Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Puzzling Conversation

I would like to share with you a conversation that I had with a Friend several weeks ago. I hope to see what my fellow philosophy students make of this and possibly get some feedback from you who may be more knowledgeable on the subject matter.

My friend is a Roman Catholic and I have a basic knowledge of the religion myself. I asked the question, "Say you are married for several years and your spouse sadly passes away. At the appropriate time you decide to move on and remarry. You realize there is no religious problem with this, after all it is till death do us part. Now at the end of your lives all three of you meet in heaven, who do you spend time with?" This question is actually the small problem, what my friend proposes raises a much larger one.

The response was this, "You stay with your first spouse". Personally I was taken back by the confidence of the answer and the lack of time it took to come up with. Of course I asked "Well wouldn't that bother the second spouse and after all this is heaven were talking about, I didn't think that you were supposed to be heart broken in heaven." Again I was taken back by the response, "God would just make it so you would be happy."

To me this proposed some problems. One, do YOU truly go to heaven or does a new "Godly adjusted form" of you reside there? Two, if this is the case what is the point of not committing sin on earth if God is just going to do what he wants with you in heaven anyway? Third, if you are not changed and your feelings remain relatively the same, can there be sadness in heaven? Fourth, if there can be sadness in heaven does that change the way we need to view heaven?

On "A Brief Overview of the world's major religions" under Christianity we find the goal to be "Salvation is through acceptance of Christ and entails life with God in this world and the next." Nothing is stated here about spouses, sadness, or happiness and what in fact happens to "you" when you are with God. (P.S. I do understand that this is from "A Brief Overview of the world's major religions")

I have thought about these questions for several weeks now and have formed some of my own opinions, but before sharing them I would like to leave this post clear of any personal views so as to leave it open ended for my peers.


Evan Watson said...

It seems like I get a different answer every time I ask Christians about this issue. A similar question that I ask is what happens if you are in heaven, but your loved ones are in hell. Do you know that they're in hell? How can you truly experience salvation and paradise if that is the case? If you don't know they're in hell, or if you are under some heavenly delusion regarding the fate of your loved ones, then this is also a problem. In order to reconcile this problem, and the question of marriage and other relationships in heaven, I most often hear Christians say that all of these things are wiped off the slate, and we all simply exist as pure souls, or some other such explanation. I'm interested to hear the opinions from the various Christians in class, or if there is any Biblical claim.

Ryan Neale said...

I am a Catholic theologian, though before I was a Catholic I was an Episcopal theologian and before I was 17 years old I was an atheist philosopher. Soteriological and theological questions have always fascinated me and I feel that though I have only recently become a Catholic (I was confirmed just this Easter vigil) I feel that my theological and doctrinal knowledge enables to shed at least some light on the issue, though admittedly not as much as I would love to. i pray that St. Thomas Aquinas prays that my words and thoughts are guided by God for without God, I am nothing.

In regards to the question of the marriage issue, your Catholic friend is incorrect per the dogma of the Church and the Bible. Jesus was confronted by the Sadducees who, not believing in a physical ressurection, try to trip him by postulating a hypothetical widow who marries between a number of brothers as each one passes on. Jesus avoids this trap by pointing out from the Hebrew scripture that marriage is non-existent in Heaven: "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." (Matthew 22:29-30)

A marriage is described in heaven. The "bride" is composed of all believers in Jesus Christ. The "groom" is none other than Jesus Himself. This kind of idea seems okay for women, but tends to make us men a little nervous. I find it difficult to consider myself as a bride. However, the "marriage" to the lamb (Jesus Christ) is obviously a symbol of the unity of believers with Jesus Christ in heaven (Revelation 19:1). We know that it is symbolic, because scripture itself defines it as such:

"Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb [Jesus] has come and His bride has made herself ready." It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:8)

The "fine linen" of the bride (body of believers) are the righteous acts of the saints. Obviously, this would make a rather poor covering. The analogy of a wedding is given because it represents the most intimate relationship that we can experience on earth. However, like all earthly examples, it pales in comparison to the kinds of relationships possible in heaven.

