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On marriage and heaven

Now for something completely different. Several days ago I received some correspondence from a young pastor who has been sending his questions on this topic to a variety of Christian writers and speakers. He had seen my husband speak recently but was more readily able to find my e-mail address and wanted to know if either of us had some insights on his questions. I won't quote his questions here, but their general import was to wonder what Jesus meant when he said that we will neither marry nor be given in marriage in the resurrection. As a happily married man, he was distressed at the thought of being separated from his wife in heaven or "not married" to her anymore and wondered how Jesus' words should be taken.

He also wondered whether Jesus' death and resurrection would not be able to restore us to Adam's prelapsarian state, which clearly was meant to include marriage.

One commentary he had read had even conjectured that we might be completely a-gendered beings in heaven, while another person he had consulted was not entirely closed to the idea that there actually will be sexual intercourse in heaven, though that person nevertheless discouraged speculation along those lines.

What follows is my response, which I admitted up front would be rather a long treatise:

First of all, I want to set what I am going to say later into an overall context so that it won't be misunderstood. I think that the commentaries are wrong when they imply that, in the resurrection, we will not be male and female. Jesus says that we will be "like the angels" in that we will not be married but does not say that we will be like the angels in being neither male nor female. (In fact, we don't even know very much from Scripture about the gender of the angels beyond the fact that they are always portrayed as male when they appear on earth!) So the idea of our being recreated as, in essence, aliens rather than human beings, aliens who have no gender, is not in my opinion supported by that passage nor by any other. The prima facie case is that, if a human being dies and is resurrected, the resurrected being is also human, which means (according to God's plan) either male or female.

Moreover, I don't think that Jesus' words imply that we will not know one another or have close human relationships in heaven. Nor does he say or imply that all of our human relationships in heaven will be identical to one another and that we won't be any closer to any one person than to anyone else. Why should Jesus be taken to mean that? That the relationship we call "married" will not be represented in heaven, at least not as we presently know it, doesn't mean that no important and close human relationships, including presumably relationships with those to whom we were closest on earth, will be represented in heaven. I think C.S. Lewis says somewhere that, since heaven is portrayed as a feast, it would be very strange if the guests didn't know one another! St. Paul says to the Thessalonians that they should be "comforted" by the thought of their loved ones as going to heaven and that they should not sorrow as those who have no hope, and this would seem extremely strange if the true doctrine were that we will never see each other again after death or that we will be separated from those we love forever.

What we don't know is the positive nature of those relationships. God hasn't chosen to tell us that by revelation, and we should believe that God has good reason for not choosing to tell us that. But I think we do not need to take Jesus to be saying anything more than that human spouses will have a significantly changed relationship in heaven and will, to put it bluntly, not be having sexual relations. (I think his audience would have understood "no sex" to be an important part of what he meant.) What will that relationship be changed to be like? We don't know in specifics. So we have to trust God that it will be something good, something consonant with "wiping all tears from our eyes," "the former things are passed away," "Behold, I make all things new," "eye hath not seen the things that God has prepared for those who love him," "the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed," and "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, which is far better." God has told us again and again of the joy and glory of heaven, and I think it would be presumption to demand more specifics as a condition of trusting him that, in fact, the life of eternity is joyful and wonderful beyond our present dreams.

Here I think that a robust notion of God as the source and fountain of all that is good is useful. The good of the beatific vision cannot, ultimately, be in competition with any finite good because it comprehends all finite goods. It is literally impossible for the goodness of God to be in conflict with some other goodness. In fact, if we place finite goods in competition with God we very much risk losing those finite goods themselves. Lewis again: "Ask for the Morning Star and take, thrown in, your earthly love."

Ultimately, this metaphysical truth gives us courage. Our metaphysical understanding of God as The Good, as the Summum Bonum, allows us to trust him when it comes to contemplating a heaven without sexual intimacy with a beloved spouse. It even allows us (about which more below) to be willing to die to this world in order to accept the world to come. We don't actually have to imagine heaven clearly in earthly terms–to be sure that there there will be art, music, horses, forests, food, sex, or any other specific good thing of earth–in order to know with great confidence that, in seeking the beatific vision, we are seeking both our own highest good and the highest good of those we love.

