from Brian Kingslake, "Inner Light: Swedenborg Explores the Spiritual Dimension (J. Appleseed & Co. : Boston, MA 1991)

Table of  Contents


Chapter 9

Sex and Marriage (in Heaven Too)

 The Human Unit

The true human unit is neither a man nor a woman, but a married pair. It is a partnership or team. Neither the man nor the woman lives for himself or herself, but both live for the team. The man is only half a complete "person," and so is the woman. See Genesis 5:2—"God created them male and female, and called their name Adam" (Hebrew for a human being).

Think of an article consisting of two component parts, such as an axe head and shaft, a hook and eye, or the two blades of a pair of scissors. The components are manufactured separately, using different machines; then they are matched and fitted together. So with the two partners of a marriage. Men and women are made separately, as boy and girl, bachelor and spinster. The "sorting out" and matching takes place during courtship. When suitable mates are selected, the two components are united in marriage. At first they may be in for trouble, especially if both are strong characters. The two parts do not fit so perfectly as was anticipated, and there are painful spots of abrasion. Fortunately, the raw material is slightly malleable and pliable, and the two parts will adjust and adapt themselves if the drive is sufficiently strong. Once they are working together, they will soon fit so snugly that you might think they were specially made for each other!

If, as in many cases, there is no marriage, and individuals grow up single, then the Lord makes subtle adaptations to enable a man to continue living as a bachelor, or a woman as a spinster, in a tolerably satisfactory life. The man is given some female qualities, and the woman some male qualities, so that each can stand alone. Incompleteness is always present, but various compensations are provided.

The Spiritual Side of Sex

Sex is spiritual as well as physical. Men differ from women in mind as well as in body. Swedenborg devotes a large part of his great work on Marriage Love (Conjugial Love in older translations) to a searching analysis of the differences. Broadly speaking, man has intelligence on the surface and love beneath, whereas woman has love on the surface and intelligence beneath. When they unite in marriage, the intelligence of the man is accepted by the woman, and she tends to take over most of his opinions. His interior love then becomes the driving force of the partnership in all major matters, while her love operates in all other affairs of their life together, giving color and cohesion to the relationship. Thus the two sexes have been so designed that they can be fitted together on every level. The bonding material is love, both his love and her love. And so, love must be present on every level, if the marriage is to be a success.

The physical side of sex is much the same with human beings as it is with animals, a powerful drive towards procreation. It has its use, of course. Without it, the idea of marriage might never arise! But, though physical sex provides a strong pairing-off tendency, it is utterly unreliable as a match-maker. It is "erratic" as well as "erotic!" The male dog does not bother about the personal character or spiritual qualities of the female dog: he thinks only of her body. When the seed is implanted he runs off and seeks other mates. So it is with human beings, if their sex-love is in the physical body only. They are not concerned with achieving a full union with one member of the opposite sex, but merely desire pleasure, with as much variety as possible. Such activity deadens the spiritual elements, which should be present in all mating, reducing a human being to the state of an animal.

Physical attraction is useful in narrowing the field of choice, saying, "This one or that one would be desirable as a partner." But within that field, judgment should be exercised. The man should seek out a woman with whom he believes he could be united mentally and spiritually as well as physically; and the woman, in accepting him, should look for the same qualities. The Lord will surely help them in their search, if they pray constantly for guidance. It is particularly important that they should both have the same religious outlook; that is to say, they should both have the same attitude towards God. If two are united in their love to the Lord, everything else will follow. When once a couple have chosen one another and made their vows, they should never again listen to sex-love as a matchmaker. It will go on dropping hints and suggestions, but they are almost certainly temptations from Hell; they are wholly mischievous, and if not ignored will lead to trouble and unhappiness for everybody.

 Regeneration in Marriage

Married partners have a great advantage over single people; they can regenerate together in the privacy of their homes! Each must now consider the partner's needs, whims and fancies, and (later) the children's. They must overcome their love of dominion (inherent in all of us): the itch to have one's own way, the pride that demands its "rights," that will not apologize or break the deadlock of a sulk. Marriage is a long and often painful process of mutual adjustment. Sex and love-making undoubtedly help the partners to get over the hurdles, however; and after every victory of unselfishness, there is such a shower of sweetness that the renunciation of self becomes a delight! And when the two have learned to live satisfactorily together, they will have made considerable progress along the road to Heaven.

