Tuesday, March 19, 2013

what's the point of marriage? (4) marriage looks outward: Christopher Ash Married for God

The whole business of marriage… [is] the loving joyful service of God, as we look outward from our marriages and as couples seek to care for God’s world together… This is delight with a shared purpose, intimacy with a common goal, and companionship in a task that stretches beyond the boundaries of the couple themselves… proclaiming Jesus Christ is at the forefront of that service.1
“What is the point of marriage?” asks British theologian Christopher Ash. He sums up his answer with the motto “sex in the service of God” (where sex stands in for the whole marriage relationship).

We often assume that marriage was God’s cure for Adam’s loneliness, but Ash argues that fellowship with others is the Bible’s solution for loneliness. The context of Genesis 2 shows that Adam’s real problem was that the job of ruling and caring for God’s world was “too big for him to do on his own”. That’s why God gave him “‘a helper’ rather than ‘a companion’”—that is, “one who works alongside so that both together can do a task”.

The joyful one-flesh intimacy at the heart of marriage is the centre out of which this loving service flows. The focus of marriage, then, is not inward but outward, on the task that the man and woman and their children do together in God’s world. Marriage is for service.

This is a revolutionary idea. When I first read Married for God, it clarified my thinking and helped me see my marriage as a partnership for God’s service. The work of a scholar, this book has a clear structure. After establishing marriage’s central purpose, Ash devotes a chapter to each of the three traditional goals of marriage, showing how they serve this purpose. At points I found his arguments a little reductionistic—is marriage really not part of God’s provision to meet our needs?3—but his book is a helpful corrective to relationally-obsessed, self-centred views of marriage.

Ash not only has a keen mind, but also a pastor’s heart. He begins by addressing the guilt and sexual baggage we carry into marriage, and his view of marriage isn’t coldly task-oriented but warmly relational. The three chapters that stood out for me were on sex and intimacy, the marriage institution, and the faithfulness at the heart of marriage. An odd collection! But I love the way they show how covenant-keeping puts walls around a marriage, providing a safe place for love and delight to flourish, and then puts doors and windows in these walls, so that love overflows to others and welcomes them in.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. It deserves to be more widely read. It’s so unique and timely that I’d almost set it as required reading for those considering marriage. Its teaching on loneliness is helpful for singles, and I can think of no better book to give married couples a clear mission, turning them from unhealthy introspection to joyful, side-by-side, gospel-centred, grace-driven service.

You can read my full article at The Briefing.

1. Ash, Married for God, pp. 33, 37, 44.
2. ibid., p. 36.
3. ibid., p. 39.

No comments: