growth (flexibility) insures we realize that what keeps us in balance today won’t do it for us tomorrow or next week. Because situations and emotional needs keep changing, the balanceof forces required for intimacy keeps shifting. However, some balances are key in that they need continual monitoring. It is like riding a bicycle – you have to exert the effort to pedal and keep up the speed (progress and growth), but your speed can’t be so high or so low that you lose your balance.
For example, our relationships require a lot of time, effort, communication, wisdom, courage, and frankly, miraculous grace from God to maintain our balanced and growing awarenesses of:
- graceand truth
- loveand respect
- thoughtsand feelings
- peopleand principles
- fleshand spirit
- spendingand saving
- leadingand following
- wantsand needs
- sexand love
- past, present, and future, just to name a few.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ROMANTIC INTIMACY IN THE BIBLE
God wants intimate oneness with us. That’s our New Testament standing, and the Bible repeatedly illustrates God’s accessibility and our mutual longing for each other by comparing this love to the marital relationship. Likewise, the parent-child relationship shows God’s authority, and our personal dependence on Him (our Old Testament standing). Most of the emphasis in Christian teaching is about the latter, since most believers are too immature to appreciate Christ’s radical invitation to intimacy. The church has underemphasized this aspect of the Christian life, thus leaving believers hungering for intimacy with God. Meanwhile, the more godless sectors of our society (Hollywood, Madison Avenue, the porn industry and the internet) are making fortunes selling schmaltzy and smutty false images of intimacy, and Christians are often among their best customers! (See “THE PSYCHO-SOCIAL NEED FOR GENUINE INTIMACY.”)
The Bible teaches about God inviting us into dependency, by illustrating with the parent-child bond. We all know the parable of the prodigal son, and how Jesus taught us to address God as “Our Father” in the Lord’s prayer. Jesus here was using an old teaching from the Torah (the fifth commandment), from the psalmist (Psalms 2:7), and from the psalmist’s son, the moral teacher Solomon (Proverbs 22: 6, 23: 13, 31: 28). It was later picked up by the prophets (see Isaiah 1: 2-4 and Hosea 11: 1-4), and after Jesus, in the epistles (Rom. 8: 14-16, Heb. 12: 5-7, and especially Eph. 6: 1-4, and Col. 3: 20-21). Healthy parenting is the most spelled-out requirement for being an elder (I Tim 3: 4-5).
Yet biblical teachings about finding God in intimacy are just as prominent, and usually even provided by the same authors. Through Moses in the Old Testament, God told his people early on that his love for them burns with jealousy (Ex. 20:5, Dt. 5: 9). He protected marriage with its own commandment, and part of the tenth. This longing for God was big for David (Ps. 42 and 63), and for Solomon (the entire Song of Solomon). Later, using courtship and marriage to illustrate our relationship with God was a strong theme with the prophets (see Isaiah 62:5 and the whole book of Hosea).
In the New Testament,Our Lord called himself the Bridegroomto demonstrate how God and people longingly seek each other. Jesus portrayed himself as coming to marry the church in two of his parables. Following Jesus, Paul emphasizes the value of healthy intimacy (Eph 5: 22-33; Col 3: 18-19), comparing husband and wife to Christ and the church, and elevating this issue to the importance of “a profound mystery” (Eph. 5: 32). So they would be good role models as parents and seekers of God, elders are first of all required to be good at the husband-wife relationship (I Tim. 3:2).
Why is all this so important? Sure, sociology teaches that good parents have to be good spouses first. But religion teaches that good marriages not only demonstrate God’s love for us, but also demonstrate and call forth the faithful, affectionate devotion God wants from us in return. Genuine intimacy in marriage is a very high calling, as it prepares us for oneness with God, both in this life and the next.
God made us to grow up. He did not intend for His children to relate to Him forever in a totally dependent way, merely like children to a parent. More than this, God asks us to seek Him increasingly in more intimate ways, like friend-to-friend (see John 15:14), more like lover-to-lover, and especially like wife-to-husband.
