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Marriage Love:
The Vision and Its Realization

by Rev. Peter M. Buss

1. Romance: The Beginning, or Is That all There is?

They met at a party, and for years afterwards they can remember how it was between them. He recalls the dress she wore, and the way her hair hung so gracefully around her shoulders. She can still see the blue of his eyes, and the hesitant smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth, when he wondered if she would mile at him, or go on to look at someone else. They remember their first date, and the shyness that slowly disappeared into eager friendship. And how often have they talked about the milestones in their courtship, until that night on the beach when they walked hand in hand, and promised to love each other forever? All the memories coming to focus in a simple ceremony when their hearts echoed the words of Jesus: "They are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

Was it all a dream? Didn't it mean anything? Does that kind of love, which we so delight to read of, and watch in young people, just fizzle out? Is there nothing left ten years later, among the diapers and the dishes, and the bills, and the assistant manager's job he wants so badly? Is love born in two people only to die in disillusionment? Did Jesus lie when He said, "They are no more two, but one flesh?" Is He unable to keep that other promise He made when He said, "And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh?" (Ezekiel 36:26).

What do you think?

You know, the funny thing is that most of us have strangely contradictory views on marriage. There is a part of us which forms expectations based solely on our own experience. If our parents were happily married, we tend to have a hopeful attitude for ourselves. If we have been close to someone who has had a bad experience, we are suspicious of our own partners, or of the durability of our own contract. And often our suspicions cause us to make them come true. We look for signs where there are none. We are suspicious where we need not be, and drive our partners into attitudes they never wanted to have.

We are also tempted to accept the prevailing opinion of the group among whom we live. If your friends think highly of the marriage bond, you are likely to do so too: if they treat it lightly, it's rather easy to follow their lead.

Then there is that somewhat inexplicable part of us that wants marriage to be wonderful and ideal. Our whole heart rebels with sadness at the thought that those deep and tender moments that two lovers share must come to an end. We feel that romantic love ought to be the herald of something that lasts forever, like it promises; and we want - oh how badly we want - to believe it.

Both in the New Testament and in the teachings of Swedenborg, the Lord has told us that we can trust this last instinct. "They two shall be one flesh" - that is, one desire, one love. In the Writings of Swedenborg, he has spoken in detail of true marriage love, and what it is like, and how it gets deeper and deeper to all eternity - just like we hope it would do.

Perhaps the most important part of these teachings is that marriage love can be perfect, and eternal, because that was the way the Lord intend ed it to be, from the beginning. "He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. Wherefore they are no more two but one flesh." It was part of creation that there should be two totally different types of people, who should be born to come together in marriage.

The differences between men and women, Swedenborg teaches, starts in the souls of each. They were made different - although he insists (well ahead of his time) that there is no question of inferiority: eternally equal, eternally different. But, more important, they were created with a deep-seated longing to be joined to each other. The attraction between men and women is stamped on their very souls: a longing to be joined to the other half of creation.

It is a part of the Lord's tremendous love for His children that He made this one special love which is above every other love. We have lots of friends. We care deeply for some people. We love a few of them. And then there is one person whom we can love above all others. The Lord only can be alone - that is, He doesn't need one special recipient for His love. But we are made to long for one person who can share all levels of life with us, and in showing kindness to whom we find the deepest peace of our souls.

It all makes such sense, if we believe in a loving God. Isn't it reasonable to feel that He would grant us levels of love, and degrees of care? And that He could make someone who could love us without reserve, to whom we would always be the first, and most precious person? Love refined to the highest degree - instinctively we sense that that is what romance and love and marriage are all about.

That leads us to two questions. First, can He make it happen? Can He take ordinary, basically selfish people, and lead them by the hand until they love someone else more than they love themselves? Can He lead them through the trials of intimacy to its true delight? Can He stop us from spoiling it all along the way?

And the second question is, Can He do it for everyone? If marriage is such a wonderful gift, will He give it to all of us, or just to a few favorites?

The answer to both questions is Yes. If there is a God in heaven - and there is: If He works wonders in the human heart - and He does: then He is surely wise enough to give us a love that is as perfect as our imaginations can conceive. And He is able to lead us to it, through all the trials of life, because He is God, and things like mercy, and forgiveness, and understanding and sympathy are real things, not empty words. He can teach us these things, and He can show us how to use them.

And He is everyone's God, so His most priceless gift is for everyone.

2. Teach Us to Love

If marriage ought to be such an ideal relationship, why does it so often go wrong? Why do people who start out with such high hopes suffer such a let-down? Nobody gets married, expecting it to come to an end. What happens to so many marriages?

