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For thousands of years, the same yellow sun has risen over the vast collection of people that in the last century we have come to call India. The term ‘country’ just doesn’t seem to capture it! 28 states, more like 28 countries, with a multitude of traditions, languages, and styles stretching over a geography that varies from the soaring Himalayas to the steamy Bay of Bengal.
And yet, within this riot of colour and culture, one building has come to represent India to the world. Ivory-coloured stone, intricately carved, and perfectly proportioned, glows in the rising sun. Its central dome and flanking towers soar above the plain of Agra. Here, shimmering in the sun beside the River Yamuna, is one of the most celebrated buildings in all the world.
Breathtaking, isn’t it? It’s no wonder the United Nations has awarded it World Heritage status. More than two million people travel here every year to admire its architectural beauty. But few know the equally beautiful story behind its construction.
Today we will journey into this magnificent masterpiece and discover the lessons this building contains. Lessons of love that are shared with the greatest book the world has ever known, revealing practical tips for those strained relationships that cause us so much stress and hurt.
EMPEROR SHAH JAHAN
The very approach to the Taj Mahal shows why historians believe it to be the finest example of Imperial Mughal architecture in India. The Great Gate is a monumental construction in mostly red marble, that mirrors the greatness of the earlier emperors. Its surfaces are decorated with sacred scriptures and the elaborate geometric designs that are found in other red sandstone buildings in the complex.
But these intricacies are only a pale reflection of the beauty that lies beyond. The Taj Mahal is the creation of the greatest emperor during the Golden Age of the Mughal Empire, Shah Jahan.
In 1632, the emperor ordered construction to begin on a complex that would take thousands of craftsmen 22 years to complete. It would bring together the best that man and nature could provide.
A garden 300 metres on each side incorporates raised pathways and reflection pools that represent the rivers of paradise. And the culmination of this earthly beauty? Four Muslim minarets that surround a fabulously decorated 35-meter white marble cube crowned by an iconic onion dome.
The Taj Mahal is widely acknowledged as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but there’s more to its claim to fame than awe-inspiring architecture. The Taj Mahal might be the creation of a king, but it isn’t a palace.
It’s actually a tomb built to commemorate a love story that is even more beautiful than its pale white walls. This magnificent work of art is a monument to an unusual relationship, and its story starts further up the River Yamuna.
Agra’s spectacular Red Fort was Shah Jahan’s palace and the seat of his empire. It was a statement of his power and prestige, befitting of the greatest emperor India had ever known. And every other part of his life was expected to follow suit, including his marriage.
A ROYAL MARRIAGE
In Shah Jahan’s day, royal marriages were almost always a matter of political alliance. There was expected to be a payoff for getting hitched. But Shah Jahan chose differently.
One day, Shah Jahan was visiting a certain royal bazaar and his eye fell on Arjumand Banu. Now he was a man used to beautiful things, but Arjumand arrested his eye. She would become the unquestioned love of his life.
The emperor asked for her hand in marriage and was accepted, but then had to wait five long years before court astrologers decreed that the stars were properly aligned for a royal wedding. During that time, Jahan and Arjumand never met, never saw each other, but their love remained strong. From the day of their wedding, the two became inseparable.
Royal poets wrote that the beauty of Arjumand made the moon hide its face in shame. But Jahan appreciated much more than her physical beauty. His bride proved so intelligent that she soon became his most trusted political advisor. She was generous and compassionate, each day drawing up lists of helpless widows and orphans and making sure their needs were attended to.
Arjumand bore her husband many children. And despite the complex problems of ruling an empire, Shah Jahan enjoyed an idyllic existence with his wife. Shah Jahan was so taken with his wife that she became not only his chief consort, but his empress. And he conferred on her the title by which she is still known today, Mumtaz Mahal, the chosen one of the palace.
When the Shah had to go on a military expedition against rebel forces in the south of India, Mumtaz Mahal insisted on going along to be at his side, even though she was pregnant. And it was during this campaign that tragedy struck. After giving birth to her 14th child, Mumtaz died. Shah Jahan was devastated!
He locked himself in his quarters and refused to eat. He lay moaning on his bed for eight long days. And when the Shah finally emerged, he seemed to have aged several years. Mumtaz Mahal, the love of his life, was gone. The love that seemed eternal, snatched away.
MONUMENT TO LOVE
But this man found a way to immortalise his passion. He decided to build a mausoleum for his empress as beautiful as their love. And so the Taj Mahal was built, an exquisite monument enshrining Mumtaz Mahal remains. The perfect match had been cut short. But Shah Jahan made sure it would be remembered for ages to come in this exquisite structure.
This would be the Emperor’s monument to their love. When people stand before this structure, they’re really looking at the physical manifestation of a commitment that transcends even death. And many are moved by the eloquence of one man’s undying devotion to his wife.
The Taj Mahal is a wonderful monument. But, you know, I believe each of us can build an equally beautiful living monument with our marriages. In a world of stunted relationships, we can each make our own eloquent statements about undying love.
