Monday, April 5, 2010

Married for God - Pt 1

I first came across Christopher Ash when I read Marriage: Sex in The Service of God. It is a comprehensive, thorough biblical and theological study intended for ministers and pastors, theological students and those who run marriage courses. I thought the book was brilliant and gave me a whole new framework within which to think about marriage. How I wished I could reccommend it to the people in my church, but at 400 pages with Greek word studies I realised that was a bit unrealistic. Imagine my delight then at discovering Married For God, which is a scaled-down version of the earlier book, designed for a general Christian readership.

Ash’s central thesis is that we ought to take our fundamental soundings as to the purpose of marriage from God, not from our own needs, hopes and desires. Marriage is not human-centred, it is God-centred.

This book is not a ‘how to’ or even a ‘what is’ book on marriage; it is a ‘why’ book. It’s the ‘why’ question which should always be asked first. Not only this, but Ash urges us to ask God’s ‘why’ question rather than ours, because the answer turns out to be quite different. We need “to change our minds, consciously to turn from what we want – from our hopes for marriage – and to seek his will and goals for marriage” (p 17). But what does God want for marriage? Why did God choose to create humankind male and female? Why did he create us with the mysterious chemistry of sexual desire and delight?

These are the questions at the centre of this book that we will explore over the next couple of weeks, taking a chapter at a time. And they are great questions because they help us to seriously engage with the Bible’s teaching on marriage.

I have many friends who have become Christians from rather sordid backgrounds. One of them in particular has a mantra for me: "Lesley, make sure you preach grace!" Because those with damaged pasts can often view the Bible's teaching on morality as finger-wagging condemnation. For this reason I love Ash's first chapter 'A word about baggage and grace'. And I love that he puts it first!

You see we all bring baggage to our relationships because we are all imperfect with, at times, impure hearts and thoughts. The baggage that some of us bring is heavier than others, but none of us comes fresh and unstained to our marriages. There is a wonderful little paragraph on p 23 where Ash himself admits as much: "Twenty-five years after getting married my sexual desires are still a moral muddle, all mixed up with healthy desire for my wife and unhealthy attractions to others or to top-shelf magazines." How difficult is it for us to admit to such moral failure?

For those who carry the heavy burden of sexual sin in the past, Ash is clear that the Bible does not wag its finger at us, but offers the 'word of God's grace' (Acts 20:32). Forgiveness and restoration is at the heart of the gospel. The experience of the Corinthians is a great testimony to this truth. Their baggage was enormous, but it was all taken away by the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

This chapter made me wonder whether I look at others with eyes of moral tut-tutting or eyes of grace. What about you?

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