So I think that it is a serious mistake for commentators to say that we will be a-gendered beings in heaven. I also don't think there is any scriptural reason to believe that we will be separated from those we love on earth when we get to heaven or that no human relationships in heaven will be different or special. But I also think it is a serious mistake to think that there will be some kind of "heavenly sex," because it seems pretty clear that Jesus is saying that there won't be. So we have to rely on our independent reason for believing in the ultimate goodness of God and the promise of the greatest joy and glory in heaven so that we can trust God to give us the greatest joy even though our relationships with our beloved spouses will be greatly changed in ways we cannot now imagine.

Now, all that being said, I think that we can get some glimpses of why it makes sense for there to be no sexual intimacy, and in that sense no marriage as we know it, in heaven. One is the very issue that the Sadducees brought to Jesus, combined with Jesus' own words elsewhere to the effect that God intended one man and one woman to be the norm for marriage, which excludes polygamy as an ideal state. Since marriage after the death of a spouse is morally permissible, there are going to be people who have, though carefully following God's plan for marriage, had more than one spouse in this life, both of whom will be in heaven. But, since Jesus has also made it clear that polygamy was not God's ideal plan (and I think we can see this by the natural light as well), a "heaven" in which men and women are having polygamous sex with multiple partners throughout all eternity is ruled out. So it makes sense that the sexual aspect of human relationships is confined to earth rather than being an aspect of eternity. (In passing, I know of one Christian thinker who has conjectured that there will be non-physical sexual intercourse in heaven, whatever that may be exactly, and that one great thing about it is that this non-physical intercourse will not be confined to one person. This gives one an unpleasant image of promiscuous or at least polygamous heavenly phone sex, which was probably not his intention. It also highlights the dangers of speculation in this area!)

Second, the long, up-and-down, contingent saga of human history will end with eternity. In a way, this is a much bigger deal than the claim that sex and marriage will end with eternity, though I think the latter can be partly explained in light of the former. No more of all of that potentiality both for good and evil in babies, in families, in nations, in civilizations. I can imagine that an historian would find this rather a distressing thought in itself. No more heroic last stands. No more suspense and fear followed by joyous relief. No more of that incredible welter of glory, grandeur, and horror that is human history. It will all be in the past–remembered, transmuted, redeemed. But not continued and added to. Sexual intimacy in mankind has always had as its telos the founding of families and the continuation of human history. In saying this I am not making some sort of statement that all acts of sex between husband and wife must bring about procreation. I'm talking about sexual relations as a general type of phenomenon as created by God. What is sex about in relation to mankind? Given that there will be no more continuation and growth of human families and history in eternity, the central telos of sex as a human phenomenon is lost. So it makes sense that God will transform us in eternity so that in some way our humanity transcends the desire for sexual relations. (This point is related to the question you raise about Adam, which I'll give my best shot at below.)

Third, in some way that we can now only dimly grasp, heaven will be the ultimate satisfaction of our greatest and deepest earthly desires for unity, by way of our union with God. Those of us who have joyful and solid marriages know that these relationships are for us a symbol of what we most desire and most need, a symbol of the greatest happiness and joy. Indeed, they are more than a symbol; for those of us in a happy marriage, here on earth they are the source of our greatest human happiness. Moreover, the human male-female relationship of eros represents to those in it a striving for the complete union of beings that are different yet complementary. All of this explains why erotic imagery has surfaced a fair bit in the literature of mysticism, when a mystic tries to explain what union with God is like. In fact, we have scriptural warrant for believing that marriage is intended to have something like this symbolic role, since Paul likens the relationship between man and wife to the relationship between Christ and the church.

