February 2008 – What does it take to overcome conflicts in marriage? A short list of solutions aimed at Christians would surely include a deeper understanding of God’s design for marriage, better communication skills, understanding your partner’s needs, a marriage renewal retreat and more romance.
So, add one more solution to the list: the Gospel.
In When Sinners Say “I Do,” (Shepherd Press, 2007) author Dave Harvey takes a hard look at marriage and comes to one conclusion concerning the root of conflicts: sin. Then he unfolds how the good news of Jesus Christ applied to marriage, can transform our conflicts, our weaknesses and even our sex lives.
AFA Journal: You claim that a good marriage is built on good theology. Explain that connection.
Dave Harvey: What we believe about God determines the quality of our marriage. Every married couple has some kind of authority on which they think their marriage should be based. It might be feeling or traditions, or it might be how their parents related to one another.
In the book I’m trying to say that the Scripture must be an interpretive lens not only for how we understand God, which is most important, but how we understand our spouse and the purpose of the marriage and the conflicts in the trenches of everyday life.
AFAJ: A main theme of the book comes from a quote by Puritan minister Thomas Watson: “Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” How does that apply to marrige?
DH: Only when we really understanding the problem can we delight in the solution provided in Jesus. Then we must import that solution into the reality of our marriages. The entire book unpacks this theme.
AFAJ: You write, “God uses marriage to change the heart and change the soul.” Are you implying that there is some greater spiritual purpose to marriage?
DH: The point is that marriage is not first about us, but about God. One of the primary intentions of God in marriage is that we make a statement about Christ and the church. Of course, I’m thinking back to Ephesians 5.
The idea is that marriage exists for something beyond itself. There is something far greater that we are caught up in and it should captivate us. Christian marriages have the opportunity, privilege and responsibility to mirror forth something to each other and to the world regarding Christ’s love for the church.
AFAJ: Why have you taken this very different approach?
DH: I have pastored in the same church for over two decades. That has put me in touch with some remarkable stories about how the Gospel has made a difference in the lives of people. But I don’t mean the Gospel only as the salvation message, but the Gospel that we need each and every day. I mean the Gospel that reminds us that there is bad news that the good news answers.
I’ve also taken this approach because I’m a husband who has made plenty of mistakes.
AFAJ: Explain your phrase “the fog of war” to describe conflict in marriage.
DH: With war comes a certain fog, a pitch of battle that often renders us unable to discern our surroundings and our hearts. God wants to clear away the fog by the application of His Word.
So how does the Bible describe conflicts? In the Scripture it is the clash of desires – two people that are coming together in marriage, but want different things. I think of the James 4 passage that says “What causes fights and quarrels among you? It’s your passions at war with you.”
So I’m trying to illustrate that fundamentally conflict is an expression of desires that are not being satisfied. So first we must clear away the fog and see ourselves for who we are. And who we are before God so we can move through the fog and really begin to bring joy and delight in God and in our marriages.
When G.K. Chesterton was asked what’s wrong with the world, he responded: “I am.” That’s where Scripture defines the root of the problems of life including marriage.
AFAJ: The last chapter is titled “When Sinners Say Goodbye.” Summarize your thoughts concerning the ending of a marriage through death.
DH: One of the goals of a Biblical marriage must include preparing each other for the inevitability of death and meeting the Savior.
I tell the story in the book of sitting by my father’s bed as he lay dying and seeing my mom, his wife for 43 years, urging him to run to Jesus and to wait for her there. She assured him that Jesus would take care of her.
Now I’ve watched her for the past 13 or 14 years open a new chapter of service and delight in Christ. She certainly passed through the inevitable time of mourning and grief, but God was not done with her.
I am grateful for such examples.