St. Paul’s phrase, “two become one flesh,” describes marriage so perfectly that it has become clichfrom endless repetition; there is a wedding ring collection with that copyrighted name and John Tesh released a wedding CD with that title. Yet with the divorce rate still hovering at about 50 percent, it is obvious that the clichis sometimes more myth than reality. Much of contemporary American culture supports the attitude that sex is little more than a sport, nothing more than the recreation of choice. The famous Spice Girls’ CD tells the “boy” to set his “spirit free” and let “two become one” so that they can see if he is as “good as they remember.”
Too often today, those who require the illusion of a “relationship” formalize their sexual union by moving in together. The serial monogamy of their temporary cohabitation, serves as a fig leaf of sorts for those who crave love if not commitment as a necessary accompaniment to sex. Marriage is even considered by many as a temporary relationship. Pre-nuptial agreements are increasingly common even among the non-rich and non-celebrity populations. Last year, the tabloids reported a dramatic exception to current trends among the rich and famous. In their typical theatrical fashion, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones tore up their hard-fought pre-nuptial agreement to symbolize the “permanence of their marriage commitment.”
Groundbreaking research by Dr. Donald Joy (published in the early 80s) chronicled the ways in which intimacy produces bonding; countless secular movies from South Pacific to the Matrix have inadvertently illustrated the truth of the fact that God created us such that there is nothing “casual” about human sexuality. Instead, as Dr. Joy so effectively describes, human beings respond to sexual intercourse by bonding and they are driven to make that bond permanent and exclusive. Some 20 years later, the tapes of Dr. Joy’s early interviews with Dr. James Dobson are still played a couple of times a year on Focus on the Family’s radio program and they rank 7th in most requested tapes from that radio program.
Dr. Joy’s new book, written with Robbie, his wife of 50 years, Two Become One, examines the factors that contribute to a couple bonding together happily for a lifetime. Previously, his delineation of the various stages of human bonding from mother to child and between lovers has provided a wealth of research data that substantiates the tender ties that develop between people who share intimacy from touch, holding hands, and kissing to sexual intercourse. One of his significant points is that each of the stages of intimacy should be relished and that skipping a stage short-circuits a relationship. The same kind of common sense, insight, perceptiveness, Biblical foundation and thorough research permeates the Joys’ newest book.
The Joys examine the Holy Trinity God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and describe the Scriptural representation as “coming near” to us. In a similar way, the early Church saw marriage as a “nuptial community” a place where intimacy, collegiality and empowerment are realized thereby enabling the father, mother and child to be a metaphor and image of the Trinity. The Joys challenge their readers to view marriage as a means of making “the image of God” visible in the world.
Believing in the unity of all truth, the Joys hold that we can learn what is true and reliable by paying diligent attention to what they call the “three witnesses:” (1) Creation the raw materials of the physical work that came straight from the hand of God. (2) Scripture the inspired written record of God’s activity in the world and in the lives of His people. (3) The incarnation of Christ look both at the actual words of Jesus and at how He treated people. When taken together, we can evaluate human situations to determine whether or not there is an error; where there is disagreement among the three witnesses, we know there is a problem.
The Joys report on the work of a researcher at a hospital clinic in Detroit who worked with 1000 couples for 10 years studying their marital problems and recording their sexual histories. He concluded, “The pain in the marriages was rooted in their promiscuity.” He passed along the central message derived from his decade-long research, “Sexual intercourse between men and women is constructive only within marriage.”
The mystery of sexual bonding is the Creator’s gift and the underlying principle is this, according to the Joys: “Whole persons form mutually interdependent relationships with those whose gifts differ from their own. They enter into those relationships non-competitively, but reverently. They participate in the relationships spontaneously, almost naively, assuming that they enjoy the same equitable acceptance and response that they extend to the other.”
The key to “Two Becoming One” is found in the words of Jesus (Matthew 20:20-28) that the Living Bible paraphrases: “Among the heathen, kings are tyrants and each minor official lords it over those beneath him. But among you it is quite different.” The Joys observe, “In a single, sweeping teaching, Jesus disconnects the redeemed person from traditional, power-based ways of relating to others. He does it in a way that applies to every human relationship including marriage and family.”
Don and Robbie Joy address controversial issues with a thorough respect for truth; they are not afraid to examine long-standing ideas to see if they hold up under scrutiny. Having a solid, happy marriage for 50 years enables them to tackle some of the “sacred cows” that are part of tradition or culture, but have become so distorted that today they convey erroneous messages. For instance, the Joys pointedly analyze the issue of wifely “submission.” They characterize the proposition that “passive submission” is the scriptural norm for relationships to be “wrongheaded” and not a proper interpretation of St. Paul’s teaching regarding the need to actively and humbly pursue mutual submission patterned upon the sacrificial love of Christ. Moreover, they view it to be an unmitigated evil when this degenerates into the one-sided tyranny of one individual “controlling” another in acts of selfish, ego-gratifying dominance. In contrast throughout their book, they keep pointing the reader back to the central truth that “Christ is the head” of Christian homes.
The Joys paraphrased the lines given to the main character in The Great God Brown by the playwright, Eugene O’Neill. The message to all who would seek to become one with another is a simple, but profound theological truth: “Humans are born broken. We spend our lives mending. The grace of God is the glue!”