Now, this is rather speculative, but to me at any rate it makes sense that this greatest of earthly symbols will have to pass away when that which it symbolizes comes to be a perfect reality. I would not say that this is the teaching of I Corinthians 13 where Paul says, "When that which is perfect is come, that which is in part is done away," but it is consonant with it. Paul says that agape abides forever, but to my mind it makes sense that eros is like faith and hope as portrayed in I Corinthians 13–it is a great earthly good meant to point to something beyond itself. It is therefore transcended and becomes a remembered reality but no longer a present reality when that which it points to arrives.

This introduces the very interesting question, if one has a sacramental theology, as to whether or not there will be sacraments in heaven. Will we take Holy Communion in heaven, for example, when we are in the fully experienced presence of Christ himself? I am inclined to think not, and it fits with that view theologically to believe that the physical sacrament of marriage will be in some sense fulfilled in heaven and therefore will not continue on an on-going basis.

The next thing I want to talk about a bit is renunciation. I want to be very careful how I say this. I am not saying that married people on earth should give each other up and go into monasteries, or that it would be virtuous if they did so! I am not saying that married people on earth should give up having sexual relations with each other, or that they would be better if they did so! I'm saying nothing of that kind at all when I talk about renunciation.

What I am saying, though, is that since the Fall everyone who wants to go to heaven has to be willing to die. We know of a couple of people (Elijah and Enoch) who went to heaven without actually dying, but they are definitely the exception, and the evidence is that they had whatever willingness to die was called for. In the New Testament, Jesus is absolutely clear about this: He says that if anyone follows him, that person must take up his cross, must be willing to die, must lose his life. Jesus says this over and over again, and St. Paul teaches the same, repeatedly. Death is the gate to life. If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him. It is an absolutely central Christian teaching.

In this context, the idea of some kind of merely pagan "heaven," a "happy hunting grounds," in which everyone is just having a good time, all the earthly pleasures and joys, only more of them, forever, and a Christianity in which we follow Jesus in the hopes of getting that kind of heaven forever as a reward must be incorrect. By the way, this also applies to sitting around and singing all the time. That will do all right as one image, but that's not what it's all about. That is to say, the passionate musician is in just as much need of renunciation as the passionate lover. It's not as though the Christian life and heaven have been set up so that unmarried harp-players have an easy transition! On the contrary: We all have to be willing to give up everything in return for the beatific vision. This, by the way, is why I think it's better when we're really getting deeply into the subject to talk about the beatific vision, however vague our ideas of it may be. The contrast with "having a full marriage, complete with sexual intimacy, in heaven" shouldn't be "sitting around in a robe singing praises all day." It should be the beatific vision. Man's chief end, says the Westminster catechism, is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

Is this in conflict with what I said above when I said that God, as the Summum Bonum, literally cannot be in competition with some other good? On the contrary: These two truths–that the Good of God cannot finally be in conflict with other goods and that we must in the end be willing to "die to" all other goods–are deeply intertwined. Because of the Fall, we cannot make the transition to the beatific vision unless we die, give things up, allow things to fall from us, and accept what happens in faith that God knows what is best and that the greatest good is yet to come, in our ultimate union with him, even though we cannot now imagine it.

This is true of all earthly goods, not just of marriage. And think of how old age teaches us this. Consider a ballerina. If she lives to be old enough, she won't be able to dance anymore. That doesn't mean that dancing is bad. Let us imagine that her dancing was beautiful and was done to the glory of God. It was a gift of God, a gift to be received with joy and thanksgiving, and losing that ability will be a natural cause of grief. But in the end the dancer has to die. The dancer has to accept grief and death at the hand of God, including the "little death" of getting too old to dance. The singer gradually loses the glory of his voice as he ages and must accept this "little death" and the human grief and pain that accompanies it with trust and love, not with bitterness. This, I think, is related to what Jesus meant when he said that we must be willing to cut off a hand if necessary to enter into life eternal.

This is a hard saying. It is a hard fact. It is the hardest thing in life. Dying is like that.

