Those who are in love know it. The poets write about it. We even watch movies about it. But rarely do we find a church that teaches it– that is, that true love is everlasting. It cannot die. The Writings of the New Church teach that those who truly love each other will dwell together in heaven after death. Their love and their care for each other remains, and grows. Their joy in working together in service to God and to other fellow human beings flourishes, and takes on a newness each day. Swedenborg’s description of the afterlife is a complete picture and makes sense. He says that all who die enter into the other world safe and secure. Heaven is a very real world, more real than the world of appearances around us, for everything in heaven corresponds to deeper loves within ourselves. We have homes, gardens, and friends. Heaven is not a cloud upon which we sit and play harps or continually adore God through endless worship. True worship is a way of life. People are very active in heaven. Everyone there performs a function or “use” which they love to do and become more proficient in each new day, and what they do benefits everyone around them. “Heaven,” Swedenborg says, “is a kingdom of uses.”
This concept holds true of marriage as well. Good marriages are active marriages. In heaven, each partner works in harmony with the other in acts of charity and love. An idle life is not only a dull life, but it can lead to lethargy and self-centeredness. People who view life as only a means of self-fulfillment create a hell for themselves which they take with them after death. Hell is not a place of punishment where God sends a person for not following His rules. Rather, hell is a place where people freely go who have stubbornly refused to let love into their lives, and who do not wish to help others. It is a frustrating life and truly is a state of hell, for evil brings upon itself its own punishment, and a selfish life leads to dissatisfaction and eventual gloom. Those who approach marriage as a means for self-satisfaction alone will find this same dissatisfaction with their relationship, and the hell that is often created in a marriage is the product of a selfish heart that acts contrary to true marriage love. Marriage brings blessings, but the blessings come into their fullness through acts of unselfishness and charity to the neighbor.
“Divine Providence has as its end in view a person’s eternal salvation, thus not their great happiness in the world, not – that is to say – wealthiness and eminence which people during their lifetime think real happiness consists in.”
Often on television today weddings are portrayed as joyful events while marriages look like a burden. Carry the contentment and joy of your wedding day on into your life together.
We live in a world that is saturated with images of happiness. I can be driving along contentedly when I see a billboard that instantly convinces me that I would be happier if I stopped and bought fries and a cola. But wait! I don’t even like soda! Other commercials convince me that happiness comes with a new car. Without my paying attention, that message takes root in my brain. Ideas of what happiness looks like are imposed on me from the outside all the time. But, I can also choose to take the lead. I can promote feelings of contentment with what I already have.
I heard of a man who loved and missed his wife deeply after she died. One way he nourished that love was to take her framed picture with him wherever he traveled, unpack it first and put it up in plain view. Another couple I know say their wedding vows on the first day of every month, to strengthen their commitment. Sometimes they are not feeling especially happy when they start, but we can lead our feelings with greater intention than comes from glancing at a billboard.
My own dear husband has a new motto. He says “You are my highest priority.” Sometimes it is completely heartfelt, and other times I wonder if he is reminding himself. I, too, have been known to forget. Often in our marriage support groups we start by inviting couples to tell the story of how they fell in love. It is delightful to see the change in them as they speak, taking out memories and dusting them off.
I have never played football. But I have watched movies of people who do. I have seen teams that were discouraged slump in at halftime and hear a pep talk that rejuvenates their resolve and sends them tearing back onto the field. They have learned ways to shift from hopelessness to cheering with abandon.
Recently, there were people who went to great lengths to get tickets to the World Series games in Philadelphia. In a depressed economy they were still highly motivated to spend a month’s mortgage to be at a game in the pouring rain that they could have watched from their cozy living rooms. Imagine if we put a similar amount of effort and commitment into creating happiness in our marriages!