There are lots of reasons, far too many to list. But one of the reasons is ignorance. It seems strange to say it, yet it is true that people don't know how to love. We all think we do, but we sometimes have to find out by bitter experience that the thing we called love was just another form of selfishness, and that we were using someone, not loving him or her.

It is even more strange that we don't even know what love is at times. We think of the more noisy emotions as love, and don't hear the deep quiet voices in our spirits which would lead us to true love.

The simple truth is that mankind needs to be told what true love is, and how to experience it. That's what the Word of God is all about, and that's why the Lord commanded us to love one another, and told us to imitate His love, so we could learn how it should be shown.

Now He has caused a book to be written about marriage love. Its title is "Conjugial Love," by Emanuel Swedenborg, and it is a book about marriage, inspired by the Lord Himself, so that we may learn from the Creator Himself what He wants this bond to be. Let me tell you a little about this book.

It starts with the ideal. Three essential concepts: marriage is forever, in heaven after death; it is the most perfect love two people can have; and it is from the Lord, and therefore it can be trusted to keep on going.

Swedenborg tells of that love as it is in heaven. He speaks of people who have left this world and gone to heaven, and how they have enjoyed a complete and ever-deepening love for hundreds of years, living in heaven in the bloom of early youth. He makes the point that no love which dies is worth considering, for in its death we will know perhaps a deeper sorrow than the joy we felt when we had it. God would be cruel if He made us love someone deeply, and then tore that person from us forever by death. Love goes on in the other world, and marriage love especially survives the grave, and takes up where it left off.

So you can promise to love someone forever, and really mean it. If the love is true, it will never die. The basic reason is that God is the author of marriage, and He has both the power and the goodness, to give us such a gift, in increasing measure.

But the book doesn't just deal with the hopes and visions. It also talks about practicalities. It tells of coldness, and how it can grow up between people, and what to do about it - speaking in terms that touch any state of mind. It tells of marriages which are less then the ideal, but are between good, clean - living people who are trying to do what is right; and it tells of the Lord's blessings upon these too.

It speaks about the proper preparation for marriage, and the steps leading to the final union. It also speaks of some deep and spiritual changes which take place in two people as they journey into their marriage, and how in wonderful ways they are altered, as the love within them settles down into a steady and enduring fire.

As if that were not enough, the book then goes on to the ugly side of the marriage covenant, and speaks of the ways in which the hells attack it, and the various evils which people can commit against it. There is no dark corner of a person's mind which is not touched, no shameful feeling that the Lord does not bring into the light, and show for what it is. He does it for a warning, but He does it in mercy too, because only when we see our baser feelings for what they are can we reject them.

It is a book, written to bring hope to a world that sometimes despairs of ideal marriage. It tells the simple truth: there is a God, and He has made a love most rare, and He can make it the common blessing upon all people, if only they want it. It shows the way towards this tender love, and promises that He will be with us every step of the way, making it a reality.

Remember the name of the book: Conjugial Love, by Emanuel Swedenborg. He used the word "conjugial" as a special term to mean the love of marriage, and one of the teachings in the book is: "There is a love truly conjugial, the delights of which are myriads, scarcely any of which the world knows: but it will know them." It will know them when people on earth turn to their Lord with open hearts.

3. Are there Different Rules for Marriage?

Are the rules for marriage different from those for other kinds of love? Well, you will probably answer, in some ways they definitely are. For example, Christian law teaches that physical, sexual love is proper only within marriage.

That's fine. The bond of marriage is different, the covenant different. But are the rules of kindness different? Some people seem to think so. You will hear someone say such a thing as, "I got married, but it wasn't what I'd bargained for" - the implication being that therefore he had the right to break the bargain. People think that if this covenant isn't fun all the time, why should they be bound by it? If one's wife gets sick, and instead of a healthy exciting partner he has one who is struggling with illness, he thinks he has the right to get out of the marriage.

That's because for some reason we tend to look on marriage as an institution which isn't run by usual rules of charity. The love between a man and a woman is such a magnificent thing, if it's right, that for the sake of a new attraction, someone can behave in ways he wouldn't tolerate at any other time! The rules are different, because this is love.

The Writings of Swedenborg certainly don't say that, and neither does the Bible. The rules of marriage, Swedenborg says, are the same rules as those by which we get to heaven. He emphasizes again and again that the principles of marriage, and those of the Christian life, are exactly the same!

What are some of the principles of Christian life? Take honor. When we get married, we do so because our hearts are full of the rewards we expect, and the joy of our love. In that spirit we make promises, and give a great deal to each other while that love is strong. Is it honorable to break that promise because the benefits don't excite us quite as much as they used to? What would we think of a business partner, or a friend who made an agreement and broke it in that wav?