So, in the end, the deeply loving husband and wife will die and be separated by death, and they must accept this and trust God to give them back their relationship in a transmuted form, according to his will, however, whenever, or whatever that may be. Just as the dancer must not say, "If I can't dance in heaven, I don't want to go to heaven" and should not seek reassurance that she will be able to dance in heaven before longing for union with God, so it is with the loving husband or wife. We cannot make our desire for heaven contingent upon any specific reassurance as to how and whether we will "get back" our earthly relationship as we know it with our spouse or any other earthly good whatsoever. As Christians, we must die full of trust in God that we will ultimately find all good in him, seeking him as our highest good, and knowing that in the final analysis we cannot have any good thing at all unless and except we have it in him. This is simply a fact of the spiritual life. There is no good apart from God. To be apart from God is to be in hell. And in hell there are no good things. If you have not recently done so, re-read Lewis's The Great Divorce on these topics and see how the human goods that each of the spirits seeks can be found only if the dead people are willing to desire God rather than seeking directly for the human good itself.

Now, I say all of this not because I'm suggesting that you sit around and make a spiritual exercise out of feeling renunciation concerning your relationship with your wife! I'm not suggesting anything of the sort! The way in which you are called upon to die today is going to be different from the way that you are called upon to die tomorrow. Present reality presents us with plenty of spiritual exercises without making up phantom ones culled from a dimly and imperfectly imagined future. Today, God may call upon you to die by selflessly resolving a conflict with your wife. Today, God may call upon you to die by accepting the common cold with kindness and humor. Today, God may call upon you to die by sitting up in the night with a vomiting baby or by listening to a boring member of your congregation talk for hours or by not losing your cool in a staff meeting in which the other people are being idiots.

Speaking for myself, I'm terrible at dying. I take even the tiniest of difficulties with a very bad grace indeed. Suffering scares me stiff. I don't want to give up a thing, and I'm a very irritable and difficult person to live with! I have a lot to learn about dying to self and dying to this world. If you do any googling at all and find my blogging on line, you will see me sometimes being harsh and not abiding fools gladly, which may sit oddly with these lofty thoughts. I mention it by way of anticipation and to show that I'm well aware of the contrast.

But some fifteen years ago I had an insight, which I find hard to put into words, and it is something like this: When I love this world most, I renounce it just because I love it most, and trust God to give it back to me if it is his will and in the way that is his will. I do not love this world most and most truly when I am grasping it tightly. I love it most when I perceive its grace and beauty with an almost painful sharpness and at the same time hold it out to God. Most days, I have no idea of this. It is just words. But after I had suffered a painful illness and was recovering, on that one day, for a few brief moments, I understood that truth.

God tries to teach us this truth a little bit every day, in ways great and small. He teaches it to us perhaps most of all through sorrow, pain, loss, and illness. So when the time comes for you to understand it through the greatest death of all–the parting from your wife–the grace will be there for you. You don't need to flog your courage by worrying now about whether your wife is an idol or asking yourself the hypothetical question, "Would I be willing to give up my wife?" and worrying that you don't know how to answer the question. God doesn't work like that. He gives us each day our daily bread–the courage today for the death you are called upon to die today, the loss you have to sustain today. But if you can believe these things that I am saying about renunciation, love, and trust, it will, I hope, help you not to fear too greatly the death you will be called upon to die another time.

