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Volume 19, Issue 1: Poimen

Unknown and Frustrated

Joost Nixon

Books with the words "intimate" and "marriage" worked into the title appeal mostly to women. And women keep devouring them, because so many wives are unknown by their husbands—and gnawingly frustrated. These are the women who consider their marriages and ask Betty Freidan's famous question, "Is this all?" In case you are one of those waiting in silence for an answer, there is one forthcoming. No, ma'am, this is not all. But to find the missing part of "all," we must look again to the blueprints.

God made man male and female. Adam alone could not image God as faithfully as Adam and Eve could together. There is something mysterious about our sexuality and how it reflects the image of God. God is a community of persons who are One God. Diversity and unity. Adam and Eve are a community who together make one flesh. Unity and diversity. Failing to comprehend the diversity is what generates such misunderstanding.
Consider woman. God hints at her nature through her very anatomy. God made her to be known. It is no accident that the euphemism Scripture uses to indicate a man had sex with a woman is that he knew her. But sexual intimacy is only one way to know our wives—for some wives, it is the only way they will ever be known. God made women to be entered into, indwelt, known, tasted, feasted upon, and loved anyway—faults and all. Accordingly, they want to be pursued (despite feministic claptrap), explored, consulted, honored. Like the Triune God they image, they are made to love and be loved, to dwell and be indwelt. They want the security of a love that enters into them fully, finds out the worst, and doesn't retreat. And since God made women to be known, He commands husbands to know. Husbands live with your wives, literally, according to knowledge (1 Pet. 3:7). You love her fat. You love her ignorant. You love her weak. You don't like her these ways. You don't leave her these ways. But you love her amidst all this and more. And your love, like Christ's love, is efficacious. It transforms. But knowing a woman is not like reading a textbook or memorizing multiplication tables. As an image-bearer she is much more glorious and complex. She is immortal. She is a moving target. She ages like Bordeaux. Knowing one's wife is a game assigned by a wise God to restless, achievement-hungry men. The pursuit goes on, but the goal has shifted. Again. It becomes a dance.
This is how it ought to be. But diversity, complicated by sin, gums up the works. In the modern world of male and female relationships, more men are like Francis Drake than John Smith. They are interested in conquest, visiting women like cities along a coastline, stopping only long enough to raid and despoil. There is no real penetration of the interior before boredom strikes and they move on. The result is invariable devastation. But many Christian men, though they can say they are the husband of one wife, are injudiciously bored with their wives. There has been conquest—they "got the girl." But now that they have her, they only nibble and set her aside. This is headship with no dominion; conquest without exploration. Leif Erickson may have landed at Newfoundland, but he knew nothing of Ol' Muddy, or Pike's Peak, or the Painted Desert. He never tasted a Georgia peach, or was cowed by an electrical storm in Denver. He may have landed, but he never really explored.
Because one cannot know a woman without her being vulnerable, because such knowledge is so powerful, it requires strong protection. High fences. Thus, when the covenant is made, access is granted. The problem is that men think of the wedding as a "mission accomplished." They've landed her, and now she can't run off without getting into trouble. But a wedding is mere admission to the ride, not conclusion of the ride. The covenant is a license to know—not evidence that you have known. It is license to know her sexually. License to know her heart. License to probe the fears, to visit the dark places under the stairs.
These differing expectations and orientations produce unimaginable exasperation. The wife longs to be known and loved. The husband piddles around, splashing on the beach, when there are mountains to scale, rivers to navigate, cornfields in which to lose oneself. He thinks he is done. She wonders why he doesn't get started. She is a feast on the table, but her husband isn't hungry (except for sex). She is as unsatisfied as a Ferrari stuck in first gear.
If men were faithful to pursue their wives as they ought, they would be less bored and more fruitful. But pursuit is so much more than flowers and sex, or dinner and a movie. Pursuit is not allowing the curiosity you once had about her dwindle. It is asking questions that have not been asked. It is not assuming you know what she thinks. Pursuit requires time and zeal, preparation and forethought. And as you seek to live with your wife "according to knowledge" you will find that marriage is much more challenging, and much more rewarding, than you ever thought.

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