THE NATURE OF LOVE
We all love someone or something. We are made for giving and receiving love. Solomon, who was supposedly the wisest man who ever lived, suggested there is something wonderful, almost mysterious about a couple falling in love. Are we any closer in our current times in understanding how we fall in love?
Current brain research is providing new insights into the nature of love. We are discovering more about how the different parts of our brains and our various hormones work together to produce feelings of love and affection.
Many people fail to understand love because they think of it as a single thing – a feeling or emotion. It certainly includes those, but love is actually more like the ancient Indian art we call pietra dura. Highly-polished coloured stones and other material are glued or driven into a surface to create an intricate pattern.
God’s idea of eternal love works the same way. Many appealing elements making up the one beautiful relationship. You can see the same technique employed in the decorations of the Taj Mahal, many elements making up one beautiful result.
THE GREAT LOVE CHAPTER
And the best place to find it in the Bible is Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Chapter 13 is the Bible’s great love chapter, and it’s as beautiful, and if not grander, than the Taj Mahal!
After telling us that without God’s kind of love, we accomplish nothing, we are nothing, Paul focuses on its specific qualities. He tells us the way love behaves:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4,5)
In these two verses, Paul contrasts two mindsets: patience and kindness versus pride, boastfulness, selfishness, and anger. The first expresses love and builds it up. The second destroys it. God’s kind of love is the great adversary of selfishness.
The self-centered life is always trying to protect itself, keeping threats away by putting up a proud, boastful exterior. It’s a ‘me against them’ approach, one that’s easily irritated and angered.
Love is God’s weapon against this most basic human problem, selfishness. The person who is receiving and giving God’s kind of love is secure enough to move beyond that little circle of self. He’s able to be sensitive to other people’s needs, as well as his own.
This love is the bedrock of a lasting marriage. Nowhere is it more essential than in the union of two individuals. Marriage requires that we step out of ourselves. Now that’s easy to do at first when the heat of infatuation drives us to gaze lovingly into the eyes of our beloved.
But as the years go by, that old tendency to self-centeredness catches up with us. Giving our time, our attention, our concern, ourselves to our mate doesn’t always come naturally. Only God’s love is strong enough to keep us giving throughout a lifetime. Only his love can generate patient kindness when the going gets rough. That’s when it really counts, isn’t it?
It’s easy to love when the flowers are blooming and your spouse is beaming and the paycheck just came in. But when the garden flops, and your spouse is fuming, and the bills flood in, human love usually collapses.
That handsome groom, that seemed so charming and considerate, leaves his dirty socks on the floor and spends most weekends watching TV. And that lovely bride who seems so sweet, gets irritable and spends her time on the phone gossiping to friends. Sooner or later, we all realise we didn’t marry Mr. Wonderful or Miss Perfect.
This is when the conflict becomes more frequent in the relationship. Now, we all know that conflict is inevitable as there are two viewpoints coming into the relationship. But the key is how we take time to listen and understand what is important to one another, and work together to get the best outcome.
Patience, forbearance, kindness during the tough times. That’s God’s kind of love!
LOVE THAT COUNTS
Beck was driving to work one morning in rush hour and got a little too close to the man in the car ahead. When he put on his brakes, she didn’t stop in time and crunched into his rear fender. Both cars stopped.
Beck got out, surveyed the damage, and broke into tears. She knew it was her fault, and her car was brand new, just two days from the showroom. How was she ever going to face her husband? The other driver was sympathetic, but explained that they needed to note each other’s licence and rego. numbers.
So Beck reached into a glove compartment to get the documents. But when she pulled them out, she saw there was a note attached.
In the heavy masculine scrawl of her husband were these words addressed to her, “In case of accident, remember, honey, it’s you I love, not the car.” That’s kindness when it really counts, that’s the kind of love that lasts a lifetime!
REMINDERS IN STONE
Millions come to see the Taj Mahal every year, but many miss an interesting feature inscribed on the walls of this majestic building. Passages of the Quran are inscribed throughout the complex as decorative elements. They were chosen to reflect themes of judgement.
In a building that has come to symbolise the love of a husband for his wife, there are hundreds of reminders that God has his eye on the way we treat each other and will hold us to account. The self-centered lash out at problems, while the patient try to solve them. The self-centered react in anger to any threat, while the patient overcome anger with kindness.
There was a time when venting your feelings was standard advice for married couples. We’d come to realise that suppressing anger, holding it inside is emotionally unhealthy, even a threat to physical health. So the solution was, get it all out.
Healthy relationships, we were told, require total honesty. You must say exactly what you feel, but intense expressions of anger, resentment, and dislike don’t solve too many problems. Expressing anger freely usually doesn’t make it go away. It only intensifies it. Ugly habits are reinforced.
A survey was carried out involving 350 couples who’d been married 15 years or more. The goal was to discover what makes lasting relationships work. It discovered that the majority of these happily married couples strongly agreed that regularly expressing your anger in an intense way could have damaging effects. They felt restraint was important and that a certain calmness is necessary in order to deal with conflict constructively.