God calls our fearful dependency on Him to grow into more loving intimacy. See how the two models are often given both by the same sources, sometimes side-by-side:
|Old Testament Standing
Showing God’s Authority, and
Our Utter Dependence on Him
|New Testament Standing
Showing God’s Accessibility, and
Our Mutual Longing for Intimacy
|Moses||Exodus 20||Commandments 1 thru 4; the 5th
To honor your mother and father
|v. 5: “I am a jealous God”;
|David||Psalms||2:7 The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; I have become your Father”; trust in the 23rd Psalm||42: “My soul longs for you. . . .deep calls to deep.” 63: “My body longs for you; your love is better than life”|
Song of Songs
|Pr. 22:6 & 23:13 teach about God’s parental discipline and how we are to follow that lead||Entire Song of Solomon celebrates romantic intimacy, before and during marriage, and the believer’s with God|
|Isaiah||Isaiah||1:2-4 The Lord has reared up children, but they have rebelled||62:5 — as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will God rejoice over you|
|Hosea||Hosea||11:1-4 When Israel was a child I loved him, led him with kindness and bent down to feed him||God tells Hosea to experience his wife’s betrayal, redeem her, suffer more from her, to show His love for us|
|Jesus taught us to pray to God as our Father (the Lord’s Prayer, Mt. 6: 7-13, and in Mt. 7: 7-11)||Jesus called himself the bridegroom (Mt. 9:15, Mk 2:15; Lk 5:28); John the Baptist called him that too (Jo 3:29)|
|Jesus||Parables||God is the father in parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32)||He’s bridegroom in 2 parables about wedding feasts (Mt. 22.1-14; 25:1-13)|
|Paul||To all believers||Eph. 6:1-4, Col. 3:20-21; Rom. 8:14-16, and Heb. 12:5-7: obey parents, learning to obey God||Eph. 5:22-33 teaches marital intimacy to illustrate the profound mystery of Christ and the church; Col 3:18-19|
|Paul||To leaders||Longest qualification for elder is parenting well (1Tim 3:4-5)||1st necessity for deacon, 2ndfor elder is being married well (1Tim 3:2,12)|
The church has grossly neglected this teaching about genuine intimacy,at least in recent generations. One cause and effect of this neglect is our discomfort for addressing and referring to God with personal male pronouns, as we are asked and taught to do in the Bible. It is starkly obvious (but who has mentioned it?) that this neglect has suppressedour built-in need for intimacy with God, making our relationship with Him much less personal and immediate. Meanwhile, our modern media has expressed evermore perverted, counterfeit substitute examples and role models for intimacy (see “THE PSYCHO-SOCIAL NEED FOR GENUINE INTIMACY” above.)
God continues to call us closer to Himself,not only through the Bible, but as it teaches, also through our intimate human relationships, especially love in marriage. Here in romantic love, God prepares us to enjoy intimacy with Him, and as an inspirational and instructional example, to portray it here for the rest of the world to see. In the family of God, as well as in human families, good parent-child relationships depend on good husband-wife relationships, and vice-versa. Christianity teaches that like healthy parent-child relationships, healthy marriages not only demonstrate God’s love for us, but also demonstrate and call forth the faithful, affectionate devotion God wants from us in return. Genuine intimacy is a very high calling indeed.
When I told my parents I wanted to get married, they told me two things – it’s a lot of work, but the rewards are well worth it. I told our children two other truths about marriage: it is an elegant arrangement for personal growth, and it takes a bunch of miracles. Therefore it can’t reach its full potential unless both partners and their marriage dedicate themselves to God and to a family of faith, a community of believers. In short, marriage is a high calling which requires frequent blessings from God, and genuine intimacy in marriage is an even higher call.
God is calling out the good news that He is the silent, heart-felt presence inspiring every genuinely intimate moment where His grace and truth take off dancing together.
Truth Dancing with Grace
The first three verses tell about the genuine intimacy we may find anywhere—with a sister or brother, with a parent or grandparent, with a teacher or student, with a counselor or pastor, with a protégé or child, with a mentor or counselor, with a buddy or best friend.
The last two verses are about the two special things that come with finding genuine intimacy with a life partner in sacramental marriage — authentically romantic sex, and a ministry together that bears fruit for the world.
I am known by you,
And I’m accepted.
I am loved by you,
And I’m respected.
I treat you the same way,
Just like a peer.
Whatsoever we feel,
We can say here.
We’re growing up together,
The real you, the real me,
God’s making us holy—
At last we are free.
Let’s take a chance,
That Truth and Grace dance,
So our love can enhance
Flesh and Spirit romance.
And if we become lovers,
And get married to boot,
We’ll find love that will last,
And good sex as a fruit.
Then we give to our community,
As both brothers and mothers.
We bear fruit in our ministry,
Giving our full selves to others.
© Dr. Paul Schmidt, mynewlife.com, 502 633 2860