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Volume 14, Issue 3: Poetics

Dissent on "Meta-Sex" in Heaven

Douglas Jones

Here now I have to disagree with my friend and editorial-chief Douglas Wilson concerning his meanderings on the subject of sex in heaven in this and the previous issue (see page 13). The subject is obviously delightfully bizarre and has very few handles. Neither of us could be heated or dogmatic on such a topic. But several very important subjects lurk beneath the surface here.

Wilson sorta wants to leave the answer a mystery, and I'm all for that, but he doesn't rest there. On the one hand he says, "when we learn that we will not be married in our mundane sense, we imagine we will be unmarried in the mundane sense. . . . We will be meta-sexual beings. Whatever our relationship will be, it will be better than we have now, very different from what we have now, and have a basic continuity with what we have now." Nice, peaceful mystery. But despite speaking of "continuity," he goes on to side with discontinuity: "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," namely, either sex or marriage has to be "completely transformed." Discontinuity trumps continuity.
I think Wilson's first misstep was to start his discussion from the Sadducees' question about the resurrection (Mt. 22:38ff; Mk. 12:23; Lk. 20:23). To use this encounter effectively, though, he has to assume that Jesus gives a direct answer to the question. But the fact is that Christ rarely plays by his dishonest opponents' rules. He refuses to cast pearls before swine and often gives parables and intentionally confusing replies. They didn't deserve real answers.
The key phrase, then—"neither marry, nor are given in marriage"—might be doing several things in answering the Sadducees, none of which might be an attempt to answer our question concerning marriage in heaven. As above, Christ might simply be giving an obscure answer to frustrate evil men. Or He might be using the language of marriage initiation—"giving and taking" in marriage (Num. 30; Dt. 22; Ex. 22:16; Ps. 78:63)—to declare that there will be no new marriages after the resurrection. Or He might be declaring that the levitical code invoked in their question will no longer be in force in the New Covenant (Eph. 2:15). Or, as elsewhere, Christ might be speaking of two resurrections (Jn. 5; Rev. 20:6). Notice that in Matthew's account, Christ turns from speaking about "the resurrection" (Mt. 22:30) to address: "But as touching the resurrection of the dead" (Mt. 22:31). And in Luke's account, we would run into an odd heresy if we didn't see two resurrections at work: "But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage" (Lk. 20:35). If this refers only to the final resurrection, then the claim is that we ought not to be married now in order to reach heaven. Whatever the case in the last option, it has nothing to do with the future state of marriage and sex.
Better than starting with the Sadducees' question, we should let the the larger purposes for marriage and culture and life on earth shape our understanding of Christ's answer. First of all, the verses cited by Wilson that point to a strong discontinuity between earth and heaven (Rom. 8:17; 1 Jn. 3:2) have to be understood in light of Christ's own resurrection (Lk. 24:42ff; Rom. 6:5; Mt. 27:52). In the same breath, John can say, "it doth not appear what we shall be," and then in the next tell us that "we shall be like him" (1 Jn. 3:2). In looking at the post-resurrection Christ, we find Him still a man—eating, talking, and walking, with no hint of "meta-sexuality" or "our material sexuality [transcending] itself." Christ is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). Continuity.
To this, we can add that God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16) and speaks of being married to His wife forever (Hos. 2:19). To later describe heaven as a place where all our marriage covenants become void in some supersplendent way grinds the gears in reverse of everything God has pointed to. The Trinity will certainly keep His covenantal bonds intact for eternity; why not those who reflect Him by marriage covenant and sexual union? Where do we get a hint in Scripture of a shift from covenantalism to a more individualistic state? And if sex sanctifies us here on earth, how much more will it be needed to reach full maturity in heaven?
Even more broadly, the goal of the kingdom is the transformation of the earth, the move from an immature to a mature Eden (Is. 51:3; Acts 3:21). The New Heavens and Earth passages begin from the Cross but reach into the final state too; they move from glory still stained by the curse (Is. 65:20) to the complete removal of the curse (Is. 65:25; Rev. 22:3). And yet the assumption about the mature stages is still very mundane—housebuilding, farming, playing—"My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands" (Is. 65:22).
Heaven appears to be a place where we complete the dominion mandate given to Adam. We have barely touched this planet, and perhaps we will transform other planets, universes, and galaxies with holy creativity. What a blast. Eternal artistry and peace and lovemaking. Wilson bemoans this vision of heaven as life without "closure"—"a corridor that goes on forever, with a ceiling eight feet high." But doesn't that retort assume a very negative image of dominion and life on earth now? Enjoying life now amid sin prepares us for the future glory of life in exuberant holiness—life in the New Edens—further up and further in.

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