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Volume 14, Issue 3: Husbandry

More of Sex in Heaven

Douglas Wilson

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis gives us a wonderful picture of the ultimate sexual sanctification in the resurrection. One of the ghosts visiting heaven in that story has a little red lizard on his shoulder, representing lust. After some conversation, an angel receives permission from the ghost to kill the lizard. When he has done so, the ghost is turned into one of the solid people of heaven, and the lizard, mangled and broken on the ground, comes back to life as a glorious stallion. The man, now redeemed, mounts the stallion and they both ride off into the mountains, further up and further in. The lesson is clear—"nothing, not even the best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death."

The great danger in denying that there is sex in heaven (as we know it) is that we invariably interpret this as a downgrade. But this is unbelief, and it moves us entirely in the wrong direction. At the same time, if the marital relation continues in some fashion in heaven, and if this includes sexuality in some fashion, then a number of things follow. The Saduccean question confronts us directly, and this means that either sex has to be completely transformed, or marriage has to be.
The Gnostic solution is always to etherize the resurrection, making it ghostly. This gets rid of the Saducean taunt, but at far too high a cost. We lose the materiality of the created order, which the Scriptures require us to see as established forever. Jesus rummaged in the fridge after His resurrection, and ate some honeycomb and broiled fish (Luke 24:41_43), and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Ghosts don't eat honeycomb, and so this sheds light on Paul's comment that both food and stomach will be destroyed (1 Cor. 6:13). Destroyed, yes, but how and in what direction? We tend to take this as the destruction of annihilation, rather than the destruction of death and glorious resurrection.
Christ passed through the wall into the upper room, and yet He was able to eat while there. This is a problem for us because it never occurs to us that He passed through the wall because the wall was ghostly, and not because Christ's resurrection body was. And then we wonder how a ghost could eat fish—but the real problem is how that ghostly fish could have satisfied a true man.
In trying to puzzle this out, we can go three basic directions from our current material bodies. The first direction is down, and this Gnostic alternative has already been roundly rejected. And good riddance. Whatever happens in the resurrection, we are not neutered or vaporized.
The second direction is transformation out, where the differences between heaven and earth are to be seen in terms of ethical newness. In other words, marriage is not what marriage is here, although sex still is. Consequently, polygamy is not polygamy, fornication is not fornication, virginity is not virginity. In other words, the material conditions of life (although glorious and incorruptible) remain largely what they are here, but the meaning of them is altered. The Sadducees were asking the wrong question. In this view, the Sadducees were trying to fit square non-resurrection pegs into round resurrection holes.
The last alternative, and the one I want to argue for, is up— further up and further in. This approach admittedly does not answer or explain what the resurrection will be like exactly, and so it might be frustrating to those who want an advance peek at it. But it does solve the problem by faith. God will not raise us from the dead, male and female, in order to rip us off. The Scriptures invite us to think far above our current material limitations and conditions. "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:17_19).
And John says, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:2). In this view, we do not transcend materiality or sexuality, but our material sexuality does transcend itself, and in doing so becomes more like itself, not less. Heaven is glorious maturity, not an infantile regress. And because we cannot imagine this rightly (being infantile now), the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
This means that in the resurrection there will always be a sky above us. There is always room for another glorious invitation to go further up and further in. But if the ideal of heaven is that of a perfect version of our life here, but one that has no death for closure, eternal life seems to me more like a corridor that goes on forever, with a ceiling eight feet high. The problem with our desires, including our sexual desires, is not that they are overpowering, but that they are insipid and weak. Before we can know true desire, we shall have to be raised. Until then we can only pray and imagine. Again Lewis: "Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed."

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