As the partners begin to develop their spiritual natures with regeneration, the Lord gives them a special bonding material with which to unite themselves together on that inner level. This bonding material  is Marriage Love, "Conjugial Love" in older translations, using an old poetic form of the Latin word "conjugal." It is love between the spirit of a man and woman. Having its source on the spiritual plane, it flows down into their bodies also, producing physical attractions and joys that are much stronger than before, and that never go stale but actually increase in freshness and delight as old age sets in. (Swedenborg uses the analogy of a rose garden, ever producing new blossoms.) Marriage love, being from the Lord, is chaste, pure and holy, even in the body, whereas merely animal love in man and woman is unchaste, unclean and self-destructive.

Conjugial love is not given all at once. It is not served up on a plate at the wedding, however deeply the bride and groom seem to be committed to one another; nor probably for some years afterwards. It grows slowly and develops gradually over the years. It deepens as the partners regenerate together, looking to the Lord for love and wisdom; and eventually it unites them together as "one human being."

Almost any pair who have a mutual desire to become marriage partners can obtain conjugal love from the Lord. There is no predestination about it. Sometimes when people fall in love, they think of one another as "soul-mates"--created for one another at birth. It is true that they may be potential soul-mates, but they will not become actual soul-mates until they have done a lot of work towards it. Unless this is understood, a couple who believe they are soul-mates may get disillusioned at their first quarrel, think they have made a mistake, break it off, and start looking for their true soul-mates elsewhere! In the early days of the New Church, many of its members did not get married at all, because of a fear of not choosing the "right person." But there is no "right person!" Or, to put it in another way, almost any couple can become "right" for each other, if they really wish it and are prepared to work hard at qualifying for conjugal love.

It is true that Swedenborg speaks in one of his Memorable Relations of two young people meeting, as if by accident, and recognizing one another instantly as conjugal partners: he saying in his heart, "She is mine" and she saying, "I am his!" (Marriage Love 316 and 229.) But it seems he is speaking here of those who die in childhood and are reared in the spiritual world. With them there is a kind of predestination; but here on earth conditions are different. If there were predestination with regard to one's married partner to eternity, there would have to be predestination in everything else, which would contradict the whole principle of free-will.

For example: Tom marries Mary, and, by mutual adjustment of their characters, they become conjugal partners, living together to eternity. But Tom might have married Betty and become united with her, and Mary might have married John and become united with him. In that case, all the people concerned would have ended their lives quite different in character from what has actually been the case, because one's marriage relationship has a vital effect upon the development of one's character.

Sex After Death

Since sex is spiritual as well as physical, it exists in the spiritual world as well as on earth. Even after the death of the physical body, men are still male and women female, and there is strong mutual attraction between them, leading to sex relations, which, if between conjugal partners, give much keener pleasure than on earth. The sex act, of course, can be good or evil, clean or unclean, depending on whether it is performed to bring the two partners closer together in a permanent love-relationship, or merely for the sensual pleasure it provides.

In Heaven, all the angels are married pairs (except in the case of new arrivals who are still awaiting their partners). They are so completely one in heart and mind, that often, when together, they are mistaken for one person. Swedenborg would see what looked like a single angel approaching him; but when closer he would discover that it was in fact a husband and wife. They were "no more two, but one." Husbands and wives in Heaven are not always at each other's side. They have their work to do, which may take them temporarily apart. But always there is perfect telepathy between them.

As we have already seen, husbands and wives have sexual intercourse in Heaven, but no children are produced. Only on the physical plane ("in ultimates," as Swedenborg would say) can children be conceived and born. If an angel, male or female, is particularly fond of babies or young children, he or she can care for them in the intermediate region, as we saw in our last chapter.

In Hell there is no true marriage, no uniting of two into one, because the evil spirits are entirely self-centered, and wish only that others should serve their own pleasure. Their sex life consists of a passionate courtship, mixed up with jealousy and violence, and ends in quarreling, hatred and misery. Then it begins again with someone else.

Why are Angels Married Pairs?

The Lord has arranged things so that each complete angel shall be "two, yet one." This has the effect of excluding the possibility of selfishness in Heaven. If the angels were single, sexless beings (as the conventional idea has it), then each would live for "itself" alone, and so would tend to be selfish, even in approaching God. As it is, each angel lives and works and worships as part of a team, and so selfishness is avoided.

Who will be your Partner in Heaven?