We can choose good things for our marriages. We can look at pictures of our ideals instead of advertising for fast food and cars. We can recite the words that once came so easily, and so invite those feelings to return. We can tell our own stories and hear them anew. We can find a coach or mentor who can cheer us on at halftime. We can choose to attend a conference that surrounds us with a community of love for marriage. And maybe we will find ourselves in the midst of a jubilant parade, celebrating the victory of marriage.
It’s a common belief across many cultures that people in love will be reunited after death, and people who have had near-death experiences consistently describe deceased friends and family being there to greet the newly departed. For a couple who is married, or deeply in love, it can be a wonderful promise . . . or the source of some awkward questions. What if one spouse dies and the living one remarries? What if your relationship wasn’t happy and you don’t want to see your spouse again? What if you’re in love with someone but not interested in marriage? What if a person never finds “the one” at all?
Over the course of decades, Emanuel Swedenborg had the extraordinary experience of traveling back and forth between this world and the next; and he wrote detailed accounts of the things that he saw and heard there. It’s up to his readers to decide if they believe him or not; but for those who do, he offers a unique perspective on marriage in the afterlife.
Swedenborg describes seeing married couples reunited after death. But did they stay together eternally? Well . . . maybe:
It often happens that married partners meet [in the afterlife] and welcome each other joyfully. They stay together as well, but for a longer or shorter time depending on how happily they had lived together in the world. Ultimately, unless they had been united by real marriage love (which is a union of minds from heavenly love), they separate after having been together for a while. (Heaven and Hell494)
This is where Swedenborg departs from the popular view of love in the afterlife: he says that if two people who were together in life weren’t really in love, then they won’t be together in heaven either. Swedenborg describes incompatible couples as gradually growing farther and farther apart. Each is attracted to people with whom they have more in common: “Like are drawn toward like.” However, if two people are truly in love, they will grow closer to each other in heaven.
If people in the afterlife find themselves incompatible with their former partners, or if they never experienced that kind of deep love while on earth, Swedenborg says, they can find their match in heaven:
Throughout heaven, people who are similar gather together and people who are dissimilar part company. This means that every community consists of like-minded people. Like are drawn toward like not by their own will but by the Lord. In the same way, spouse is drawn toward spouse when their minds can be united into one. So at first sight they love each other most deeply, see each other as married partners, and enter into their marriage. This is why all of heaven’s marriages are the work of the Lord alone. (Heaven and Hell 383)
What does it mean to be truly in love? Many people have many different definitions, but Swedenborg has a term for it—marriage love (or, in older translations, conjugial love). This is a huge topic in his theological writings, and if you want to explore it in detail, check out this episode of our weekly webcast. But in a nutshell, for Swedenborg, marriage love means a spiritual union of souls. According to him, the earthly institution of marriage isn’t the same thing as a spiritual marriage; and the experience of being in love with someone doesn’t necessarily equate to the kind of compatibility needed to bond on the level of the soul. To really understand what he means by marriage requires a quick theological detour.
Swedenborg often expresses spiritual principles in binary: Love and wisdom. Good and truth. Will and understanding (or, in some translations, volition and discernment). Throughout his writings, he often associates these characteristics with specific genders; he might say, for example, that wisdom is masculine and love is feminine. That doesn’t mean that only men can be wise and only women can love. Rather, he’s describing a type of complementary energy that’s very similar to the Chinese concept of yin and yang. In Chinese thought, yin (receptive energy) is feminine and yang (projective energy) is masculine. Although that principle is sometimes applied very literally to men and women, philosophically what’s being described are two complementary types of energy that are in their most ideal state when they are joined together in perfect balance.
For Swedenborg, this is the essence of marriage love—two complementary forces or energies merging into one, and he frequently emphasizes the importance of balance between the two, with neither one dominating the other. When discussing concepts like love, good, and will, he’s describing a motive force or energy—something that pushes us into action or guides and supports us when we feel lost. Principles like wisdom, truth, and understanding, on the other hand, are all about structure; it’s about gathering the knowledge and developing the perception to take that positive energy and direct it where it will do the most good. Neither one of these principles will work properly without its other half.
