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Possible Married Partners: One or Many?

Judah examines choosing a partner to marry from two different perspectives, the Lord's omniscience and the individual's limited viewpoint. Humans desire certainty but paradoxically would resist directives from an authoritarian god. Judah arrives at consent as the bridge between these two perspectives. - Editor

"I need to find my soul mate."

Have you ever said, heard, or felt something like this before? Everlasting love is a theme in cultures around the world and one that’s especially prevalent in the New Church, where it’s often called conjugial or married love. Needing to find a soul mate implies that there is one out there—and that we need to be certain he or she is the right one; which leads us to a question: is there only one possible married partner for each of us or are there many? (I use the term “married partner” for what in broader culture might be called a “soul mate”.) So is there one or many? There are two very different answers to this question, depending upon whether we’re dealing with the Lord’s perspective or ours.

Let’s begin with the Lord’s perspective. In the work Married Love Emanuel Swedenborg sums up the perks of the ideal relationship: “the states produced by [true married] love are innocence, peace, tranquility, inmost friendship, complete trust, a mutual desire of the mind and heart to do the other every good… and, owing to an eternal enjoyment of states like this, the happiness of heaven” (180). Who doesn’t want that kind of love? True, it’s talking about something heavenly, but even though such bliss seems far away for many of us, to the Lord our eternal marriage is a present reality. Divine Providence says of the Lord: “all the future is present to Him and all the present is to Him eternal” (333). So for the Lord, there is only one eternal partner with whom each of us is dwelling forever. Case closed.

But then there’s our perspective. How many of us have wondered, Is she the one for me? Have I married the wrong person? Do I pass my soul mate commuting to work each morning and never know it? At first glance, these pressing questions may seem in harmony with the Lord’s perspective—if there’s only one right partner, then why not find him or her? Truly, there’s a lot to be said for finding the right person. But let’s be careful of the certainty demons that like to taint innocent hope: "if only I could be certain" often cloaks "if only I knew the future." It is one thing to hope for a good marriage; it is quite another to clutch at Divine omniscience. We simply can’t be God.

But we can be human, and humans are created free and rational by the Lord and must choose life as if of themselves (Divine Providence 286). Even though the Lord gives us our life, we are designed to flounder around in the water until we seemingly learn to swim on our own. If the Lord imposed His wise will on us—if He led us to “the right” partner without any as-of-self rational choice on our part—we would likely rebel against everything from Him, rejecting even the perfect partner. And so our perspective, our burden, our freedom-according-to-reason prerogative, requires us to select a spouse from scores of millions of eligible candidates.

As we freak out about the numbers, let’s consider the role of consent in marriage. How can we be certain we’ve chosen the right (i.e., eternal) partner? Try as we might, from our natural human perspective we can never be certain. But consider this tidbit of spiritual reality: “consent,” reads Married Love 21, “is the essential of marriage.” The word “essential” suggests that consent is spiritually inherent in marriage, and is even its heavenly core. Thus, the pool of potential partners dwindles dramatically when a man and a woman give their mutual consent to marry—and keep that contract throughout life. At this point, our merely human perspective, when influenced by spiritual ideas, begins to resemble the Divine perspective: there is only one possible partner—the one each of us marries.

I don’t propose to have solved anything—I didn’t even talk about love as a process, or the parallels between a person’s religion and marriage, or how to choose a partner from 100,000,000 possible candidates, or how angels don’t want to know the future. Still, as a Viking once said in the movie Prince Valiant, “God helps those who help themselves.” Never was it truer than in marriage. On earth we’ll never know for sure if the person we marry will be our partner to eternity. What we can rely on, however, is that the more we approach the Lord, the more we can experience our future as His present reality; we can give up the need for certainty about the right partner, confident that in loving the Lord with the person we marry, we are loving—and have found—our soul mate.

Judah Synnestvedt

Judah "Mr. Lydia Smith" Synnestvedt, a senior at Bryn Athyn College, has spent the last couple of years writing about marriage for homework as often as assignment parameters and subject matter have allowed. Recently married to his sweetheart of seven years, Judah is now experiencing the challenge and joy of bringing the spiritual marriage of goodness and truth into his marriage with Lydia.