This long discussion brings me, finally, to a few words about Adam. I think that you are incorrect when you conjecture that Jesus' death and our redemption should bring us back to the prelapsarian state, simpliciter. On the contrary, the prelapsarian state was a beginning. The beatific vision will be an end. The End, the realization of our greatest End–our ultimate telos. Adam was just getting started. This, of course, explains how God could create marriage in the garden for mankind but transcend marriage in mankind's eternity. The Garden of Eden wasn't eternity. It was never meant to be. It was the beginning of human history. Even if Adam hadn't fallen, there would have been some kind of human history. We just don't know what it would have been like. Lewis conjectures, in Perelandra, that an innocent and newly created race of beings who reproduce sexually may be intended for some kind of growth qua species. Hence, Tor and Tinidril as Lewis portrays them will someday be able to experience time itself differently and even move around in outer space. (This is mentioned at the end of the book.) Carrying that conjecture farther, we may say that perhaps if man had not fallen the entire human race would have finally been able to go through a painless transition to their own end of history, to the fuller beatific vision, and to that glorious, scarcely imaginable, yet entirely human transcendent state which we now can reach only by the painful process of death. That, of course, is something we may never know. Lewis also often says that we are not told what "would have happened." I bring it up here, though, to show that it is perfectly possible to construct a consistent theological position that in no way denigrates the state of Adam and Eve before the Fall while not holding that that is what Jesus is restoring us to as our own eternal state. He is offering us something better which, we may reasonably believe, was always God's final intent for man.

I hope that these thoughts are of some help.

Comments (18)

Lydia, this is brilliant. Thank you so much for posting it; it's such an encouragement and so well-reasoned and written.

I kept thinking of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo," especially when you write about renunciation -- the poem begins with the lament that there is no way to "keep" beauty; this world will destroy beauty and the sooner we realize this the better. But then comes the response -- oh, but, yes, wait; there is *one* way:

[B]eauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death.
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why [should we tread? Oh why are we so haggard at the heart, so care-coiled, care-killed, so fagged, so fashed, so cogged, so cumbered,]*
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,

It's easier to process when you can see the formatting: http://www.bartleby.com/122/36.html

(* This bracketed section is not in the online versions I can find, but the lines make much less sense without them, and the scholarly text I have includes them.)

We don't and can't know what eternity will be like -- but we know that God loves us and whatever losses we experience, He will keep what is good and we need only surrender it to Him, not try to hold onto it here.

I have had one question that I've yet to see a satisfying answer to about this issue. That is, why will God create a new *earth* as well as a new heaven, if we are to remain in heaven for eternity? What's the point of a new earth?

Thank you for your thoughts on this subject! I have wondered about this many times and feel like I have a better understanding of it now :)

FYI, I have attempted on my website to make as best of a case as I can for marriage-like relationships that include romantic and even sexual aspects.

For what it's worth, I examined the issue from a variety of angles - exegetically, theolocially, patristically, philosophically and even parapsychologically (Caveat lector: the philosophical arguments for my case are likely weaker than McGrew's arguments for her position). My site also includes links to others who have made similar cases.

Mrs. McGrew, Excellent piece of writing. I'll tell you that I definitely struggle to die daily. I often find myself feeling worried about what would happen to me, my faith in God, if anything terrible were to happen to my three kids or wife. Thank you for reminding me what I far too often forget, that God gives us the grace necessary for each day, and that he is good. I also find myself often seeking things for the wrong reasons. This is absolutely an attitude of love towards the world, the glory of men, instead of towards God.

Thanks Again.

Beth, I've often wondered about the new earth. We are told so little about it. I don't know that eternity and the beatific vision need to exclude our dwelling, at least some of the time, in a new earth. But we just don't know what that will be like, either. I'm quite sure that we will not be strictly a-temporal beings, both because we will be finite and not able to experience "all at once" and also because we will have bodies. So it would not be at all impossible for us to dwell in a new earth. But apparently that earth will not have a history in the same sense that our earth has a history--e.g., civilizations rising and falling, birth, death, etc.

This is very good! It makes me wonder though how the idea of knowing all those close to us in Heaven fits with the idea that we will forget all those we knew who are in hell. Will we notice gaps in our memory? Also how do we look to Heaven wanting it more than earth when we understand earth but don't understand what Heaven will be like?

I think of how C.S. Lewis spoke of a teenage boy telling a little boy about the pleasures of sex. The little boy asks "Do you have chocolate during it?" He can't imagine a great good that doesn't involve chocolate. (Okay. I do know sometimes sex can involve chocolate if the couple prefers, but it's not essential.) Why do the lovers not care about chocolate? Because there is something far greater that oversees chocolate.