How about integrity? Part of the agreement of a couple who marry in a Christian way is that they will not look for love outside of their marriage. Yet many people "play with fire," having little flirtations to liven up their lives, and then one day they get burned. And they say, "I didn't ask to fall in love with this other person." But the "falling in love" would never have happened if they'd behaved with integrity in the first place.

Then there's honesty. It's funny how we can love someone so much, and yet say totally dishonest things when we're angry. A couple has its first quarrel, and the wife says, "I hate you" - to the person she knows very well she loves most. Why? Well, because she wants to hurt him at that moment, and doubtless she does. But what right has she to he to do it? Think of comments like "If you really loved me you would do this, or that." How does a loving husband or wife, who has been a little human, or neglectful, as we all are, answer that statement. It's a deliberate lie.

It's a part of a moral life to be grateful, and to remember what others have done for us. A couple spend years - 20 or more - giving to each other, helping each other through difficult times, supporting each other in financial and other ways. An obligation is built up. We don't demand it of each other. We demand it of ourselves. The wife doesn't say, "Look at all I have done for you." But the husband should say, "I acknowledge, and remember all those kindnesses, and all the trust, and all the giving through the years. I'm grateful."

It is so easy to forget obligations, to push someone else's kindness to the back of the mind. So we have people who have been married 20 years, and the one gets tired of the marriage, and forgets all that kindness. He or she says, "It's no longer good for me; I'm leaving for something better."

But the . most important Christian virtue is charity itself - kindness, consideration, willing well to another in all things of life. At the marriage ser vice we promise to love and cherish above all other people this one to whom we are united. At first that's easy. But marriage is duty. It is showing kindness when it's not easy; acting from love when we feel selfish instead; honoring a love which we promised even though it is not strongly felt at that particular moment. Marriage is being a considerate and thoughtful human being, first and foremost to the person whose happiness is most dependent on you.

Love isn't only fun. There is the labor of love. "If ye love them who love you, what reward have ye," the Lord asked. We could turn that around a bit and say, If you're only nice to your partner when you feel like it, if you're only thoughtful when it doesn't cost you any effort, if you're only loving when you feel in the mood, regardless of what the other feels - then are you really a loving person?

So we can re-state the laws of marriage simply: the same qualities that make you a decent, worthwhile, kind human being will make you a good husband or wife. If you don't have those qualities you won't be a good husband or wife. No matter how deeply you feel, no matter how strongly you profess towering, eternal love, you are not to be trusted, because the human goodness which makes you a truly loving person when the going gets rough are not there.

Faith and charity make a true marriage love. Faith - the firm belief that an everlasting, and totally kind love is possible. Let's believe that, God Himself has promised us that kind of love, if we want it. It is real. He can make it. He made the world: He can make a fire in your heart that will never die, and that will warm you with tenderness towards another human being in a way that you never believed possible.

But most of all, marriage is charity, refined to its purest essence - the total commitment to promoting the happiness of one person who is most precious. When you stand before the altar and promise yourself, you get from your partner the greatest gift in the world. He or she gives you a human heart. You take that heart in your hands, and you have the power to abuse it, and to hurt it, and to humiliate it, until eventually that person says, "I'm sorry, I can't stand this any more, I take it back." Or, you can take that heart, and hurt it sometimes - because we all hurt those we love - but try most of the time to treat it as the precious thing it is. You can look on your marriage as a holy trust, and handle that person's love with ever-growing charity. Then Your hold on his or her heart will become at once more strong, and more gentle, and you'll never need to let go.

Swedenborg teaches that nearly all people love their children, because that is an instinct, inspired by God. But only a truly good man can love his wife properly - and a good wife her husband. Think about that: the love between husband and wife does not exist in hell; it belongs only in heaven.

One last thing that is of immeasurable comfort to many people. Perhaps you are single, or divorced, or married to someone who no longer loves you. The tendency is to become discouraged with marriage as a whole; or else to feel that because you did not succeed you've lost your only chance. But the teachings of the New Christian Church offer a new kind of hope.

You see, the love of marriage is the highest form of charity, and the Lord gives it in time to everyone who will come into His heaven! So you are in the love of marriage if you believe in charitable, kind love - of any kind. Let's say you are divorced. Perhaps you have many things that you regret about your marriage. But are you trying to be a kind and wise and concerned person? Do you try to shun the evils you find in yourself? Do you try to serve the people who need you, honestly and with diligence? Well then, doesn't that make you a person worth loving? And if so, if you are turning to the Lord, then He is preparing for you someone whom in time you can love with all your heart, and in whom you can repose all your trust. It might be in this world, it might be in heaven; but it will come. It will come, because in loving what is right you also love the true ideals of marriage.

