Monday, May 4, 2015

A divine and supernatural chemistry

My dear friend,

Hearing from you brings me great joy. In your letter, you asked, is it wrong to desire "chemistry" in a potential marriage partner? Shouldn't "important matters" be "enough"? (quotation marks are mine) I have loved thinking through these questions with you.

Let us enter by a side door.

Peter (through Mark), Matthew, and John all recorded Mary's anointing of Jesus in their gospels. This meal at Bethany was one of the last meals they would share with Jesus before he died; their memories of it were vivid. They were among friends, those who had witnessed Jesus' power and heard his teachings. Lazarus was there; he was dead but was now alive. Simon hosted the party; he used to be a leper.

But Mary was the focus of their story.

Peter and Matthew recalled the moment Mary broke the jar and poured pure nard on Jesus' head. John remembered how she poured the rest of the perfume onto Jesus' feet, how she used her hair to wipe the dirt away. He could still smell the fragrance of pure nard filling the house.

All three apostles recalled how Mary offended them. "What a waste!" they cried, "the money should be given to the poor." If only they had known the blood that Jesus was about to pour out for their sins. If only they had known the body that he was about to break for theirs.

Jesus defended Mary. He called her offering "a beautiful thing."

"She has done a beautiful thing to me," he said. He did not call it "a good thing" or "the right thing," though Mary's act possessed both goodness and truth. It was good because she sacrificed for her Lord; it was right because Jesus was worthy of her worship. But why call her offering beautiful?

Back to your questions, is it wrong to desire "chemistry" in a potential marriage partner? Shouldn't "important matters" be "enough"?

When we speak of "important matters" in a marriage partner, we often think about goodness and truth. Is this person kind, patient, hardworking, faithful, truthful, and teachable? The list can get quite long. Beauty can seem less useful than goodness and truth. "Chemistry" or the attraction to beauty (which is in the eye of the beholder) can seem rather shallow. So, is it wrong to desire beauty? Shouldn't goodness and truth be enough?

My short answers: No, it is not wrong to desire beauty; and no, goodness and truth is not enough.

Without beauty, goodness loses its attractiveness and the self-evidence of why we must carry it out. Why be good when we can be evil? Without beauty, truth loses its persuasiveness; logical conclusions are no longer conclusive. Without beauty, excellency and truth would not captivate or compel the soul. So, no, it is not wrong to desire beauty. In fact, we need beauty. Beauty is essentially for understanding goodness and truth.

Chemistry, as we call it, is the attraction we feel towards beauty, the ability to see beauty in someone or something. When there is chemistry, we feel pleasure and delight (fireworks and weakness in the knees are nice too). Chemistry is real; it is not imagined. Not only is chemistry precious in a marriage, but it is also precious in our worship of God.

Jonathan Edwards called the "chemistry" of delighting in God — "the spiritual light." The spiritual light, according to Edwards, was a gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus, he called it "a divine and supernatural light."  This light was “a true sense of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the Word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them.” A person who truly worshiped God did not merely have a rational belief of the divine excellency, but had a sense of the gloriousness and loveliness of God in her heart. She not only had the opinion or the knowledge that the honey was sweet, but she tasted the sweetness of the honey.

Therefore, in order to glorify God and enjoy him forever, we need a divine and supernatural chemistry. We must have a sense of his beauty, his glory, the loveliness of his holiness and grace. We must taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

True beauty reflects God's beauty. Mary's love for Jesus was beautiful because hers was a love that reflected the love of God. His was a twelve-baskets-of-leftovers kind of love. Everyday at every moment, God pours out his beauty and pleasure and delight on his creation. Trillions of intricate snowflakes fall from the sky only to melt. Fields of wild flowers bloom only to wither. Forests of leafs turned into the colors of the sunset—while they are dying. God's love is the excessive, extravagant, wasteful kind of love. And Mary's love for Jesus was a little bit like that. And Jesus called her love "a beautiful thing."

Desiring chemistry in a future spouse is not a bad thing. But we must earnestly pray for a divine and spiritual light — chemistry that is governed and given by the Holy Spirit, chemistry that helps us see beauty that reflects the excellency and truth of God. We must cast ourselves at his feet and seek first, adore first, the beauty of our Savior's face.

Godly chemistry is a gift. After nine years of marriage, I still ask the Lord that I might love my husband more and more truly (fireworks and weakness in the knees are nice too). After twenty years of seeing Christ, I still ask the Spirit that he would give me a greater delight and affection for Himself.

Make no mistake, however, chemistry can be deadly and demonic. There is such a thing as an improper, sinful desire for beauty (or counterfeits of beauty). The forbidden fruit was a delight to Eve's eyes. Eve's chemistry for that fruit—killed her. When she desired, took, and tasted something other than God, she died.

So, dear friend, make no mistake.

Lastly, allow me to leave you with Edwards' tribute to the most beautiful lady in his eyes. Sarah Pierpont was a pastor's daughter in New Haven. She was seven years younger than him. When they first met, Sarah was likely too young for Jonathan to view romantically. But here was what he wrote of her:

They say there is a young lady in [New Haven] who is beloved of that almighty Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on him—that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up into heaven; being assured that he loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love and delight forever. Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections; is most just and conscientious in all her actions; and you could not persuade her to do anything wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind; especially after those seasons in which this great God has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly; and seems to be always of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone, and to wander in the fields and on the mountains, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.
Douglas Sweeney, Hans' professor, summarized their chemistry so well: Jonathan and Sarah "were kindred spirits. Jonathan loved Sarah's beauty, but attributed her attractiveness to the fullness of God in her soul. To call theirs love at first sight would be to mislead most modern readers. These two fell in love with the image and glory of God they saw in each other" (Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word, 61).

Forever yours,
Your sister


Swansea Mo said...

thank you, Irene.
i find myself weeping, though i'm not sure why.
love you so, so much.

Teyen Chou said...

I had to study Jonathan Edwards' writing in college and I regret it so much that I didn't take the time to really get into it, now that I don't have any of those borrowed textbooks and professors to help me dive deeper into it. That short passage for her from him is so beautiful though.

Thanks again for such an insightful post. It's funny because I just read two, three posts about marriage and being single in one day, and they were all insightful and encouraging. Definitely still processing everything because I actually don't know what I want to look for anymore in a potential marriage partner because in some ways, even the idea of commitment actually scares me. So do I even want dating or marriage? I've been thinking a lot more into this after college and getting to know myself a lot more through this too. Sorry, can't really even conclude this comment since nothing is even conclusive in my own head!

Julie said...

This is a beautiful approach to this issue! Thank you for all the time and though you put into your posts.


As someone who was once in a relationship where there was not much chemistry/attraction, simply because the man was godly and kind and pursued me, in my experience, I couldn't really make the chemistry come if some of it was not naturally there. At the end of that relationship I realized that my "gut"/"intuition" had told me from the start that it wouldn't work - and I realized that maybe our intuition is more accurate than sometimes we give it credit, when we are walking with God :) It was a totally different experience in my second relationship, with the man I married. As I told him, I couldn't help but be attracted to him ;). But he was just as godly, too. It's a delicate issue though, and something that each person has to be at peace with before God!

I think I need to re-read your post, you have so many interesting insights :)

estherogen said...

Hello dear friend. Timely affirmation :) Especially as I still have a very clear perseverating picture of my potential marriage partner -- yes, STILL. silly :) 10 months later, teeheehee. pray for me!

i miss you.

please come visit this summer? i'm staying at my pastor's home.