I also compare this with the Muslim view of Heaven where what did Muhammad do? He simply took a great earthly good and juiced it up to the max. That's the kind of way most of us would think if we were describing Heaven. In fact, it shouldn't be a shock that sexual terminology like a bride coming down and such are used to describe it in the Bible. In many ways, sexual intimacy is one of the highest goods we can think of. (Admittedly, it's difficult to think about a lack of sex in Heaven.)

But then, just like the case of chocolates, if God takes away one good, He will not give us a lesser one in its place. No one will ever say in eternity "I wish it was the way it was back then." It will be so good we won't even think about how it was I am sure and if we do it would be something like "Yeah. That was alright."

I don't think Scripture indicates that we will _forget_ those in hell, nor do I know of any theological argument for this. Presumably our wills will be so united with God's that we will not _suffer_ because of those in hell.

As to the question of how we can desire heaven, that's an excellent psychological and pastoral question to which I don't fully know the answer. Speaking autobiographically, I will say that I find that the best way is truly to internalize the fact that all the good things of earth come from God and have their goodness from God. Hence there is a sense in which, in wanting them, I am wanting God. I worship and desire God as the source of all goodness. So whatever earthly bliss I experience can be viewed as a stepping-stone to the desire for God. He is "all that and more," in a sense. This can *to some degree* obviate the need for an ability positively to imagine heaven.

I don't object to images of heaven in terms of meeting loved ones and the like. A great many wonderful songs would be impossible without them. And "streets of gold" and praising the Lord are explicitly endorsed by the Book of Revelation. Moreover, neither of these images is _blocked_ by Scripture, whereas any notion of heavenly sexual intimacy definitely is.

A beautiful essay, Lydia. Reading it, I remembered that in the New Jerusalem there will be no Temple, because the Lord himself will be the Temple of that City (Revelation 21:22). The Temple is a type of sacrament: an outward and visible sign of an inward grace. We may infer that in Heaven there shall not be any other of the sacraments, either, including the sacrament of marriage – that rite being, precisely, the “marital act,” by which the marriage is consummated and thus brought into actual being as a fact of history. We shall not need them, or any of their subsidiary goods, or for that matter any creaturely goods of any sort, because we shall there possess the Good to which all creaturely goods refer, and in which they participate, and in virtue of which they have their goodness in the first place. This includes all the goods of history: pets, mountains, galaxies, and anything endogenous to creation, anything other than God himself. We shall not need them. All creatures will be superfluous to our life, the whole of which will be had in, and lived in virtue of, God. All our experience of other creatures, as we shall then realize (far better than we now do), shall be mediated by God. We shan’t “have” anything; all things will be in God, of him, from him. How could we “have” a piece of God, how could we own a property that was his? We could not.

But, on the other hand, we shall have the earthly goods we love, or something better than them, to which they were but poor approximations. We’ll have bodies, e.g., with skin and hair and sweat, the whole shooting match. Those bodies will have all the powers of our current bodies. But they’ll be Resurrection Bodies, freed of all the defects imposed on our current bodies by Original Sin and the stains of the history subsequent thereto, and thus with vastly different and less constraining ontological limits on their powers. We’ll have what bodies were first intended to be like at their maximum of maturity and virtue.

So with worship, music, art, adventure, and work. We’ll not need to farm, for example, because there will be plenty of food; but we might still nevertheless be able to partake of the joys of farming, including even the sweat of the brow.

So, finally, also, with sex, and marriage: we won’t have them as we know them here below, but we’ll rather have what they signify, and intend, in the perfected history of Heaven. Whatever it is, it will be what sex is like, and approximates, but never quite achieves.

When you get everything from God, you get everything of God.

