Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote Sonnet 43 as a poem of love for the person she cherished. It was dedicated to her husband, poet Robert Browning.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death. (1850)
This is an impressive expression of love. The breadth and scope she describes are total commitment to her loved husband. It springs from a magnificent passion.
Over the last several centuries, romantic love has dominated among the “loves”, i.e. love of God, love of country, love of parents, love of friends. For the centuries before romantic love has only been in the background. Marriages were arranged by parents, who tended to consider romance a distraction. Fathers would seek a “profitable match” for each of his daughters. That meant a man of good prospects; which meant he would be able to support his wife and family.
In mostly agrarian societies, the prospective husband needed a grant of land from his father. Then He would build a dwelling for his wife. Often there was a bride price to pay; likely in the form of livestock.
Land, a dwelling and livestock were tokens of a responsible man, who could take care of the father’s daughter and ensuing grandchildren, providing for them well. Most importantly, the husband would provide the basic necessities for his family. Secondarily, that the groom was responsible and capable enough, so that the bride and the children did not have to come back to be an additional burden on her father.
Thus, marriage was, foremost, a practical matter. Romance was a luxury that agrarian societies could most often not afford. Survival was always tenuous, so a young man’s abilities were the singular concern and a girl’s romantic ideas were of no account.
We are no longer an agrarian society. Survival is not tenuous (in case you hadn’t noticed). We are by any reasonable measure a rich society. The vast majority of families may have working parents, so they have the income to provide the basic necessities. There are many luxuries that today are considered “necessities”, but they could be eliminated, saving the family a significant amount of money. The family would still be able to have the necessary (please note the word) food, clothing and shelter.
Because of our wealth we have the luxury of romantic love that seems to dominate all the kinds of love. In romance movies a young woman will be asked about her fiance. She responds, “Oh, he’s got a great job with opportunity for advancement. He really is good to me. He is good with children (all important qualifications).” The best friend presses, “Good, but do you love him?!” That is the single most important qualification. Forget the fact that he has never had a steady job, lives in a basement room of his parents’ home; mostly plays video games.
While I do no seek to toss away romantic love, I do insist that it is far overrated and needs to become the crust on a meat pie, good to have, tasty, but the important part is the healthy filling.
Love is not “hearts and flowers”. True love is commitment.
The traditional vows are a solid commitment and surrender through thick and thin, war and peace, ups and downs. “I, (Name), take thee, (Name), to be my wedded (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance: and thereto I (give/plight) my troth.”
Can you see the length, width and depth of the commitment a couple affirms to one another, the community and to Almighty God?
One of the modern bastardizations of these solemn vows is to change “so long as we both shall live” into, “so long as we both shall love”. By that they define it as romantic love that is not permanent, but is emotional and flies away at a whim.
In any human relationship differences crop up; tares are sown among the wheat.
During the dating and engagement, a man and a woman are on their best behavior. They are displaying their attractive qualities. They either hide or explain away any negative characteristics. The attraction to the other puts pressure on one to avoid anything that would make the other think again about continuing in the relationship.
Once married, the security of the commitment allows greater freedom to be “yourself”. Time wears away the effort to project “sweetness and light”. Overlooked differences during courtship become sharp differences, that lead to serious arguments. If the commitment is not strong the marriage can be broken off as soon as the honeymoon period is over.
When the relationship is based on a firm commitment, true love will rise above sharp differences. The first several years are the “shakedown cruise”. Those are the times when the “gloves come off” and the “warts show”. “I am angry with you, now, but I love you and I will not leave you.” A couple in real love enjoy the making up, because of the contrast of the loving sweetness to the separation caused by the broken fellowship.
There is a deep joy in working together, each sharing strengths to accomplish an important goal. The mutual thanks for one another’s contribution invigorate their love and deepens and enhances their intimacy.
Loving intimacy in a secure marriage commitment make procreation a deep and exhilarating joy. The companionship of the birth of a child supercharges the mutual admiration of the one for the other. A man’s wife needs her husband’s strength, love and concern to weather the agony of the birth process. The husband’s deep concern for her struggle breaks forth into amazing gratitude to her, when he holds that baby, she suffered to present to him and to the world. They have been partners in creation and birthing. Their bond of love is not romantic, but transformational.