We have already seen that each of us will go, after death, to our own particular "place" in the spiritual world, determined by our ruling love and our attitude towards the Lord. That one place will be our "home," and we shall only be at rest when we are there. In Heaven, therefore, one's partner to eternity must be the member of the opposite sex whose spiritual home is the same as one's own: that is to say, whose ruling love is the counterpart of one's own. Thus after death, conjugal partners automatically find one another; there is no possibility of error.

As a general rule it can be said with confidence that marriages that are successful on earth will continue after death. That is the normal thing. No marriage, of course, will be completely perfect here. In this world, everything is in a state of equilibrium between Heaven and Hell. Also, here we are independent physical units, male and female, with our own independently operating wills and understandings. Complete merging is impossible. However, if the will to unite is present in both parties, then the perfect union will be effected after death. How could it be otherwise? Here, husband and wife face the same temptations together, and regenerate along the same lines. Their ruling loves inevitably tend to go in the same direction. It is most unlikely that any other woman will be "nearer" to a man than the wife whose company he has enjoyed for many years on earth. It follows, therefore, that, in the normal course of events, a couple who is happily married on earth will be reunited permanently in the spiritual world after death.

There is a beautiful teaching in Swedenborg, which many widows and widowers have confirmed in their own experience, that when one partner of a happy marriage passes over into the spiritual world, he or she keeps in close contact with their partner still on earth, especially during sleep. When the second partner also dies, the one on the other side will be waiting to welcome him or her, presumably in the intermediate region. One can imagine it being like a reunion at an airport, after which the two will go off together, as soon as possible after the formalities have been completed, to their future home; and I am sure there will be a meal ready for them!

(Do angels eat? Of course they do, when they experience spiritual hunger and thirst, or when they want to celebrate. Eating and drinking on earth "correspond" to the drawing in of love and wisdom from the Lord; and having a meal together "corresponds" to the cementing of mutual relationships.)

Marriage, however, does not always work out as it should. This is not necessarily anybody's fault. Take the following example. A young man marries a beautiful girl. They are deeply in love and completely happy together, hoping for conjugal love. But tragically the girl dies giving birth to their first baby. The man, with a new baby on his hands, eventually marries again—who can blame him? He lives with his second wife, for say, fifty or sixty years, during which time he becomes united with her. Then he dies and meets his first wife again in the spiritual world. (Couples who have once been in love usually want to see each other again after death.) But they will perceive at once whether they are any longer one in spirit, and so they will stay together or part amicably and go their separate ways.

Many couples who find themselves quite unable to unite spiritually, nevertheless hold together out of loyalty, or for the sake of the children, or for respectability, or because their religion forbids divorce. There are all sorts of difficult cases, as every marriage counselor knows. It is impossible to tell what these people will be like after death, when they are stripped bare, with only their ruling love driving them. The only possible answer to the question: "Who will be my spouse in Heaven?" is "The one whose spirit is closest to yours."

As a general rule, the wisest thing to do is to work on the assumption that your present partner will be your final one. Otherwise, if you start experimenting with other members of the opposite sex, you may end up losing your capacity for conjugal love altogether!

Our Lord's Reply to the Sadducees

How do the New-Church teachings regarding sex in the spiritual world fit in with our Lord's reply to the Sadducees in Matthew 22:29-30?

The Sadducees were members of a Jewish sect which did not believe in a life after death. They tried to trip Jesus up on this matter, by telling the story of a woman who married seven brothers in succession; and asked him sarcastically which of the seven would she have "in the resurrection." Jesus replied (perhaps rather sharply), "You do err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God." The kind of situation they were envisaging had nothing whatever to do with marriage in Heaven. The remarrying of widows by their brothers-in-law was a social convention among the Jews, devised to keep the inheritance within the family: it took no account of spiritual principles or internal states. "Marrying seven times in succession" might be possible in Hell, but not in Heaven. There, as we have seen, the correct pairing takes place automatically, as the direct result of such character formation as has already taken place on earth. The marrying, in fact, was effected on Earth, not in Heaven. So Jesus replied to the Sadducees: "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in Heaven."

Swedenborg also gives a deeper meaning to our Lord's words, relating to the union of good and truth, which must have taken place in one's heart before one ever gets to Heaven.

For further reading on this subject, see

Jesus and Paul on the Eternity of Marriage

To Chapter 10