So a spiritual marriage happens when two people who embody these complementary ideas come together, each bringing different perspectives to the union but at the same time like-minded in their goals and values. Although Swedenborg stresses that only two people can share this state at any one time, he leaves open the possibility that we might have more than one potentially right partner—in other words, that it’s not a matter of finding the one person in all the universe who’s right for you, but just a matter of finding a person who’s right for you. And once partners have chosen each other, he adds, their love brings them closer and closer in the afterlife until they appear to be a single person.
For those who aspire to spiritual union with another person, Swedenborg cautions that true marriage love is very rare in this world. While he stresses that people who are married on earth should respect their vows as a sacred obligation, he also says that most people (married or not!) don’t achieve an ideal state until they cross into the afterlife—and maybe not even then. He describes a diverse heaven where the differences between people help to create a greater perfection. People who would rather live alone can do so forever if they like, but people who want a spiritual union can always find that too.
Selection from Divine Providence ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
The Lord’s Divine providence causes both the evil and the falsity to be serviceable in the way of equilibrium, of relation, and of purification, and thus in the conjunction of good and truth in others.
The Lord’s Divine providence continually labors to unite truth with good, and good with truth in man, because such union is the church and is heaven; for there is such a union in the Lord and in all things that go forth from the Lord.
From that union heaven is called a marriage, and the church is called a marriage, and in consequence the kingdom of God is likened in the Word to a marriage. From that union the Sabbath in the Israelitish Church was the most holy thing of worship, for it signified that union. For the same reason in each and in all things of the Word there is a marriage of good and truth. The marriage of good and truth is from the marriage of the Lord with the church; and this is from the marriage of love and wisdom in the Lord; for good pertains to love, and truth to wisdom. From all this it can be seen that the unceasing object of the Divine providence is to unite good to truth and truth to good in man, for thus man is united to the Lord.
But inasmuch as many have sundered or are sundering this marriage, especially by the separation of faith from charity, since faith is of truth and truth is of faith, and charity is of good and good is of charity, and inasmuch as they thereby conjoin evil and falsity in themselves, and have thus become or are becoming opposite [to good and truth], the Lord provides that such shall still be of service for the conjunction of good and truth in others, as means of equilibrium, relation and purification.
The conjunction of good and truth in others is provided by the Lord, by means of the equilibrium between heaven and hell; for there is a constant exhalation from hell of evil and falsity together, while from heaven there is a constant exhalation of good and truth together. In this equilibrium every man is held as long as he lives in the world; and by means of it he is held in freedom to think, to will, to speak, and to do, and in this it is possible for him to be reformed.
The conjunction of good and truth is provided by the Lord by means of relation; since the quality of a good is known only by its relation to what is less good, and by its contrariety to evil. From this comes all power to perceive and to feel, since from this comes the quality of these powers; for thereby every thing enjoyable is perceived and felt from the less enjoyable and by means of what is not enjoyable, every thing beautiful from the less beautiful and by means of the unbeautiful; and likewise every good, which is of love, from the less good and by means of evil; and every truth, which is of wisdom, from the less true and by means of falsity. In every matter, from the greatest to the least of it, there must be variety; and when there is variety also in its opposite from its least to its greatest, and there is equilibrium between them, then there is relation according to degrees on both sides; and the perception and sensation of the thing either increase or diminish. But an opposite, as we should know, may take away perceptions and sensations or may exalt them; when it mingles itself it takes away; but when it does not mingle itself it exalts; and for this reason the Lord exactly separates good and evil in man, that they may not be mingled, just as He separates heaven and hell.
