The Stilwells’ Dodge Ram van weighed five tons. Donna Stilwell weighed 115 pounds. Her husband, Richard, was hardly thinking about the comparison when he slid underneath the van to fix the transmission. But, as he worked on it, suddenly it slipped out of park and the vehicle crushed down on him. He could not move. He screamed for Donna, who dashed out of the house, and leaped into the van, trying to drive it “gently” off him, but “the pain was unbearable.” So, Donna Stilwell, all five feet two inches and 115 pounds, jumped back out, grasped the van over the front left wheel, and lifted the van off her husband. “She has wrist problems and has a hard time moving a coffee table,” Richard reflected afterwards, as he recovered from “internal bruising” and a “broken arm.” “The end result could have been a lot worse if not for the super human strength of his wife,” observed reporter Christina Wallace of the Boston Metro. But, another remarkable aspect Wallace records is that “Donna has reported no back, wrist or arm pains since performing her feat of strength.”1
How much untapped potential power (both physical and spiritual) has God built into the bond of marital love? We know that Genesis 2:24 reveals that God has blessed marriage with a dimension that is itself suprahuman. We are told, “Therefore a male leaves [the Hebrew word y’zb has the force of utter separation, as in forsakes, abandons, leaves behind] his father and his mother and adheres to [dbq, that is, sticks, clings, attaches, even pursues] his wife [a female term, so not another male], and they are becoming [the word is in the imperfect tense] one [that is, united] flesh [or body, or living creature].”2
What is interesting to note is that that same word for a wife and husband becoming “one,” or “united,” is used in Deuteronomy 6:4 in the first great confession that Israel was given. After God called the Israelites out of Egypt, after forty years of wandering, and their victories over Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, as they gathered on the far side of the Jordan River, just before God led them over into the promised land, God gave this new people a great “I believe” statement (that is, a confession, a creed) for the adults to confess constantly, to teach to their children, to place on their gates, their houses, their doorposts, their very bodies: “Hear, Israel, the Lord [singular, this is the Tetragrammaton, the four sacred consonants built out of the verb ‘to live,’ that signified the Living God], your God [plural, this is literally the word for Gods, in which we see the Triune Godhead, one God undivided, eternally in three coeternal, coequal persons in the Old Testament], the Lord is one [or united].”
This inseparable unity in the Godhead is reflected in the unity of husband and wife coming together to form a new creation in God’s sight. Solomon’s wise observation in Ecclesiastes 4:9–11, culminating in verse 12, reflecting the power of close companionship to help one another when each stumbles, to warm each other against the cold, to withstand opposition, as a cord woven with three strands is durable, is easily and regularly applied to marriage. Many who write on marriage, as my wife and I in Marriage at the Crossroads,3 like to speculate that the third strand is God.
A wife’s love and a husband’s love, woven together with God’s love, produces a supra-human bond that is, indeed, not easily broken by outsiders. We make this connection because we read these words through the lens of Genesis 2:24. The new entity, the “one flesh” creation that God brings about in a couple’s marriage, has the strength of woven rope that can lift or secure heavy burdens without giving out.
In the spirit of this editorial (which I wrote on Valentine’s Day), this issue of Priscilla Papers is comprised of a variety of excellent pieces on marriage and family. Carey McGrath, completing a master’s degree in counseling at Colorado Christian University, brings that information into an analysis of premarital counseling techniques, while retired dean, professor, and pastor Woodrow Walton (emeritus of American Christian College and Seminary [Okla.]) reflects on the goal for a mutually submitted marital relationship, that is, “side by side.” Next, professional counselor and Walden University PhD candidate Noelle Lowry assesses marriage in “the egalitarian stance of reciprocal mutual submission displayed” in the Trinity, and Saint Thomas University’s Beth Stovell extends this examination, exploring the birthing images God uses to reveal God’s parental character to us. Four appropriate book reviews follow, as learning specialist and performing artist Olga Soler reviews John Zens’s critique of patriarchy. Denver Seminary’s Judith A. Diehl assesses counselors Tim and Anne Evans’s Real-Life Marriage, Gordon College’s Megan DeFranza analyzes Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Dennis Hollinger’s The Meaning of Sex, and Matthew Kim of Gordon-Conwell Theologicall Seminary explores Some Men Are Our Heroes by KeumJu Jewel Hyun and Cynthia Davis Lathrop. I add a final review on two important new books on the debate about relationships in the Trinity, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Aída Besançon Spencer reflects poetically on childbirth, bringing the parental/creation metaphor back full circle to close the issue.
Several years ago, a couple was swimming in a creek in Australia’s Outback region when a crocodile suddenly surfaced and clamped its jaws on the wife. In a similar spirit to Donna Stilwell’s, the husband immediately jumped on its back, whereupon “the 8-foot reptile released the woman and fled.” Northern Territory Police spokesman David Wright commented, “It was real Crocodile Dundee stuff.” General manager Len Notaros of Royal Darwin Hospital, a facility more than one hundred miles away, where the wife was taken to treat her wounds (including “eight teeth punctures in her thigh”) observed, “The husband’s very swift and diligent actions have saved the day.”4
For those of us who are married, love for our spouse and our families can make us do the most incredible, unbelievable things. Not all of us may have the experience of a Donna Stilwell or the unnamed husband in Australia, but all of us can experience through our families, or, if we are not married, through our church families, the greatest love of all. This is the love of the God who created us, the God who sent Jesus Christ as God-Among-Us to accomplish the astonishingly arduous and loving task of dying in our place, the God who even now comforts and exhorts us, One God but in a beautiful, eternal love relationship. Marriage and family are earthly metaphors of the love of that relationship. Perhaps Richard Stilwell expressed to his wife what should be our response to God and to one another most simply and aptly, when he said, “I can’t thank her enough.”5 May our gratitude extend continually to one another both within our homes as well as in our larger Christian family, and then beyond those to the God who enables us to love because our God “first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
- Christina Wallace, “Husband saved by wife lifting up truck,” Boston Metro, March 1–3, 2002, 9, cols. 1–2.
- All translations by the author.
- William and Aída Spencer, Steve and Celestia Tracy, Marriage at the Crossroads (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 114.
- Associated Press, “Australian Rescues Wife from Crocodile,” April 2, 2008, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,345489,00.html (accessed April 3, 2008).
- Christiana Wallace, “Husband saved by wife lifting up truck,” 9, col. 2.