‘Not another book on Christian marriage‘, you might cry!
I had the opportunity to write a foreword to my friend Steve Donald’s up-coming book on marriage, Marriages Are Made in Heaven, published by Evangelical Press.
Steve particularly considers how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility play out as we consider marriage, both for those approaching or weighing up marriage and those already married.
For me, it was a chance to reflect on how marriage is considered in our cultural moment and I re-print the foreword here with Steve’s blessing and commend the book for the reasons below…
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife …”
Austen on the Money?
Times have changed dramatically since Jane Austen penned those priceless words to begin what is often heralded as one of the best works of romantic fiction ever written, Pride & Prejudice. And yet despite its accolades, Austen’s subtle genius as a commentator for our times is perhaps not as acknowledged as it should be. She wryly observed the first impacts of social currents that we continue to swim in today: the rise of the individual, the place of personal choice, and the fragmenting of cultural norms.
Of course, those currents have totally re-shaped our social landscape in the two hundred years that have passed since Austen’s day—and we perhaps glimpse that nowhere more starkly than when it comes to marriage. Undoubtedly some of this change has been helpful, as we’ve disposed of cultural baggage that had been mistakenly taken as biblical principle. But it’s also meant, when it comes to marriage, that we now find ourselves torn as a culture. On one hand we idolise the Netflix image of the couple, who seem both fully loved and fully known. And yet on the other hand we also idolise our so-called freedoms—including ultimately the right to self-determine our identities. As such we baulk or get edgy about the lifelong commitment of marriage. This is our culture’s paradox, as we try to figure out if and how these two ideals can co-exist.
And this brings us from Pride & Prejudice to the book in your hands, Marriages are Made in Heaven. Now, Steve Donald is not claiming to be Jane Austen, but it is his own cultural observations that have led to this particular choice of subject matter. Anyone who dares think they may have something to add to the already overcrowded canon of Christian marriage literature is a brave author. But actually, the significance of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in approaching marriage is a refreshing focus for our times.
It’s often said that those of us currently under-40 are ‘optioned-out’, distracted-to-death, and commitment-phobic. Some of us might point to the misguided priorities of our forebears and argue we find ourselves here as a result of others’ decisions. But regardless, it is still here that we find ourselves—and we need to acknowledge this place. What is this like as a lived-experience? Well, I find the words disorientating, overwhelming and flimsy crop up often enough in conversation. Throw into the mix the idea of committing ourselves to one person for life and you start to see it’s no wonder that people are uneasy about marriage.
But it’s here that Steve shows us seeing our lives and marriages against the backdrop of God’s sovereign goodness brings real assurance and true freedom. In particular, Steve’s way of unpacking the Bible’s teaching on ‘destined perfection’ throws us a lifebuoy of hope amidst these unsettling currents. Whether we are married (happily/unhappily/bit of both) or single (happily/unhappily/bit of both), knowing this God brings Rest for our restlessness.
I think it’s worth saying that the subject of marriage is inevitably going to be intensely personal. Going back to Austen, her varied examples in Pride & Prejudice comically illustrate for us that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’. Sometimes we can take this too far and be resistant to any input into our own marriages. And yet in my experience, most of us still want to lean in to other people’s experiences and stories— especially when it’s one generation to another. Maybe in part that comes from a humble recognition that every marriage is a work in progress.
So, whatever your situation, full marks for picking this book up and seeking encouragement. I think you’ll find Steve a trusty guide, as he balances sharing honestly from his own story, without treating it as a roadmap for everyone else. And thank you to Steve, for lifting our eyes from off spouse (whether the spouse of our dreams, our expectations or reality) and instead fixing them on our everlasting God, helping us to rediscover that ‘those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength … they will walk and not be faint’ (Isaiah 40:31, NIV).
Marriages Are Made in Heaven is published on 14th February 2021, but you can pre-order from the distributor here.