Well, there’s less than a week until Valentine’s Day. It will be my 22nd Valentine’s Day with my wife. Without any doubt she is the better half of our marriage; more patient, more selfless, more giving. In reflecting on this time of the year when romantic love is celebrated, I thought I’d post some thoughts on how the Saviour strengthens our marriages.
In a civil marriage, the couple joining together make promises to each other to love, honour, and support each other. In the LDS Church, we also aspire to marriage in our most sacred of buildings – our temples. Here the promises made are not to each other, but rather are to God. This fact of making marriage promises to God rather than to each other has profound implications because our fallen natures and our inborn short-comings make it almost inevitable that both husband and wife will struggle at some point with the promises we have made to each other in a civil wedding – every time I get a bit grumpy I’m not really honouring my promise to love and support. And when we fail in those promises our spouse has every reason to be upset with us because we have broken our promises to him or her, whether in a big or small way.
In stark contrast, when our promises have been made to God, there is one party to the covenant who is guaranteed to never fall short or fail to live up to the promises made. This means that even though my spouse may not be perfect, as I sometimes seem to demand, I am never let off the hook. I never have grounds to think, “Well she has failed in such and such part of the promise, so that gives me the right to do the same back.” My temple marriage covenants don’t rely on my wife keeping her covenants, they rely only on me keeping mine, and because I know that God is completely reliable in the promises He has made, I can be secure in the knowledge that the blessings of the marriage covenants are absolutely certain if I live up to my part.
There is another difference between a civil and temple marriage, however, at least as important if not more so. In the 2005 Sidney B Sperry symposium Sherrie Mills Johnson said the following about the Atonement and marriage:
“Neither… you nor I will be saved solely because of our own efforts, our own righteous acts. We are saved because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Neither are our hearts and natures changed because of our self-discipline or knowledge of psychological techniques. They are changed through the blood of Jesus Christ. Likewise, our marriage relationships are not made strong and eternal because we are good at loving each other or meeting one another’s needs. They are made eternal because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Too often we speak of the difference between a temple marriage and a civil marriage as simply a matter of duration. More important, however, they differ in the amount of divine power available to enhance the quality of the relationship.”
(The Restoration of the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal Restoration, p 242)
Our temple covenants give us power in our lives, and in relation to our marriages, that power includes the power for a stronger and more loving marriage.
I find it interesting that in the book of Moses, as the creation of the earth is recounted, when it gets to the point of creating man and woman, the first time the Saviour is mentioned is when woman is formed. In verse 7 of chapter 3 the Lord forms man,
“And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also….” (Moses 3:7).
The Lord next talks about the Garden of Eden, and the things He has placed there, before going on to talk about woman in verse 18,
“And I, the Lord God, said unto mine Only Begotten, that it was not good that the man should be alone; wherefore, I will make an help meet for him.” (Moses 3:18)
This reference to the Only Begotten in relation to creation, only when both male and female are placed together, is a repetition of words the Lord used in chapter 2. There He begins the chapter by telling Moses that it was by the power of the Only Begotten that all things were created, but then, as the details are unfolded, the Only Begotten is not mentioned again until the creation of both male and female,
“And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so…. And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.” (Moses 2:26-27)
The message of this is that neither man nor woman are, or can be, in the image of the Saviour on our own. We can only come to reflect His image and countenance as a couple. Joseph F Smith said,
“We have come here to be conformed to the likeness of God. He made us in the beginning in His own image and in His own likeness, and He made us male and female. We never could be in the image of God if we were not both male and female. … When we become like Him you will find that we will be presented before Him in the form in which we were created, male and female.” (from Teachings of Presidents of the Church, Joseph F Smith, Chapter 20 The Eternal Union of Husband and Wife)
One of the great purposes of temple marriage is for husband and wife, together, to approach the Saviour, and to become like Him – ultimately to become one with Him. With this in mind, reading the words of Alma about having the Saviour’s image in our countenances takes on new meanings,
“I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?” (Alma 5:19)
Alma’s use of the words, “a pure heart” and “clean hands” has obvious reference to Psalms, where the Lord is referring to the temple and asks,
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” (Psalms 24:3-5)
Alma skillfully uses this Psalm, which would likely have been very well-known to the Nephites, as a part of their temple worship, thereby implying that it is through the temple that we are able to more fully take His image upon ourselves. And temple blessings come to their fruition in the marriage relationship. Ultimately therefore we take on the image of Christ through the ordinances of the temple, approaching Him as husband and wife.
The triangle above shows our marriage covenant relationship to Christ. While our covenants are intended to bind together husband and wife eternally, the direction of arrow from both husband and wife go to the Saviour. As we get nearer the Saviour, so we also grow closer together as husband and wife. As husband and wife work together to become one with the Saviour, so they also become one with each other.
We see this process in the scriptural story of Adam and Eve. When Satan has deceived them, and they realise they have been disobedient, they went and hid from the Lord. When He calls them out and asks what has happened, they start the blame game. “The woman thou gavest me… gave me of the fruit” (Moses 4:1) – in other words “It’s her fault!” Having been disobedient, they then grew apart from each other.
