Choosing to Love: A marriage guide - a review

Marriage is divinely ordained and plays a vital role in the life and health of the ecclesia. Malachi noted that healthy marriages are designed to ensure that a “godly seed” is raised up to the honour of God (Mal 2:14–15). Even in secular society there is recognition that marriage is a solemn relationship which must be entered into with careful thought. It is true that the sanctity of marriage has come under significant threat among some sections in western society. It is also true, however, that in response to rising rates of marriage failure great effort is being expended in those same societies to foster the maintenance of marriages and families and to ameliorate the impact of marriage failure.

The divine ideal of one man and one woman entering into a monogamous and mutually supportive union was laid down in Eden. The need for discretion in the choice of a spouse is a feature of the Biblical record at least from the time of Abraham, who took steps to ensure that Isaac did not contract a marriage with a member of the idolatrous tribes amongst whom they dwelt. The Law of Moses warned Israel about the evils of marriage with non-Israelites (Exod 34:11–16; Deut 7:1–4) and the adverse spiritual impacts that would flow from such action.

 

And while the Law did make provision for a husband to divorce his wife (Deut 24:1–4), we know from the inspired comment of our Lord that this was only because of “the hardness of [their] heart” and that it was at odds with the divine ideal established in Eden (Mark 10:4–8).

Notwithstanding these clear provisions we know that many in Israel failed to live up to the divine standard. Elkanah had two wives and his family life was blighted by tension between the two women. David had even more wives and his domestic circumstances were very unsatisfactory.

Solomon had a vast number of wives, many of them foreigners from nation specifically identified by Moses as those with whom Israelites were not to marry, and the record says they turned away his heart after other gods (1 Kings 11:1–4). After the exile, Nehemiah was forced to take action in relation to those who had married “strange wives” (Neh 13:23–27).

Given the Biblical record of failure in relation to marriage with non-believers and marriages that failed to reflect the divine ideal it is not surprising that believers in more recent times have also experienced challenges in this regard. While there have been many publications in the brotherhood on marriage it is a pity that many of these have focused on issues associated with divorce. Even Brother John Carter’s otherwise excellent book Marriage and Divorce suffers from the fact that, of its nine chapters, eight deal with divorce while only one deals with the divine ideal.

In recent decades there has been an attempt to redress this imbalance with the publication of several works about marriage and married life. A range of Christadelphian materials have been prepared for use by marrying brethren in pre-marriage counselling of brothers and sisters. In addition to these, Brother HP Mansfield’s Preparing for Marriage appeared in the 1980s, while Brother Harry Tennant’s Steps to True Marriage was published in 2000. Both books have much to offer and are recommended. There are also useful comments about marriage in the book Family Life in the Lord published by the CSSS in 1984.

Another work which can be recommended is Choosing to Love by Sister Olive Dawes. Published first in 1996 the book discusses a range of practical issues that contribute to the success (or otherwise) of marriage and family life in the Lord. Sister Olive acknowledges the help she derived from her husband, Brother Kevin, and also the insights she gained from those who attended the Marriage Enrichment Programs she and Kevin ran for brothers and sisters throughout Australia. At the outset Sister Olive stresses “that the most solid foundation for any marriage is found in the Scriptures”, and while the book is intensely practical it is suffused with Scripture from beginning to end.

Choosing to Love is essentially a manual for those who wish to establish and nurture a godly and spiritually productive marriage and family. It is divided into three sections:

  • Setting a Basis
  • Anticipating Marriage
  • Becoming Married

 Although these sections reflect the book’s sub-title “A Guide for Engaged Couples and Young Marrieds”, it should not be thought that its value is so limited. This book should prove of interest and value to a much wider audience. It may be particularly valuable to those who have been married for some time who, with the initial romantic glow perhaps dimming, would benefit from a reconsideration of the important issues it addresses.

Many of the issues covered have a practical application beyond the relationship of a husband and wife. Relationships are a key focus of the book, including the way in which a couple will interact with their friends, wider family circle and the ecclesia. Much of what Sister Olive writes in this regard is relevant to a range of situations, not just marriage. Her advice about conflict resolution, financial management and communication is likewise of value in a range of circumstances.

While recognising Biblical (and biological) facts in relation to gender Sister Olive places an emphasis on the need for mutual respect, recognition and consideration in accordance with Paul’s advice in Ephesians 5. Sister Olive counsels readers to recognise that it will not always be plain sailing as they progress through life. Openness is identified as vital if the problems that arise are to be overcome. Couples need to be mutually supportive if they are to navigate successfully the challenges they face in their relationship and those that assault them from without.

All will benefit from reading the book, but it is also designed to be read by a couple as they contemplate and embark upon marriage. Many chapters include a list of issues to be resolved in relation to the subject under discussion as well as points that could be the subject of mutual discussion. While of particular value to a couple studying the book together these lists may also be considered with profit by any reader.

.Geoff Henstock

(This review was first published in the Lampstand magazine September - October  2008, and is published here with their permission)

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