Wonderful post and reflection on an important topic. As I read I was struck with the importance of living/loving/longing for the coming Kingdom. That may not be the best way to say it. But I believe that fretting or fearing some kind of loss in view of the Kingdom may in some cases indicate two things. First that we are falling a little short in our faith and understanding of God, His program and plan. You are right, it is not Eden, it is not now, it will be the way things are supposed to be for us. Secondly I think concerns like this may indicate that we are holding on a little two tightly as you suggested.

I do not mean to slight those who struggle at times because I do as well.

Lydia, this is certainly a very, very worthy foray into an exceedingly difficult topic.

At almost every turn, I think you call up the right passage, or an excellent analogy, or just kind of qualifier needed. I might have a point or two to add, but mostly just affirming what you've already said from another angle.

We really are not told much about the new Earth. It's a mystery. On the one hand we won't need any of its attributes to "support" our bodies: resurrected, glorified bodies can do just fine without food, can walk through walls, can rest in space without an Earth under our feet. On the other hand, a glorified body can use earthly goods: can eat fish, can make a fire, can speak audibly. Very tentatively, I think that our relationship to Earth will be that of willing it to perform what we want of it. And what will we want of it? Don't know.

But one thing about time: we will in some sense be able to experience timelessness. The Beatific Vision is, in itself, timeless, because it is seeing, and knowing, and LIVING, God's own life, which is timeless, in perfect intimacy of an unmediated experience. On the other hand, we will have bodies which will remain capable of motion, and this implies time of some sort. The angels, (so say the theologians) have a kind of aeviternity that pertains to them, insofar as they are not subject to change in their substance (they do not come to be nor are they subject to decomposition and passing away in time), but they can have a kind of change "annexed" to them accidentally as regards choice, or knowledge (not even the angels in heaven know the hour of the second coming). This, I think, suggests a modus of our life in the new Earth, an aeviternity. But it suggests hardly anything regarding what we will actually be doing. It is beyond my imagination to suppose a bodily activity that we would not, eventually, tire of doing after "long enough" (i.e. after the umpteenth trillionth time or so). Even though I feel sure that we will have our bodies for a good reason.

I think, Lydia, that you hit the nail on the head about sex being a sign of something else. Indeed, the uniqueness of marriage (with only one spouse - at a time), and the fidelity it implies, are signs of the relationship we are supposed to have with God - the one God, to whom we must be faithful before ALL OTHER goods. And in the perfection of that love in the beatific vision, I suspect, we will find that the need for sex, and the desire of sex, and the joy of sex find their fruition WITHOUT SEX. This is, finally, why monks are called to the celibate life. They present to us that the higher state of life, the life even more perfectly united to God than our natural life, can forsake the goods of sex and not lose out in the process. Somehow, unity with God so completely fulfills our need for that intimacy of union that sexual union becomes irrelevant - indeed, God placed within us that physical and affective need precisely to point us in the direction of fulfillment with Him.

Which does NOT mean that human relationships cease to have any meaning in heaven, as you say. Actually, I think, human loves (and, par excellence human marital loves) will be just about the only thing that carries over into heaven in anything like the same format or order. Nothing physical will carry over (without passing through death), but true love is of the spirit (true love is of God, who is love (1 John).) Hence the communion of saints, which is not some esoteric coterie of a special "in" crowd, it is a community of like-minded and like-loving people who enjoy each other in their unity with God. But in any community there are those closer and those less close: we will have special intimacy with those who helped us get to heaven, and those whom we helped get to heaven, and that generally fits the description of good spouses like a glove. Imagine, if you will, an enormous banquet where you are sitting with your family and special friends, with Jesus sitting at the place of honor at your table - and that this is true of everyone at the banquet.

One last thought: renunciation. When we make marriage vows, we make our vows "until death". This is two-part. Not only does the state of marriage itself end at the death of the first spouse, but also we are stating something about the GOODS of marriage: they pertain to this life, and we are thus promising to give them up at death. We are, in effect, saying to God "until you decide this state shall no longer be my state, this spouse no longer mine". Your promise is to give back to God what He is only loaning to you for a time.

