Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

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Oneness: A Basic Biblical Theme in Marriage

By Daniel W. Trathen, D. Min. Ph. D.

The central Biblical theme of marriage is “Oneness.” In many ways two people enter marriage with separate identities. The challenge is to develop a “we” or an identity as a couple or a team in oneness. For all the promise and mystery of oneness, few couples seem to achieve a thriving marital unity that lasts “til death do us part.” They need a climate change! Oneness has a hard time flourishing in cold emotional climates. Oneness needs a warm emotional climate where it can grow and thrive.

In the first marriage, everything started out without any issues. In fact, Adam and Eve began “naked and unashamed.”

Genesis 2:24-25 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. [25] The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

This could mean several things, but it most clearly means that they started out with no barriers to intimacy. There was no fear, no negative communication patterns, and what must have been an incredible and delightful intimacy. Scripture does not say how long this lasted, but we know that it ended when they sinned. The first thing that Adam and Eve did following their sin was to cover themselves up: they sewed fig leaves together to make garments.

Genesis 3:7-8 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. [8] Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

They hid from each other and they hid from God. What had been great intimacy between man and woman, and with God, was shattered. God’s question to Adam was convicting. Adam’s response to God’s question is telling:

Genesis 3:9-10 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” [10] He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

At the core, we are all imperfect people who, like Adam and Eve, seek closeness and acceptance. This desire for relationship was built in by God before sin even entered the picture. But out of fear (a result of sin and the fall), we tend to cover ourselves and make barriers in our relationships. Scripture points to the antidote to such fear which is LOVE.

1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,…

Of course, the greatest model of love is Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. The apostle John tells us that we will find that Christ’s love is the truly “perfect love” that can cast out all fear. As we work at modeling His love in our lives, we can demonstrate this “fear busting love” to others–especially our spouses and children.

The key Biblical theme of oneness in marriage is reflected in Christ’s teaching that “they are no longer two, but one”(Matthew 19:7). Yet, the union of husband and wife is beset with barriers to intimacy and oneness as a consequence of the fall. While Scripture teaches principles for healthy and growing marriages (e.g., Song of Songs, 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5, etc.), oneness is described as a mystery by Paul (Ephesians 5:32). Even though Paul is calling attention to the relationship of Christ and His church, it seems the more general point holds as well–that oneness in marriage is a mysterious phenomenon. “Mystery” implies that God brings about a unique blending of the two spouses without specifying an exact pattern for oneness which must be emulated.

Many marriages might suggest that the most common route to marital failure is through the repetition of frustrating and disrespectful patterns of conflict. While problems are inevitable (John 16:33), it’s how couples deal with these challenges that seems to best predict where they will end up. The destructive patterns of communication that destroy marriages come primarily from selfishness, fear, or a lack of understanding about how to handle difficult issues well (or all three). Pridefulness makes all such problems worse. The fear of rejection leads to covering up, barriers, and distance in the relationship. Unfortunately, marriages can become places where vulnerable feelings can no longer be shared, much less be explored to foster a deeper bond. Over time, each partner can begin to associate being together with fighting, not friendship and support. The mysterious and positive aspects of oneness cannot survive in this climate. I’m sure we can all agree that marriages today need a climate change!

Material adapted from A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage. Stanley, S. M., Trathen D.W., McCain S., Bryan M., 1998, Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers. San Francisco, California.

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