It’s still true that, as the Book of Proverbs says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Patience and kindness are what solve problems, and they are what bind people closer and closer together over the decades. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians tells us,
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:7)
Did you know that there are an awful lot of couples who seem to delight in evil? They love keeping a record of wrongs. And as the years go by, people often notice more and more imperfections and weaknesses in their spouse.
What a difference it would make if we concentrated on the best in our partners rather than keep a record of wrongs. Selfishness dulls a relationship. Love values, protects, polishes. God’s kind of love focuses on the good in the other. It emphasises the best.
Do you appreciate your partner? Then express that appreciation! It will diminish and may even die, if it isn’t given a voice. But your love will blossom if it’s expressed. Focusing on the positive does make a difference. It can transform our perspective and put an end to problems before they take root.
FOCUSING ON THE GOOD
There was a young wife named Amber who walked into her pastor’s office one day looking terribly depressed. She began to pour out a long, painful story about her husband Ben. He treated her with contempt. Nothing she did pleased him. Each day she dreaded the moment he returned home from work.
Now Amber was a beautiful young woman, but her sense of rejection had turned her into a defeated, tense, and distant wife. And the more she felt Ben’s disdain, the less motivated she became to please him. Amber was trapped in a vicious cycle.
The pastor decided he’d better have a visit with Ben. This guy was astounded to hear that he was the cause of his wife’s depression. Like most men, he didn’t understand how well his wife could read his attitude toward her.
Well, this pastor came up with one specific suggestion. “Find 10 positive qualities in Amber,” he said, “And thank God for them! Thank God twice a day, on the way to and home from work.” Now that didn’t seem so hard. So Ben agreed.
Ben began thanking God for the things he liked about Amber. And before long, she actually began to change before his eyes. She became more affectionate. Ben continued to be thankful for her and Amber grew in self-respect and motivation.
After some time, the pastor asked Ben if he’d memorised his list of Amber’s 10 positive qualities. He replied, “I’ve not only got them memorised. I’m finding new ones to be grateful for every day.”
Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if each of us decided to find new things to be grateful for in our spouses? Instead of looking at the flaws, the things that irritate, we decided to discover and appreciate those facets that reflect God’s glory the best.
If you’re having a hard time appreciating your husband or wife, let me challenge you to do one simple thing: write down things you do like about him or her. Now, if you’re wrestling with bitter experiences, it’ll be hard at first. The pull to keep a record of wrongs is hard to resist.
But look hard. Look carefully. There are qualities you can appreciate in your spouse. Begin by concentrating on them, thanking God for them. And I believe you’ll see your partner transformed before your very eyes!
Some senior couples declare that they’re experiencing the best love they’ve had in all their time together. Are they just being forgetful, or might they be close to the truth? I think they might be right.
MARRIAGE AS GOD INTENDED
A marriage, as God intended it, does get better with time. A marriage filled with love, forgiveness, kindness; a marriage that looks out for the other rather than yourself. That’s a beautiful thing, which reflects in an earthly way the immense love that God has for all of us.
Like Shah Jahan, God loves us with an everlasting love that transcends even death. And through our marriages, we can show an example of that love to others in the world. We have the privilege of reflecting something divine as a couple. Each of us in our homes can build a Taj Mahal, a lasting monument.
Shah Jahan, the builder of that splendid tomb, experienced one more great tragedy sometime after the death of his beloved wife. His own son became greedy for power and turned against him.
In 1658, the son led a plot against his father and usurped the throne. Shah Jahan was confined in his own palace. He lived there the last eight years of his life, a prisoner in a gilded cage. But he had one consolation.
Through his window, he could look out across the Yamuna River and see his wife’s resting place. The monument still stood. The symbol of his love remained as beautiful as ever. It’s said that when the guards found Shah Jahan dead at the age of 74, his eyes were still open, fixed on the sparkling jewel of the Taj Mahal.
OUR GREATEST RESOURCE
God wants each one of us to have a monument like that, an expression of the love that lasts forever. He wants our marriages to fulfill that high calling. He longs for our homes to be a foretaste of heaven. And we can have that kind of marriage if we centre our lives on God’s kind of love.
That can become our greatest resource; the love the God gives. If we’re feeding our hearts and minds on that each day, we’ll be able to exhibit patient kindness, and believe the best when it really counts. Being in a healthy and happy relationship can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever experience!
If you would like to learn more about strengthening relationships, then I’d like to recommend the free gift we have for all our incredible journey viewers today. It’s a booklet called “14 Steps To A Happy Marriage.”
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Be sure to join us again next week, when we will share another of life’s journeys together. Until then, let’s pray to the God who loves each one of us.
Dear Heavenly Father, our relationships, our marriages are so vitally important to us, so vitally important to our happiness and wellbeing. And Father, we pray that you will build those relationships; that we will base them on the foundation of your love. Bless each one of us now, we pray, and grant us your love and your blessing, for we ask this in Jesus name. Amen.