Yes, I've always been intrigued by the concept of aeviternity, Tony. I think this may have been what Lewis was getting at when he has Tor say in Perelandra that the time is coming when they have developed to the point that they can experience time differently.

That is a very interesting point concerning the vow "till death do us part." I think that widows and widowers must experience a lot of painful feelings concerning loyalty. On top of the grieving, of course. But, for example, how could one bear to decide not to wear one's wedding ring anymore after the spouse has died? It would feel like disloyalty. It is presumably much easier for the spouse who has died, but that probably to some extent depends on whether one believes in Purgatory or not. :-)

when they have developed to the point that they can experience time differently.

I forgot that detail in Perelandra.

It is presumably much easier for the spouse who has died, but that probably to some extent depends on whether one believes in Purgatory or not. :-)

No, no, it matters not whether you believe in Purgatory. What matters is whether you END UP there, belief or not. :-))

I'm fascinated with aeviternity, too. The only way I can understand it is by analogy to mystical experience, in which one knows everything whatsoever as a single whole, all at once, by means of the discovery of one's origin and life in God. The mystic reckons God, in a sense *recognizes* him; realizes, or better remembers, that he is always, has always been, in and of God, and vice versa; and in that communion with God, finds himself in communion with all things. This integrity of the mystic with God is nowise an evaporation of the mystic's own selfhood; on the contrary.

So the analogy to aeviternity is that in it we will still be ourselves in motion, embodied in a cosmos with a history, but that from each moment of that history we will see all the way to the bottom of it, where it stands, and indeed takes both its origin and wins its completion, in and by eternal omniscience.

Kristor, that's kind of the direction I was thinking of.

Excellent point about the mystic. I would add that although in this life mystics, in the midst of their mystical experience, are frequently so absorbed interiorly that they cannot function directly with those around them, I think this is not a fundamental limitation of mystical union. The angels in heaven do not cease to be united to God in the beatific vision even when they are sent to humans as messengers / helpers. So, apparently, experiencing God so intimately is not contradictory to doing other things at the same time. Which suggests, just as you say, a double experience - that of doing, but at the same time that of one-ness, completion, finality, wholeness through God's eyes.

Something of the same sort is experienced by athletes and musicians who are performing at the uttermost pitch of their ability. They describe the state as being “in the zone” or “flow:” everything is integral, coherent, harmonious, everything is moving deliberately, there is no rush, they can see and hear the whole field of action, and they know what is about to happen. It is as if they are running along at the rim of the wheel and seeing from its motionless center. Time slows to a crawl, even as they move with lightning speed and agility.

I have been in this state a number of times, as a musician and as a whitewater boatman. The field of my comprehension in such moments was not limited to the matter of my immediate concern – the music and musicians, the water and the boat – but extended outward to encompass far, far more: the smell of the tamarisk, the cloud over the canyon, the wren, evening; the pleasure of the audience, the gloom high in the cathedral, the traffic outside, the loom of midnight. It felt as though I could go as deep as I wanted into the flow, and my comprehension could reach out without limit.

Eckhart called this state spatiosissimus.

Incidentally, the relative silence of orthodox Christianity when it comes to specific details concerning the new creation is arguably an evidential point in Christianity’s favour. (Compare e.g. Mormonism and Islam.) We know, among a few things, that we will see God in some sense (the Beatific Vision), that we will worship him together (we need not fear that friendships between those in Christ will be torn asunder), that we will have physical bodies of some kind, that “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain,” and that there will be no marriage (!). We can infer some other things, too, but only in the abstract. There is nothing in these descriptions especially compelling to the person who seeks only money, or sex, or worldly power or honour. And, as for this life, Jesus in one of his un-seeker-sensitive moments put it very nicely: “In the world you will have tribulation.”

In short, the picture painted by Christianity of both this life and eternal life in Christ is really only especially compelling to those who want to know God, and are willing to trust that the life to come will be far better than what we can imagine in the present.

Tom Larsen, that's an interesting point.

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