As the decades pass, children and care for them often interferes with the relationship of the wife and husband. Committed love, seeks ways in the midst of an overfull life to reconnect on a foundational level. Once the children are launched, the couple can recapture the interrupted relationship. They are able in a more mature way to build their intimacy. For many (but I fear too few) they become “Golden Years” of working together, recreating together, laughing together, planning together. Through it all, they have satisfaction in what they have accomplished together. They rejoice together in one another’s awards for the works each has done separately
Toward the end of life, the diminishing ability and the struggles with infirmity and sickness place a heavy burden on each. The extra care one must have for the other in a deeply committed love is not a burden on the soul. It is a joy to care for the treasured one. In ways far beyond words, the gift the needy one gives is to receive the ministrations of the healthier one. Even the knowing that it cannot be repaid in kind, is a gift. This is love that is pure, strong and to be treasured as something far more precious than “houses or lands”.
When I was a teen and contemplating marriage – off somewhere in the dim outer reaches of life, one of the things I was aware of was that a man needed to have a good-paying job to afford a wife. The “two can lie as cheaply as one” was a romantic fallacy. It is the reality of youth that most married couples do not have the income to be comfortable.
When I married Ruth, the ethos was that the man provided for the family. The wife was not expected to work. Thus, the pay of the Man set the standard of life for the beginning family. Newly married young couples generally struggled financially, during the early years, until the man worked his way up to a pay level that makes life more comfortable.
When Ruth and I got married, I was selling real estate. Laura was born shortly before our first anniversary. Susan came two years later. I was struggling financially. I could not make sales often enough. I was able to change jobs to obtain a regular salary that did provide adequately for our family.
Through the years, we have been both rich and poor. We have learned to live as the Apostle Paul,
I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. (Philippians 4:12).
Controversy over finances is one of the sources of acrimony in marriages. The increasing needs of a growing family often outstrips the ability of the parents to provide. The decisions over spending of scarce resources can lead to acrimony; and too often they become continuing tension, separating the couple.
On the other hand, riches can also be a separating influence in the life of the couple. A man in a high-powered job brings home an enormous paycheck and provides a large house with swimming pool and all the extras. But he is never home. The woman becomes engaged in a social circle and in her husband’s absence, looks for companionship elsewhere. Riches do strain the commitment.
We must submit to God’s plan for our lives. We must come back again and again to Paul’s affirmation of contentment, stated above.
Our Sovereign Lord God planned for Marriage to be the foundation of Civilization. He brought Eve to Adam, and they loved and worked together. They had children and they became a family. As family groups increased, that became the genesis of civilization. They built relationships among the various family groups and began the complexity of interrelationships.
This is where God’s laws of love modified frictions between groups. The learning process began in families, starting with the interrelationship between man and woman in marriage.
God purposed that “these two become one flesh”. His desire is that they unite in agreement over life’s direction, shared purposes, combined goals. He has revealed the truth of strength in numbers.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, and hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone? And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
The Wife and Husband are the basic church.
Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:19-20)
God’s will is for mutual submission, at the same time a wife is to defer to her husband.
… subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5: 21-24)
This submission of the wife seems to our culture very hard duty. Until we look at God’s directive for husbands,
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; (Ephesians 5:25).
He is to sacrifice himself for her. He is to nourish and cherish” her. This is a mutual collaboration, a covenant relationship with strong demands laid on both husband and wife by our Righteous God.
It has been said that the woman has been given command to submit to her husband because she, being more spiritually attuned would tend to take over the spiritual leadership. Without the command to submit, forcing the man to be the spiritual leader, many men would and do drop out, spiritually.
On the other hand, husbands have been commanded to love their wives, sacrificially. Men tend to love their work most. Peter gives husbands further instruction,
Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
In this mutual relationship of loving commitment, couples grow into that “one flesh” relationship”– shared hopes, dreams, ideals, purposes. All are indications of the “one flesh” that a married wife and husband share. As they age together, they ripen in their love and understanding of one another. Their psyches are so attuned that they can finish one another’s sentences. They agree on all the major issues in their lives. They are synchronized in their absolute trust in God’s love and provision.
God becomes the glue that holds them together. As they each grow closer to Jesus through the decades of their lives together, they grow closer to one another. Jesus is the one who lives in both and is the buffer that smooths the rough edges of each to make them an increasingly better fit as life together prolongs.
There comes a time that each is aware of the approaching end of life. It is rare that both die at the same time. Therefore, there is a growing concern of one being left alone. The three-fold mutual love is so strong that the thought of separation can be devastating.
However, God steps in and gives the believing couple assurance that the separation will be brief. The rejoining in Paradise will be joyful beyond imagining. Further, the marriage that lasts a lifetime gives each and both a preview of the love that awaits around their loving God’s throne.
God promises the surviving spouse the comfort of the Holy Spirit. God fills the hole left by the departing spouse. He surrounds the grief and mutes the anguish. He gives the one left a new direction that steps off from the foundation laid by the married love. Our Father knows our need and has already put in place what is needed to compensate for the loss of a life-long love.