Reader Comments (6)

When asked by a married person, "Who's my soul mate?" I like to say, "Your spouse."
I think this really adds to the site's growing collection of thoughtful articles on relationships, dating, courting, and marriage. Thanks!

December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPearse

in someways you put the case so plainly that I just nodded. But thanks. All of human philosphy struggles around issues of human freedom in the face of a powerful universe or even more powerful God. I love the emphasis on conscent. What else do we have? We have the ability to keep choosing to love.

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

This is the key concept that I take from this, based on personal experience - "... we can give up the need for certainty about the right partner, confident that in loving the Lord with the person we marry, we are loving—and have found—our soul mate."
If there is no mutual loving of the Lord first and foremost in an earthly marriage and both partners are moving in different directions in their spiritual growth, a separation of souls will result and at the point that this happens, a physical separation may be the next step, because if you don't have your answer at this point, you will most likely get your answer during this time, hence why there is a whole section in Conjugial Love on permissions the Lord gives for separation. Placing complete trust in the Lord during the process allows Him to lead us to either heal our marriage or be led to our 'soul mate', if we continue to grow spiritually. This journey is no picnic (as the children of Israel could attest to), however getting to the land flowing with milk and honey, which ever direction that may be, is well worth the journey. The Lord's mercy knows no bounds.

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiz Lichti

Ah, I love that you dipped into this trap of a question! I like your basic answer: from the Lord's perspective there is only one. However, I have seen this question plague a few marriages, which is where Pearse's response is very relevant. Not only can we not see the future, but we cannot change the past. Besides, why is it that we think that if we could change the past, that we smart enough to not make things worse!

December 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTodd Beiswenger

Hi all, thanks for your responses and new thoughts. I just remembered my original inspiration on the subject, which connects the concepts of consent and approaching the Lord. In the throes of the dating game, I kept hold of this picture: if I approach the Lord and offer my consent to a woman, and she is also coming to the Lord and reciprocating my consent, then we can be confident in our choice of partner--not just once, but through a lifetime of consenting to follow the Lord and stay married together. This was my understanding of the New Church idea that unity in religion is key to unity in marriage. So one partner or many? I want to offer again this image: where the Lord is, there is true marriage love for eternity; if I go to the Lord for my religion, my life, and my marriage, then I can be confident of love to my partner; beyond this--and this is the part that is most exciting now--if my wife and I together go to the one Lord Jesus Christ our God, we are allowing the One who makes marriage in the first place to make us married. With the Lord as our mutual friend, we can be confident of eternal marriage together. Here is freedom, confidence, and the greatest possible love. Thanks to my brother for the conversation where this renewal of understanding took place.

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJudah Synnestvedt

Here is something I had posted in an earlier context which also has bearing on finding that perfect match (soul mate) in this life or the next: "the Writings say that married couples cohabit in heaven for a while until they can determine if theirs is truly a conjugial relationship. If not, then they part amicably -- and are helped to find their real soulmates. What this tells me is that I do not have to strain myself and jeopardize my marriage trying to find the perfect relationship here on earth. I can live with my wife as if she is my eternal soulmate with the understanding that if she is not, then we will separate in the afterlife and find spouses who are matched to us. Either way, it will work out for us in the end. Now, if I were an atheist or a Christian of another sect who believed that married love ended with this life, then I would be desperate to find the perfect conjugial relationship right here and now. I would probably undergo a series of marriages and divorces attempting to find my true love. In conclusion, my wife and I have decided to not divorce each other unless there is some egregious misconduct in our marriage - an affair with a third party, spousal abuse, abandonment or chronic neglect. In essence, New Church teachings provides folks with a foundation for building stronger and more tolerant marriages, while not giving up their highest aspirations of finding true, eternal love which might (or might not) be an outgrowth of one's current marital relationship."

In other words, do not try to find your soulmate if you are married and do not worry if your spouse is your eternal soulmate. Just live as if they were and stick to them unless they are unfaithful to you. They may or may not be your soulmate and it will all be sorted out in God's good time.

Regarding the unmarried, do not strain yourself trying to find that perfect match. If someone is OK, then go for that person. Maybe the Lord will have you live with them for eternity, or maybe he will not. Either way it will be OK. - William

December 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam
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