Today, we are grateful to release a written interview between Dave Harvey and Christopher Ash. Christopher is a preacher/speaker, a writer at Tyndall House in Cambridge, and the author of the new book “Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be” (Crossway). In this interview, Dave asks Christopher about why he wrote this marriage book, the importance of grace, and how marriage is a surprising way in which we serve God.
– Joe Hearne
AIC Content Manager
1. Christopher, one obvious question people have when they see new material on marriage is “why?’. What were the primary weaknesses you observed within Christian marriages (or any marriages!) and what opportunity did you see in it?
We breathe the air of a culture in which “coupledom” is an idol – soft focus photos, sweet romance, love hearts and all that jazz. If you are “in a relationship,” then all is right with the world; if you’re not, then clearly you need to set about getting into one!
The problem is that so much “Christian” guidance about marriage buys into this focus on the couple’s relationship as the be-all and end-all of marriage – how the two of you can enjoy your marriage more, communicate better, have better sex, resolve conflict, and so on. All valuable stuff. But it misses a vital and neglected part of the bible’s teaching – that marriage is for serving God. Without this outward-looking, serving focus, relationships become destructively introspective. I feel deeply that we must get this biblical serving focus back into the Christian mainstream.
2. You say in the beginning of your book, when discussing sex and marriage that “we must begin with grace or else we will end in despair or self-righteousness”. Why makes grace so crucial when approaching the problems within our marriage or within our sexual experiences in marriage?
We are all of us “damaged goods,” whatever our histories. For desperately many, the damage is physical, emotional, and psychological; for all of us, it is in distorted desires in our imaginations and hearts. Whether it is what has been done to us (or said to us) or in what we ourselves have said, done, or fantasized, if we are not soaked in the grace of God in Jesus, we will either despair – we feel that for us it is too late – or become self-righteous hypocrites, acting as if we actually are ok, when in our hearts we are not.
3. In your chapter “Married for a Purpose”, you mentioned the motto “sex in the service of God”. That’s a pretty fascinating statement – what does it mean?
Yes, it’s a provocative motto – deliberately thought-provoking! It was the subtitle of a longer and scholarly book I wrote in 2003 “Marriage: Sex in the service of God.” I got it from Genesis 2, where God says it was not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). We often assume this means “lonely,” and that a sexual relationship in marriage is God’s remedy for loneliness. This is simply not true; in the book I demonstrate that the rest of the bible does not agree, and that the context of Genesis 2 shows it is not true. Adam has been given a big job to do (looking after God’s “garden,” verse 15); it is not good for him to try to do it all on his own; he needs a “helper,” and Eve is the first of those other human beings who share the task!
We are called to serve God whether single, married, widowed, or divorced. Marriage is not a “discipleship-free zone” in which we just seek one another’s enjoyment. It is a sphere in which we serve God. In the book, I explore how we serve God in marriage through children (if God gives them), through intimacy, and through marriage being a building block of order and stability in society.
4. Christopher, imagine you are sitting across from a married couple where one or both of them do not want children. How would you counsel them & why would you take the approach you are advocating?
I would want to do two things. First, gently to probe why they say this. There may be all sorts of reasons, ranging from fear, to medical concerns, or perhaps simply their age, right through to lifestyle selfishness. No pastor will give an “off the peg” answer; I would want to understand what is going on in each of their hearts and minds (bearing in mind it may be different for the husband and the wife).
But then I would want to explore what the bible means by consistently describing children as a blessing of God. Why is it good for couples to have children? What good does it do? Is there anything in our thoughts which is – perhaps unconsciously – beginning to think of it as a curse? So often an understanding of that positive view will help a couple change their thinking in a glad and cheerful way! Chapter 3 of “Married for God” explores this further.
5. Married for God makes the point that passion in the marital bed overflows into blessings to others. How does that work?
That’s a really good question. It’s not obvious! Chapter 4 of Married for God explores this. The key point is that sexual delight – at its best – feeds and nourishes a relationship of love, friendship, companionship and – vital to include this! – shared service of God. If husband and wife nourish this delightful intimacy, in all its dimensions – physical and emotional – they build a heart and home of love from which self-giving love overflows to a needy world. Although the intimacy itself is, of course, just the two of them, it actually serves a wider sphere of shared outgoing love.
6. Christopher, take one vital point from the book and share a story of how this point became so important to you and how you are seeking to apply it.
The driving force came from close study of the bible. I remember working through Genesis 1 and 2 verse by verse in Hebrew, in the library of Tyndale House in Cambridge, and the “eureka moment” when I saw that “alone” in verse 18 does not mean “loneliness” but rather that Adam needs a “helper” in the work of looking after God’s “garden.” That insight was not new; I later discovered it in older Christian writers; but it was neglected and needed to be dusted down and brought into the open again.
Since then, over the past thirteen years since Marriage: sex in the service of God was published, I have had a number of couples sharing with me how helpful it has been to them, in the struggles – and sometimes disappointments and sadnesses too – of marriage, to “get” this focus on serving God together. It has helped a number persevere through difficult times. That a bible truth should do that ought not to surprise me (!); but it is a big encouragement that these books have been worth writing. I hope many will be helped by Married for God as it is published by Crossway in the USA.