In others the conjunction of good and truth is provided by the Lord by means of purification, which is effected in two ways, one by temptations, and the other by fermentations. Spiritual temptations are nothing else than combats against the evils and falsities that are exhaled from hell and affect man. By these combats man is purified from evils and falsities, and good is conjoined to truth in him, and truth to good. Spiritual fermentations are effected in many ways, both in the heavens and on the earth; but in the world it is not known what they are or how they are effected. For there are evils and falsities together that do a work, when introduced into societies, like that of leaven put into meal, or ferments into new wine, by which heterogeneous things are separated and homogeneous things are conjoined, and purity and clearness are the result. These are meant by these words of the Lord:-
The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened (Matt. xiii. 33; Luke xiii. 21).
Heaven would not be heaven unless one could continue to partake in all the enjoyments and pleasures of life after the death of the physical body. This includes marriage and sexual intercourse.
To grasp this we have to take into account that heaven is not in time and space. Therefore, if individuals are enjoying life in the spiritual world, without a physical body, they must have spiritual bodies. Without the appropriate organic form, pleasure has no substantive subject by which it can really exist.
However, since spiritual bodies are non-physical, their organic forms, whether we are talking about a penis or vagina, can only be understood as the embodiment of the qualities of one’s heart and mind (which is one’s true spirit).
All spiritual bio-complexity consists of one’s true inner reality given real substantive and non-physical organic form. In other words, in the spiritual world non-material organs are generated out of all the aspects of our heart and understanding. All organic structure in heaven is psycho-topological.
A spiritual penis or vagina is therefore a more perfect embodiment of one’s love, values, and ideas as well.
A penis in the spiritual world reflects a male spirit’s ability and potency to probe the subject of his passion from his understanding. A spiritual vagina represents a woman’s receptivity and will to accept these qualities and potencies of her suitor by becoming the ultimate focus of his love.
This receptivity is the inner essence of a woman’s attractiveness and beauty in the spiritual world. A woman in heaven becomes more beautiful as she becomes the life and love of her husband’s spiritual understanding. A woman becomes a wife in this manner and is the only way two partners can be wedded in heaven.
The man becomes a more perfect husband and increasingly handsome as his spiritual knowledge increases. So the husband becomes the embodiment of his wife’s understanding and wisdom. The male and female genitals are the spiritual analog, and represent, the dynamics of this profound union.
This level of bonding is not generally known in on earth. But there is no way for two partners to become increasingly intimate with each other if they could not take on the intimacy that is found between a united understanding and its will. This increased intimacy allows a heavenly marriage to be perfected through eternity.
Sexual intercourse in heaven mirrors this dynamic as the spiritual act of a husband’s understanding seeking union with the wife’s love. Wives in heaven are spiritually formed so that they can be impregnated by the ideas of their husband’s understanding (his ideas are his spiritual seed).
The husband’s ideas gestate in the wife’s heart. She brings them to life in the spiritual world as new qualities of love and wisdom that are shared by both partners (because they always act as one spirit). Spiritual offspring are the things generated from this holy union – increased love and service for the heavenly community.
Rather than a multiplication of people, spiritual progeny are the multiplication of usefulness and goodness.
In God’s scheme, whether on earth or in the spiritual world, all intercourse is for the sake of impregnation and creation. All creation has origins in the marriage of God’s love and truth. All sexual intercourse follows this Holy pattern to promote and give birth to something fruitful in the universe.
Those in heaven do not engage in anal intercourse or make use of dildos. In the spiritual world, these things represent corporeal pleasures excluded from spiritual principles and their prolific power.
A Jane Austin novel seems to end at the altar as if the wedding were all that is necessary for a happy marriage for all time. Yet these days a lot of marriages seem to finish up on the scrap heap and you might have a sneaky feeling that perhaps a well-known film star was right in her opinion.
“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”(Katherine Hepburn)
So is achieving a happy marriage simply a matter of selecting the right mate in the first place, or is it about finding a successful formula for living together? Or perhaps you think it is all to do with good luck?