I can imagine the rationalisation – only because I recognise rationalisation of wrong-doing in my own life of course. Superimposing my own thought processes into the story, I can imagine Adam thinking, “I try to do my best. I resist the temptation, and keep the Father’s commandments. Then she comes along and just ignores them. Well, what am I supposed to do? I also had a commandment to stay with her and that wasn’t going to be possible if I didn’t partake of the fruit, because she already had done so. It’s not like I even chose that woman – it was the Father who gave her to me. So really, it’s His fault I took the forbidden fruit. He should have given me someone better.” Now, I don’t actually think Adam has necessarily gone quite this far in his thinking, but many of us might, and in applying the scriptures to ourselves I think this is an accurate depiction on what many of us would think.
So, Man has gone from transgressing a commandment not to partake of the forbidden fruit through to blaming the woman, if not potentially his Father, for His transgression, and has distanced himself from his wife.
This was partly Satan’s intention, of course. If he couldn’t foil the Father’s plan, at least he could create turmoil in the relationship of our first parents. That’s why he went to Eve when she was on her own to give her the fruit. The couple were weaker apart than they were together, and he knew his chances of success were therefore higher.
And Eve wasn’t really any better than Adam in this episode. They had only been given two commandments and she determined to disobey one, which would have dramatic consequences on both her and Adam, and their ability to keep the other commandment, without any reference to or discussion with her husband. Indeed, neither Adam nor Eve demonstrated any form of unity in their relationship in the garden in this episode.
We know what happens next in the story: the Lord places enmity between Satan and the woman along with her seed. He next pronounces that sorrow will be the lot of both woman and man. We usually stop there, but the following verses are very instructive. Firstly, it is only after this that, in the Moses account, Adam names Eve. I struggle to believe that Eve didn’t have a name prior to this – I’m sure Adam didn’t go around Eden simply calling out “Hey you!”, (and indeed she is referred to as Eve when the serpent tempts her, but only by the author – not by Adam or the Lord) so I read this symbolically. Adam is given to see Eve’s role as the “mother of all living” (Moses 4:26). The scriptures make it clear that this title came from the Lord, so the fact that Adam gave the name to Eve suggests to me that Adam’s eyes were now finally opened to Eve’s grand and glorious role – that he received revelation on the matter. In so doing I suspect that his love for her was multiplied many times. So in just a few verses we have gone from Adam accusing Eve “It’s her fault”, and distancing himself from her, to his view of her as one of awe “She is the Mother of all Living”!
It took the Lord’s rebuke, and teachings from Him, in order for Adam to recognise this grand reality though, and such it is with each of us. It is absolutely essential in our marriage relationships for husband and wife to see each other with spiritual eyes – to see the eternal destiny of each other in all of its splendor and glory. We need to look beyond the inevitable mistakes we each will make in our relationship and see each other’s divine, majestic roles; and as we do so, our love for each other will increase dramatically. But we won’t be able to do this without the Lord in our lives. Ultimately He is the source of inspiration and revelation for each of us, and that is as true of revelation that strengthens our eternal marriage as it is for any other form of revelation.
Having gained the vision of the divine role of his wife, Adam and his wife Eve were next given covenants. They are given protective clothing. The Lord knows that Satan will be back – he tried to create a wedge between our first parents once and he would try again. They need some additional protection and power. So the Lord gives them covenants.
Adam and Eve are also about to enter a world where they will experience sorrow for the first time. They need support and protection. So the Lord gives them covenants.
The revelation and subsequent recognition of each other’s glorious roles wouldn’t be sufficient on their own to see them through their mortal probation as the Lord intended. They needed more, and so the Lord gives them covenants.
It is the Lord who both makes the skins for them, and also clothes them. He doesn’t teach them how to make the skins and instruct them to go and do it. He doesn’t make the skins and then hand them over to them so that they can dress themselves. He makes the skins and clothes them Himself. This is how it is with our covenants:
- The Lord has prepared them for us.
“Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:19)
- He clothes us with His power that comes via those covenants.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10)
- That power provides us with protection in our lives, inasmuch as we keep them intact through our faithfulness to them.
“And they did rejoice and cry again with one voice, saying: May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection.” (3 Nephi 4:30)
The fact that animal skins are used and not plant material suggests, of course, the protection that comes from the Saviour in His sacrificial role as the Lamb of God. An animal had to die in order for this protection to be given to Adam and Eve; the Son of God had to die in order for spiritual protection through covenants to be given to them.
After this point in the story, we never again see any division between Adam and Eve. They called upon the name of the Lord together. They bore complementary testimony together. They taught their children together. They learned their lessons from their garden experiences, and gained power from their covenants with the Lord.
So, as another Valentine’s Day draws near, I hope that together my wife and I are nearer our Saviour; and that our journey to Him will continue throughout eternity.