Marriage is His greatest gift. And the price you pay? Obedience to God, and His laws. "True marriage love," Swedenborg says, "is known only to the few who are near to God" (Conjugial Love, para. 113).

4. The Rewards of Total Love

When we feel romantic we talk in flowery terms about marriage, and all it does for us, and sometimes the words seem a bit forced. On the other hand, talking of our love is a good thing. Putting it into words, finding ways of telling someone how much he or she means to you is a real contribution to that person's happiness. How often do you hear of someone saying she is sick of hearing her husband say how much he loves her?

In the remarkable book about marriage called Conjugial Love, Swedenborg talks about the rewards of true marriage love. He makes the point that they go on forever, because a couple who love each other tenderly here on earth will go right on doing so in the world to come, and will live as husband and wife in the Lord's kingdom. These eternal rewards are of course mental ones - joys, and deep delights which they share.

The first one he mentions is innocence. When two people really love each other, they are often like children. They enjoy playing together, they share very simple jokes, together they can be like two children, where before the world they seem quite stern, or most upright and serious. On a deeper plane, they have an openness of feeling with each other. A couple may look into each other's eyes, and the only way to describe their communication is to say it's innocent. They aren't afraid to be helpless in the presence of their love, they aren't afraid to let their deepest loves be seen. As children are not proud, and accept the kindnesses shown by their parents, so married partners can learn to ask the things of love, and to offer them, with total trust.

There is an even deeper plane of innocence too - the fact that two people can share with each other their willingness to let the Lord lead them. We are helpless in the presence of the Lord; we need everything from Him. Perhaps only with our partners can we truly share that realization.

Another reward of marriage is peace. You have tranquility when your love is certain, you don't have to worry about competition, you don't have to fear that your partner will stop loving you. A loved partner is a haven in the storms of life, someone you can cling to if things are bad, and know that he or she will always care. That's tranquility. Peace is even deeper - it's the positive joy of living in such a haven. The delight of doing good things with someone who is your partner, and never a competitor; the happiness of working as a team in all the good things the Lord has given you to do; that wonderful feeling inside of you when you know that no angry or hurtful feeling is going to come between you, that with this person you can live your life in safety - these things are the peace of marriage. You won't have that perfect peace until you get to heaven, but you'll get snatches of it here on earth if you work for it - you'll get glimpses of the heaven that's waiting for you.

Coming down to earth a little more, one of the most tangible rewards of marriage is friendship, and the confidence that goes with it. Getting to be good friends is something you can actually watch happen. Often people fall in love, and friendship seems to come later, but it is surely an essential ingredient of any love. Swedenborg calls it the face, and the clothing of love.

What does that mean? Well, clothes are worn, and put off, they are not a part of a person. A certain garment might be treasured for a year or two, and then rejected without any regret. The clothes of love are the things good friends do together. When you're young, you might go hiking, or play tennis, or build the cupboards in your kitchen. It's fun. It brings you closer together. But with time your interests change, and so the garments of love change. You find different things to share.

But the face is part of a person. It doesn't get cast off. The face of love is sharing feelings about the things of earthly life. It's communicating, it's giving the ideas and feelings of your mind to someone. That's more precious.

You know, it's a funny thing, but friendship in marriage has to be learned. Many people - usually, the husbands - find sharing their ideas and feelings a hard thing to do. But as two people grow together, and as they work on communication, and learn to trust the other not to hurt them if they open up, then they find ways to break through the barriers inside of them. They give of themselves, and find deep pleasure in doing so, and they find a friendship that is on a higher plane than any other one.

Swedenborg mentions one more reward of true marriage love - the heartfelt wish to do whatever good things you can for your partner. That tender concern for the mind and body of the loved one is the most tangible blessing of a complete love.

Now maybe it seems that all these blessings are just so many words. People might be tempted to say, "Innocent, trusting love; peaceful love; complete and confident friendship; that doesn't sound like the kind of marriage I know." It sounds impractical.

Every ideal sounds impractical. Every promise the Lord makes for our happiness sounds impractical. And let's face it, if we are going to try to do it for ourselves, it's not just impractical, it's hopeless. You can't build your marriage into an ideal, totally loving union. You can't invent peace and innocence in your relationship.

These aren't pipe-dreams pulled out of the air. They are promises from the God of heaven and earth, and He can make them happen. He can do it for every person who was ever born, if that person wants it.

Isn't it true that you want it? Don't you want to live your life on earth with someone whom you love and cherish with growing charity? Don't you want to regain your youth and good looks in heaven, and walk the fields of heaven and serve the God of heaven as a completely loving couple, ever young, always together?

Well you can. Because our Lord has said you can, if you want it badly enough; and He can make it come true.

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