Experience of happy marriage
Rather than study just failed relationships, several psychological researchers have actually looked at successful marriages. For example the late Judith Wallerstein, reported in her book The good marriage: How and why love lasts, that happily married men and women both tend to report the same basic experiences.
We worked it out. To love, you must feel emotionally safe — totally accepted, respected, and supported. Therefore, we don’t criticize or strike out in anger, instead we gently request a change.”
“We do so much together and agree on most issues, but we have a clear sense of self and do things by ourselves”
“We cherish our time together, expressing our appreciation of each other for little acts of kindness as well as major sacrifices. We treasure our memories and frequently remind each other of the good times.”
This is only a glimpse of what some contented partners have known in their happy marriage.
Mature love needed for a happy marriage
Clearly a lasting relationship is something more than mere sexual pleasure, romantic sentiment, or emotional infatuation.
“You can tell that it’s infatuation when you think that he’s as sexy as Paul Newman, as athletic as Pete Rose, as selfless and dedicated as Ralph Nader, as smart as John Kenneth Galbraith and as funny as Don Rickles. You can be reasonably sure that it’s love when you realize he’s actually about as sexy as Don Rickles, as athletic as Ralph Nader, as smart as Pete Rose, as funny as John Kenneth Galbraith and doesn’t resemble Paul Newman in any way — but you’ll stick with him anyway.” (Judith Viorst)
Immature love has been called trying to fill loneliness or an emotional vacuum with a love relationship. Some psychotherapists have written about immature love saying it follows the principle “I love because I am loved” and “ I love you because I need you.” On the other hand they say that mature love, its opposite, follows the principle “I am loved because I love,” and “I need you because I love you.” Sadly, not a recipe for a happy marriage.
Not surprisingly, mature love is said to imply concern for the partner’s emotional and bodily needs, respect for their uniqueness, seeing them as they really are and helping them to grow and unfold in their own ways, for their own sake and not for serving oneself. We are told it involves entering and become familiar with the private world of the lover, to live in the other person’s life and sense his or her meanings and experiences.
Commitment and happy marriage
Mature love involves commitment. But the issue of commitment seems difficult to many.
Importantly, there is commitment to the exclusive nature of the relationship. Infidelity is a ‘no no.’ In line with the teachings of the world’s major religions, illicit sex and unchaste thoughts are to be avoided.
“Over time, any deception destroys intimacy, and without intimacy couples cannot have true and lasting love.” (Bonnie Eaker Weil).
An affair is a betrayal of the trust that has been shared in marriage that is extremely hurtful to the innocent partner.
Neither can a lack of commitment to work on the relationship be seen as good news. There are bound to be problems in any sexual union and so if one gives up easily one could end up living with several partners without giving any of them a proper chance.
“Patience gives your spouse permission to be human. It understands that everyone fails. When a mistake is made, it chooses to give them more time that they deserve to correct it. It gives you the ability to hold on during the rough times in your relationship rather than bailing out under the pressure.” (Stephen Kendrick).
Origin of mature love
So where does mature love come from? According to Emanuel Swedenborg it has a divine origin. This he calls ‘conjugial love’ which he says is a spiritual gift: it only flows into where it is wanted but when it flows it creates a deep sense of joy, contentment, and delight that lasts for ever. You might wonder whether this is the ‘happy ever after’ many have dreamed about?
Swedenborg maintains that if ‘conjugial love ‘is to be received it requires a man to be prepared to be influenced by his wife’s subjective feelings of care and sensitivity to personal issues. He needs to listen to her practical wisdom. And it requires a woman to be willing to learn from her husband’s objective and rational thinking. On the other hand,
“When a woman thinks her husband is a fool, her marriage is over. They may part in one year or ten; they may live together until death. But if she thinks he is a fool, she will not love him again.” (Philippa Gregory).
In other words a lasting happy marriage requires a suitable love match where the two partners can progress together in their personal inner journey, being willing to prioritise each of their needs and humbly learn from each other by celebrating their different strengths.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems