I recently took my three children to New York City for their first visit. As we walked out of the bus station, steps from its doorway my seven-year-old suddenly looked down and shielded his eyes, announcing, "Mom, I just saw something really inappropriate and I'm going to try really hard not to look." It was funny at first, but quickly became heart-breaking once I saw what he was referring to: a larger-than-life poster ad featuring a completely nude woman from behind. I'm glad my young son was shocked by what he saw and knew it was ‘inappropriate’—but we know that this is sadly now ‘normal’.
Throughout history, we humans have found ways to distort and pervert sex, and where the true purpose and beauty of sex is twisted and distorted, the design and purpose of marriage is contorted with it, because they're inextricably linked. So, as Christians, how do we set the record straight? How can we maintain our understanding of what marriage ought to be, and teach others the truth of God's good design and purpose for sex and marriage?
There's certainly no shortage of books on marriage; the options are overwhelming even when narrowed down to books written from a biblical standpoint. There are many good choices that reinforce godly principles of sacrificial love and the roles of husband and wife, or that contain practical how-to help for tough topics. But when I read Christopher Ash's Married for God it stood out to me as unique because his Scripture-filled pages so clearly lay out the whole reason why we as Christians participate in this thing called marriage. Men and women, with their distinct and unique roles, were designed by God in the very beginning. Their relationship through marriage was planned by God for our good and his glory. Our struggles come not from trying to redeem a worldly idea and call it Christian, but from misunderstanding and misusing sex for other purposes and not in service to God.
A book full of biblical, practical advice may have been easier for him to write, but Ash instead says that:
The Bible begins with God. From page 1, God is at the center. I want that to be true of this book. (p. 14)
What we learn in the book is still practical, however. The content is not intimidating and doesn't leave its readers with an overwhelming list of things to "fix" but a new framework for understanding and living out God's purpose in marriage. If the idea of marriage was God's, if our role as husband or wife was designed by an all-knowing, perfectly loving Creator, then he is who we need to go to when we're struggling with the relationship. We need to go back to the sovereign Creator of our spouse, our self and our marriage. This book was refreshing in its consistent pointing back to God's purpose and design for marriage in every context and issue that he addresses.
My husband and I found this book profoundly helpful as we navigate our second decade of marriage. As we read, we found not just ideas and tips for problem solving and communicating better. We learned (or relearned) lessons about why we’re married, what purpose it’s serving, and who it’s ultimately for. The image Ash presents of a marriage being like co-workers in the garden confronted the tendency to see marriage as a relationship that serves to meet personal needs, and reminded us that it’s a relationship in service to God. We were able to use these fresh insights, illuminated from Scripture, to reexamine our expectations and process conflicts with more grace.
This book would be particularly well-used to disciple a couple considering, preparing for, or new to marriage, but it's definitely a worthy read for any established married couple. A great way to read it would be together with several couples in varying stages of married life, learning alongside one another and discipling each other. Obviously, reading it with a spouse would be the ideal way to engage with the book, but in the case of a uninterested or unwilling spouse there are discussion questions at the end of each chapter that can be used as a way to apply through conversation what the book teaches.
I would also consider offering this book to someone who is curious about what Christians believe about marriage and why. Because Ash lays out God's design and purpose for marriage from the very creation of the world, it's a great way to explain why we as Christians view the institution of marriage differently than the culture around us. It would be a great starting ground for discussions on why the definition of marriage matters and it's more than just finding someone you can love "happily ever after".
In many ways it's a good thing to still be shocked when we see nudity plastered on the side of a building. But perhaps we can let it remind us of our calling to be lights in the darkness. May it fuel us to meet the task we have to demonstrate the beauty in God's design for men, women and marriage.