After Mari and I got married, one of our favorite marriage books was Dave Harvey’s, “When Sinners Say ‘I Do’” (as well as Winston Smith’s, “Marriage Matters”). Harvey, president of Great Commission Collective and serves on the board for the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), having been married to his wife Kimm for some 40 years, provides a marriage book that couples the gospel with the long-view of marriage. You not only want to start your marriage off on the right foot, recognizing that you are both imperfect and need the gospel daily, you need to do it for years and years. This involves what Harvey calls “defining moments.” These defining moments occur at pivotal turns in your marriage, and how your respond determines the ongoing health of your marriage. (We will all make mistakes, but we need to be gracious, merciful, hard-working, humble, and ready to repent!).
Now, it isn’t enough to see that you are sinners; there are other reasons for our weaknesses and failures. Harvey gives a personal example of how he has trouble expressing emotion. Rather than just being a “typical guy,” he provides some family background about how both of his parents weren’t feelers, but doers (19). Dave recognizes that his emotional disconnect is a weakness in his own life and a deficit within his marriage (20). But his main points is that there are profound factors that shape who we are besides mere “sin” in our hearts–“influences that can’t be so easily traced back to sinful desires” (20). Harvey adds, “We often encounter weaknesses or personality differences in marriage and instantly try to moralize them. We assign motives and the ascribe sin to our spouse’s actions and omissions. But cultivating a durable marriage involves recognizing that our brokenness is broader than sin” (20).
Harvey delves into this in chapter 2. He presents a group of nested circles (taken from an illustration shown to him by David Powlison). The circles begins with the human heart, then moves outward to how we are physically embodied => socially embedded => spiritually embattled => and we stand under the God of providence.
Our human hearts are imperfect, and they show (or hide) our desires. Our hearts live inside human bodies, which are frail, weak, aging, and imperfect. We are forgetful. We get sick, depressed; we get tumors and cancer. Our bodies impact our souls. We are shaped by our social environment. Did you grow up rich, middle-class, poor? Two parents or one? Loving or abusive parents? Over-bearing or abrasive? Couples need to understand “the influence of their personal history–to see that past experiences have present influence, that past family life remains a present force of behavior” (32). These influences “do not determine our behavior, but they deeply influence how we think and choose” (33). As well, there are spiritual forces at work amongst us, and it can be near impossible to put our finger on how. How does Satan work with our temptations? How is he at work in division and false teaching? Finally we live within God’s sovereignty. All things are going according to his purposes, though we can’t and won’t see what his plans are until the very end. Everything that occurs in our lives, all of the physical and social pressures, our desires and temptations, are under God’s eye, care, and “astounding providence” (37).
This helps us to (1) envision “the scope of Christ’s transforming work” (38). We all have been uniquely influenced by our surroundings, and we have responded differently because of our personalities, beliefs, reasoning, etc. Yet Christ is at work in us and in your spouse, transforming us to be more like him. Because Christ has solved the problem of our heart, the rest of the issues will follow, though there will always be struggle. (2) Our marriage is a place of “whole person ministry” (40). The problems that arise often do not bring easy answers. Marriage is a complex gift given by God (40). “You are to learn who they [your spouse] are as a whole person so that you can skillfully love and care for them… [This] does require you to see beyond patterns of temptation and sin to God’s larger purpose” (40).
(3) These nested circles “help us to adapt to changes in our marriage” (41). Whether due to age, gravity, illness, pregnancy, stress, or any number of reasons, your spouse will change. “Being married long means adapting much” (42). Aging brings about weaker bodies, and you will need to revisit the nested circles more and more often.
Harvey brings the gospel into resisting the urge to blame-shift, to repent often, show much mercy, and forgive every time, and to be able to suffer well (or, at least, to endure and help when your spouse suffers), and to keeping going when your dreams disappoint. People have many dreams about marriage: I get to be married to my best friend…forever! I’ll never be lonely again. Love will keep us together. But as Harvey reminds us, love requires sacrifice. We must daily sacrifice our own time, wants, and desires for our spouse, and it’s not always easy. And loneliness still comes even to married couples. Besides having rocky times in marriage, other aspects of life can make you feel lonely (long work hours, dealing with children makes you exhausting, having and elderly parent in the home, etc.). Harvey provides steps to take which require work, but they plant seeds for a marriage that continues to flourish in the future.
This is a great book. Harvey writes well, is self-deprecating, and easily shows how the gospel provides the answer for our problems. If you’re newly married, I would recommend his first book “When Sinners Say ‘I Do’” and this book. Read this one second, of course, but think about how you can plan for the future and being laying the groundwork now. If you’ve been married for a while, buy this, read it, and talk to each other to see how you can continue growing together in Christ.
- Author: Dave Harvey
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Baker Books (January 21, 2020)
- Sample: Read Chapter One!
Buy it from Amazon or Baker Books!
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.