God gives us the Grace for each day and joy in the remaining life that buoys the spirit. Anticipation grows in the meantime; anticipation of being unshackled by the flesh; anticipation of being reunited not only with the spouse, but also with all the loved ones that have gone on before; and then the anticipation of the glorious, magnificent entry into the Presence of God!
This is a recurring feature. I pose a question in this issue. You have the opportunity to send me answers. I will publish the best ones in the next issue. Please cite Biblical authority, and keep you answer within 250 words.
ANSWER: Because he was afraid. He and Sarah (and household) fled famine in Canaan for the breadbasket of Egypt. Abraham looked at the reality of the situation. His household was powerless against the might of Pharaoh. Sarah was beautiful. Pharaoh was an absolute monarch. The ethos of the broader culture was against stealing a man’s wife, but not against killing him and then taking her. So, to protect himself, he sacrificed Sarah. The lie was a half-truth. He had married his half-sister.
But his action raises several issues. A man ought to protect his wife at the risk of his own. He could have slipped into the large nation of Egypt and remained unnoticed. He should have trusted Go to protect both Sarah and him.
First, we must not expect A.D. 21st Century mores out of 20th Century B.C. people. That culture put a lower value on women, so the sacrifice of one’s wife was the natural thing to do.
Second, Scripture does not say, and I can find nothing that requires, immigrants had to check in with the local constabulary, bringing one to the notice of Pharaoh.
Third, Abraham had experienced יהוה, Jehovah, for only a short time, so he may not have been aware of God’s intimate care of each individual.
Pharaoh did take Sarah into his Harim. God protected Sarah from being molested and he sent a plague on Pharaoh’s household. Some scholars think it was a plague of barrenness in both women and animals. We do not have a time frame, so perhaps the evidence was a rash of stillborn sheep and cattle.
Apparently, God had spoken the truth to Pharaoh, that he had usurped another man’s wife and that was the cause of the plague.
Pharaoh was furious. He had given Abraham sheep, oxen, he asses, menservants, maidservants, she asses and camels in exchange for Sarah. To get rid of Abraham and the plague, Pharaoh sent him away, demanding back none of his gifts to Abraham.
The moral of this story is NOT “Honesty is NOT the best policy.” We learn from Abraham’s mistake that we can trust God in even the most threatening situations. God not only takes care of us but rewards us.
Unhappily, Abraham did not learn to trust God. Ca. 23 years later (Ch. 20), the King of Gerar, Abimelech had eyes for Sarah. Abraham again lied. Again, Sarah was taken into a Harim, again the king was plagued, again, God punished the king and demanded Sarah’s return and insisted that gifts be given to Abraham. Some of us are slow learners.
Join me in bowing before our God in gratitude that we can speak directly and personally to Him. He is our loving Father, so we can embrace Him boldly, but respectfully.
Father, our nation and our world are in a serious state due to the corona virus. Is this Your judgment poured out on us for our rejecting You? You sent plagues as punishment among the Children of Israel. They were seriously afflicted, but You sent release each time. You sent a plague as judgment against Israel because of King David’s sin. Upon His repentance You stayed the plague.
Lord, our Righteous God we have sinned in thought, word and deed. We have sinned against Your divine Majesty. Have mercy upon us for rejecting You and putting our trust in man’s abilities. We have embraced materialism and rejected spirituality. We have legislated against praying to God publicly in government, in schools. Business for fear of law suits has proscribed prayer and even saying Your name, unless it is a swear word. We are stripping our nation of any reference to God. We have made our schools into indoctrination institutions against faith in You. We have presided over the slaughter of innocents, legislating ever broadening the legal aborting. We have legally codified the abomination of homosexuality. We have made divorce, which You hate, easy. We have legalized the “marriage” of homosexuals. We have embraced “recreational sex” and made fornication and adultery common as peanuts.
“There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine indignation; Neither is there any health in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over my head: As a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are loathsome and corrupt, Because of my foolishness.” (Psalms 38:3-5)
We, through our own fault, have wandered away from You, our One and only God. We have become altogether corrupt. We have no ability to make restitution for our flagrant sin.
Have mercy upon us, Almighty God. Have pity on our weaknesses. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot even turn away from sin and turn to embrace You, for our own strength is leached away by our egregious sin,
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; And take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; And uphold me with a willing spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; And sinners shall be converted unto thee. (Psalms 51:7-12)
Have mercy on us. Deliver us from our unrighteousness. I worship You, o, most holy One. Unworthy as we are, honor us with deliverance, as we continue to praise Your holiness. Hallelujah!! Hallelujah! Amen!