As an alarmingly high rate of divorce continues to plague Americans today the fact remains – Christians and non-Christians alike are equally to blame.
With National Marriage Week taking place this week, many churches are giving couples tools to build a healthy marriage and family.
Dr. Dan Allender, president and professor of counseling at Mars Hill Graduate School, recently spoke at Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago about "Marriage and Intimacy Redefined" in the church's 2011 Family Series, addressing the root of the problem: the fall, the curse, and the resulting lack of intimacy.
Quoting from Genesis 3:16, the professor explained on Sunday to the congregation the consequence of Adam and Eve's fall – broken intimacy.
The fall of Adam and Eve brought a curse to both woman and man, with their relationship consequently under tension and adversity. The intimacy God desired between Himself and His people, and among His people themselves was severed.
But it's not exactly the kind of intimacy imagined.
"The very nature of intimacy is opening one's heart and giving to the other what the other most desires and needs, which is blessing," Allender taught. "If you wish to grow in intimacy in your relationships it will have to be in an adverse relationship with hiding – what destroys intimacy is hiding."
"What is intimacy? And what is it we are called to be doing on behalf of one another?" Allender questioned. "We're called to stand in with each other [in those] humbling, humiliating, hard moments, ones that naturally every one of us easily run, hide, and then turn and blame."
And in those moments, even though the tendency within us is to do what feels most right and natural, our task is to be able to say 'No, the one who loves my soul more than any on this earth or in the heavens has born on my behalf all the loneliness I might ever know."
As the daughters and sons of the first couple, relational struggles continue to debilitate believers and nonbelievers today who, when problems arise, hide, and when exposed, blame. But Allender reminded the people that restoration is present in Christ, the "curse lifter," who bore on the cross the curse of the fall.
Within the constant struggles of reaching true intimacy, the speaker encouraged couples to bring Jesus and his presence into the relationship and remember that Christ bore the curse for both man and woman.
"To know that Jesus has entered into all of the loneliness that a woman will ever suffer when he said 'My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?'"
And the sense of futility and failure that every man feels… Jesus who allowed himself to become a public spectacle of failure and shame, knows what it feels to be mocked before the world, his whole creation turned against him in blame and contempt."
Placing himself willingly under the curse to restore the relationship between God and man, and in turn man's relationship with another, Jesus understood too well the repercussions of the fall.
But because Christ's love conquered, Allender stated, the opportunity to develop true and lasting intimacy during the hardest moments would not only be possible, but promising.
"It is our unique gift and call to be a witness that the humility of desire and the commitment to move toward will bring a goodness that we could never have created merely on our own by doing kind things for one another; when we have understood that [Jesus] has born what we will ever suffer and that we have the privilege to enter into the heart of suffering of one another in order to bring blessing."
"The world is looking at our marriages. And in many ways, it has already come to the judgment that we are not only no different than our so-called secular counterparts, not only in terms of the rate of divorce, but the rate of emptiness in our lives," Allender admitted.
He concluded, "May you have a taste together in the midst of very hard moments, of what it means to move, to stand, to speak, and to bless rather than to hide and to blame."
God's design for intimacy in marriages, in light of Christ's victory over the curse, is not only necessary in a society where divorce is born to one in two people, but healing and restorative.
In their most recent study, The Barna Group reported similar divorce rates between evangelical and non-evangelical born again Christians compared with atheists and agnostics. Respectively 33 percent had been married and subsequently divorced, with a 3 percent difference between those without faith – within the range of sampling error.
Commenting on the marginal differences, the president and founder of Barna Resarch Group, George Barna stated, "While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time."
Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality stated, "In the churches people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills."
With this week's advent of National Marriage Week USA, which hopes to raise the issue of marriage to the national agenda, people across schools, churches, businesses, and governments will collaborate together to encourage many diverse groups to strengthen the bonds of marriage, reduce the divorce rate, and build a stronger marriage culture.