RS/MP Chapter 15: Eternal Marriage (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)
Posted by Robert C. on August 8, 2014
The lesson can be found online here.
From the life
Question: What is the purpose of marriage?
This section mentions the 3 wives that Joseph Fielding Smith was married and sealed to. I find the implicit commentary on parenting—motherhood in particular—quite fascinating. The manual states,
Joseph found comfort in the assurance that Louie had departed “for a better world” . . . . But despite the consolation and hope he found in the gospel, he missed Louie terribly. He also worried about his daughters without a mother at home.
To understand marriage in a Gospel context, the parenting role seems crucial. Although I don’t pretend to have adequate answers to questions regarding some of more controversial stances the Church has taken with respect to marriage (i.e., homosexuality and polygamy), I do think that the Church maintained consistency in prioritizing concern for the children.
However, this idea of children being the overarching telos of marriage seems to be undermined when Pres. Smith marries Jessie Evans and has no children with her. I esp. like the line in the manual stating that Pres. Smith “had no qualms about being an apostle with an apron on.” At any rate, this last marriage seems to have been motivated less by a concern for children but what seems to be, at least in a sense, a more “selfish” concern:
Once again, Joseph was lonely
but comforted by the assurance of eternal marriage. And once again, he met someone with whom he could share his life.
The closing paragraphs of this section do, nevertheless, point to a way that Pres. Smith’s unselfish devotion toward his wife served as an beneficial example to others. So, in the end, I’m not sure if it’s better to think about the purpose(s) of marriage as being primarily for the benefit of the couple itself or the benefit of the larger community (and the children in particular). Nevertheless, I think it is safe to say that one important purpose of marriage is to provide a context for learning to how to serve others.
1. The crowning ordinance
Question: Why does Pres. Smith call marriage “the crowning ordnance of the Gospel”?
Although this might seem like a softball question, I think it’s actually quite difficult to highly satisfying answer. That said, I’d be inclined to think about this in terms of committing ourselves, via covenant, to a relationship that we deem sacred, and that we are willing to give our all to—a relationship that gives our lives purpose, direction, and meaning. Of course, this does not mean we will or even should remain married in all circumstances, but even when divorce is the outcome, the above claims remain valid.
2. Marriage endures forever
I like this quote from the manual:
It is very apparent to all of us who read the newspapers, who listen to the news accounts on the radio and who watch what comes over television that all too many do not hold marriage and the family unit in that respect which the Lord intends.
Marriage is a sacred covenant, yet in many instances it is made the butt of coarse jokes, a jest, a passing fancy, by the vulgar and the unclean, and, too, by many who think themselves refined but who do not regard the sacredness of this great principle.
Your mileage may vary, but I’ve witnessed various kinds of casual attitudes toward marriage. And I believe that misogyny, in its various forms, is also implicated in this quote from Pres. Smith. Casual and disrespectful attitudes that include sexual innuendo seem to me to be especially odious to the Lord. Reflecting on these past encounters, there are several instances that I wish I had been more bold in calling out disrespectful attitudes.
Question: What can we do to help combat sexism, disrespectful attitudes toward sexuality, and other ideas and attitudes that undermine the sacredness of marriage, sex, and other forms of respectful, intimate relationships?
3. Faithfulness . . . brings happiness
What are the blessings of being faithful (in marriage, or otherwise)?
Pres. Smith says,
Nothing will prepare mankind for glory in the kingdom of God as readily as faithfulness to the marriage covenant.
I’m inclined to read this quote in a somewhat . . . well, . . . dark . . . manner, I suppose. That is, “prepare mankind for glory in the kingdom of God” strikes me as a euphemism for an ordeal that will be really stinking hard! Now, I am actually extremely lucky to be married to a very wonderful, very patient, and very loving person. So I know my marriage can’t compare in terms of hardships or difficulties with most marriages. And, honestly, most of the time my marriage is pretty easy. However: (1) there have been some really crucial junctures, as I think occur in most marriages (and relationship in general), that were very difficult, and remaining faithful to the covenants I had made previously (usually, I’ve made my share of mistakes too) has had really, really significant consequences; (2) raising kids has proven to be a significantly more difficult challenge than I could’ve imagined. Also, statistically speaking, most marriages do not end in happily ever after (at least in general; I don’t have stats handy, though I think I remember seeing some fairly reliable stats that say that active Mormons married in the temple fare somewhat better than average, but the stats are sobering even for that subgroup).
Anyway, I’m a firm believer in the benefits of struggling to keep the covenants we make, and most especially the marriage covenant. I’ve been very humbled by the patience and undeserved love that my wife has shown me. I think that fault-finding is actually the biggest cause of marital problems (though I have nothing to back up this hunch), and I count myself extremely blessed to have a wife who is very forgiving and patient with me—and, somewhat ironically, this has been an extremely powerful motivator for me to really want, deep down, and in a sustained and so-bad-that-it-hurts way, to be a better husband and father.
4. Marriage . . . whether in this life or the next
Pres. Smith says, “The gospel is a vicarious work.” I think that’s a profound thought—sometimes in our increasingly individualistic world, we forget that our salvation is a communal affair. We depend on others for our salvation, and others depend on us.
Question: How does our salvation (and happiness) depend on others?
Although this question is broader than just marriage, the overlap is significant. We learn in marriage, more than anywhere else, about our dependence on others, and others’ dependence on us.
5. Children and youth
Question: How can we help our children and youth prepare for eternal marriage?
Learning what it means to be committed to something, to do things when you might not naturally feel like it, is an important lesson. In this sense, being faithful as a disciple of Christ, as a son or daughter, as a friend, etc.—all of these things are good practice for marriage. Pres. Smith says:
When the young man and the young woman are thoroughly grounded in the divine mission of our Lord and believe the gospel as revealed through Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the chances are all in favor of a happy union that will endure forever.
6. Faithfulness causes marriage to grow sweeter
Pres. Smith says,
If a man and his wife were earnestly and faithfully observing all the ordinances and principles of the gospel . . . [n]ot only would the husband love the wife and the wife the husband, but children born to them would live in an atmosphere of love and harmony.
This causes me to reflect on the many examples I have seen in my life of exemplary faithfulness, in marriage and in the Gospel. These real life, breathing examples, have had a more profound positive effect on my life than anything else I can think of—otherwise, I’m not sure that the Gospel would have had that much existential resonance or meaning in my life. For these examplary individuals and couples, I am truly grateful.