The Fortress of Marriage
First, I need to say something on a personal note:
CONGRATULATIONS, MELISSA & TJ!!
Yes, we are celebrating a marriage this weekend, and in keeping with a time-honored Planet Bahá'í tradition, when that sort of thing happens in our family we write an article on the theme. Although in this case neither the bride nor the groom are Bahá'í, I thought it might be a good time to consider a well-known passage from the Bahá'í Writings:
And when He desired to manifest grace and beneficence to men, and to set the world in order, He revealed observances and created laws; among them He established the law of marriage, made it as a fortress for well-being and salvation, and enjoined it upon us in that which was sent down out of the heaven of sanctity in His Most Holy Book. He saith, great is His glory: "Marry, O people, that from you may appear he who will remember Me amongst My servants; this is one of My commandments unto you; obey it as an assistance to yourselves."
(Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'í Prayers, p. 103)
In looking at these verses again, I realized something I hadn't noticed before. Bahá'ís often speak of marriage as a fortress for well-being, but oddly enough Bahá'u'lláh doesn't quite say that. He actually says that the law of marriage is a fortress for well-being. In a sense, of course, it amounts to the same thing, but perhaps we should look a bit more closely.
In the above passage, Bahá'u'lláh begins with a statement of God's intent in revealing observances and law. On the one hand, the divine purpose is to "manifest grace and beneficence to men", which is not usually what we think of as the purpose of laws. The second part, "to set the world in order," is more in line with our usual understanding. In what sense are laws manifestations of grace and beneficence?
In one of His talks in the United States, 'Abdu'l-Bahá offered this thought:
There is no doubt that the purpose of a divine law is the education of the human race, the training of humanity. All mankind may be considered as pupils or children who are in need of a divine Educator, a real Teacher. The essential requirement and qualification of Prophethood is the training and guidance of the people.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 411)
And in another context, He states:
If a soul of his own accord advances toward God he will be accepted at the Threshold of Oneness, for such a one is free of personal considerations, of greed and selfish interests, and he has taken refuge within the sheltering protection of his Lord. He will become known among men as trustworthy and truthful, temperate and scrupulous, high-minded and loyal, incorruptible and God-fearing. In this way the primary purpose in revealing the Divine Law -- which is to bring about happiness in the after life and civilization and the refinement of character in this -- will be realized.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 46)
God's laws, then, are intended to educate and train us, to help us acquire spiritual perfections, to advance civilization, and ultimately to assure happiness in the next life (and most probably in this one as well). In a very real sense, they are an expression of God's love, and indeed love is the very essence of the law:
Bahá'u'lláh says that religion must be conducive to love and unity. If it proves to be the source of hatred and enmity, its absence is preferable; for the will and law of God is love, and love is the bond between human hearts. Religion is the light of the world. If it is made the cause of darkness through human misunderstanding and ignorance, it would be better to do without it.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 287)
In turn, our obedience to God's law should be born not from hope of reward or fear of punishment, but simply as a sign of our love for Him:
O son of being! Walk in My statutes for love of Me and deny thyself that which thou desirest if thou seekest My pleasure.
(Bahá'u'lláh , The Hidden Words, Arabic 38)
Now the law of marriage, like all laws, is an expression of God's love for us, while marriage itself is an expression of love between husband and wife, and beyond them between parents and children. It provides the most basic structural unit of society and thus is clearly part of "setting the world in order", but much more than that marriage gives each partner someone to help and support them, someone with whom they can consult and share joys and sorrows. A marriage grounded in love provides a stable context for having and raising children, and indeed its strength can be felt across several generations of family.
We live in an age when the value and even the validity of the concept of long-term marriage is frequently questioned. But if we look at the laws of marriage given by God through a succession of divine Messengers, we find that they all establish and promote marriage as a lifelong partnership. To be sure, it can be difficult to keep a marriage healthy over many decades and God's law has usually made allowances for that, but the aim has always been to create strong marriages and a stable foundation for the larger structures of society.
Clearly, then, the law of marriage is indeed a "fortress for well-being". Bahá'u'lláh doesn't stop there, however. He adds, "and salvation", another curious and interesting designation. Perhaps we can take that up another time, but for now I'll leave you with this one quotation that may bear on the subject:
The true marriage of Bahá'ís is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God. This is Bahá'í marriage.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, #86, p. 118)
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