There is an abundance of resources on marriage and how to live your "happily ever-after." Yet hardly anyone is. Even within Christianity there is an overwhelming amount of books and videos promising us the perfect marriage all of which, of course, are taken from Scripture. No doubt there are helpful resources out there much of which I would recommend, but most are deeply flawed. On the secular side, such resources lack the root understanding of what marriage is and what it is for. Anymore, secular resources should be avoided at all costs. Driven by self-help ideologies, they are unhelpful. On the Christian side, many follow the same self-help models with spiritual dust of Bible verses that are, too often, not much better.
I recently was direct to consider the book When Sinners Say "I Do": Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage on the premise that it was unique among marriage books and it delivered on that promise. As the title suggests, the author, Dave Harvey, emphasizes two realities: we are sinners and we need the gospel. He then applies that to marriage.
First, we are sinners. A large portion of the book is dedicated to defending this proposition. It is not enough to say that we are flawed, but we must understand how deeply rooted our depravity is. Marriage is the union of two sinners. It should surprise no one that most marriage go through periods of war and conflict. At the root of every disagreement, lack of communication, rejection, and alienation is nothing less than sin. Harvey argues over and over again that until sin becomes bitter, marriage cannot become sweet.
The most enlightening portion of the book was in the midst of this discussion. The author notes our tendency to blame our marriage problems on either our spouse (their lazy, impulsive, or just like their mother!) or on marriage itself. Harvey writes:
If blaming your spouse for actually causing your own sin sounds maybe just a little suspect, how much stranger is it to blame the marriage itself? is it just me, or do we all do that sometimes?This is a brilliant and piercing insight. The problem does not lie, first of all, with someone or something else. What is wrong with my marriage is that I am a sinner. I have contributed to the conflict and friction in my own marriage. This in no way mitigates the wrong of the other spouse, but places it in the right context. Both are guilty. Both need to hear the gospel.
"I'm fine when 'm at work," a spouse might say. "It's not until I get home that the battle begins." how easy it is to use the phrase, "We're having marriage problems," as if the marriage created them.
"Hey, bro, can you pray for me? My marriage is having some problems (or stranger still, some "issues"). Oh, me? No, I'm fine. Just gotta deal with these marriage problems, you know what I mean?"
This whole idea of seeing God, yourself and your marriage for what they truly are is all about clear, biblical thinking. Locating the source of your marriage problems in your marriage is like saying the Battle of Bull Run was caused by some really troubled farmland. The battle was fought on farmland, but its cause lay elsewhere.
. . .
the cause of our marriage battles, friends, is neither our marriage nor our spouse. It's the sin in our hearts - entirely, totally, exclusively, without exception. (50-51)
That leads to the second half of the book where the author walks the reader to see how the gospel brings reconciliation, healing, and hope for any and every marriage. He speaks of mercy, forgiveness, and grace and how each apply directly to our marriage. He offers one of the best treatments of how one spouse can best help the other spouse deal with their sin graciously and without hypocrisy.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. It is an example of the beauty of the gospel and how practical it is. We all need it and we need to be reminded of it. Harvey has produced a helpful book that leads spouses to the cross.