The Vision and Its Realization
by Rev. Peter M. Buss
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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).
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
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
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