In other words, there will be no marriage or sexual differences among those in heaven, since reproduction is unnecessary. This concept is supported by other biblical verses that indicate that males and females are spiritually equal. (There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) )

It is apparent that our current bodies would not be acceptable in such a place as heaven. The Bible poses the question, "But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" (1 Corinthians 15:35). The answer to the question is given in a series of comparisons:

Mortal Body Resurrection Body
perishable imperishable
dishonor glory
weak powerful
natural spiritual

To a certain degree, we will be given some of the characteristics of God in heaven. Without at least the dimensional characteristics of God, we would not be able to see Him, which the Bible says we will do. (Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:2) )

The idea that we will no longer be married is disturbing to some people. Personally, I like the thought of being married to the woman of my dreams one day and making her feel like she's the light of my life. From an earthly perspective, the dissolution of marriage in heaven doesn't sound like a good thing. However, in heaven, we will be "married" to Jesus, who will be our spiritual "husband." If you are not currently a follower of Jesus Christ, you cannot understand what this will be like, and it will probably not have any appeal for you. However, if you have experienced the "highs" of following Jesus as He leads you, you will have a glimpse of how awesome this experience will be. God would not take away something good if He did not replace it with something better. Not only will we be changed, but Paul says that we cannot even imagine the kinds of things God has prepared for us:


Besides receiving a new body, those who enter heaven will be given a new name ('He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.' (Revelation 2:17) )and will be incapable of committing sin. Therefore, all the problems we have by being mean to each other will be gone. We will be able to enjoy each other's company without the fear of being hurt by anyone.

No need for marriage and children. Jesus made it clear that angels do not marry and have children. He also indicated that we will be like the angels in that regard.God has allowed the human race to increase dramatically in numbers, so that there will be billions of God's people in heaven. There can be no further reproduction in heaven, because it would violate God's principle of free will and voluntary choice. All humans are required to choose to accept God or reject Him. If children were born in heaven, they would have no ability to choose to accept or reject God. This is because there is no allowance for rebellion and sin in heaven. For example, we know that angles do not receive grace, (It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:12) ) but are condemned on their first act of disobedience to God ("Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; (Matthew 25:41)
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4)
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, (Jude 1:6) ). Therefore, any children born would be forced to accept God - something God never does. This does not necessarily mean that God is necessarily finished producing spiritual creatures. It is possible that God could create another universe to allow other spiritual creatures the ability to choose God and enter into heaven. However, this is mere speculation.

Although marriage is good and represents the most intimate relationship we can experience on earth, it should not be idolized. If you love your spouse more than God then he/she has become an idol. The most important commandment is to love God "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." We will be with our loved ones in heaven (for those who believe). However, we will not be married to our spouses, since that relationship will be superseded by our relationship with Jesus, since we will be "married" to Jesus. This is not the description of a sexual relationship, but a description of an intimacy that is only approximated by what exists between a husband and a wife. Marriage on earth is merely a glimpse of the relationship God intends to have with us in heaven. It is the purpose for which we were created. Religion that substitutes marriage and family as an idol in place of God is a false religion.

I hope I have shed logical, theological light on this question and have provided scriptural evidence which, if the premises of scripture are true, prove that marriage does not exist in heaven and to suggest otherwise would be heterodoxy or simply incorrect from the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church's theological standpoint.

Heath White said...

I do think the religiously correct answer is pointed out by Ryan, with regard to the original question:

"That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. "Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"
Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven."

But perhaps, Matt, you have some follow-up questions?

Lauren Stapleton said...

Heaven is a complex conception. I was talking to my dad about this and we discussed some points. The first thing I thought of was if God’s purpose of Heaven is to make you happy, then what is He to do in the following situation: You’re a good Christian your whole life; married, have children, attend church, dedicate time to helping others etc. typical “good Christian” traits, but the whole time you’re longing for a member of the same sex, but do not act on those urges. You die, go to Heaven and then what? Are you stuck with your spouse who made life enjoyable on earth, or would you be allowed to be with that other person who would make you truly happy? Some may come back with the idea that Heaven is a genderless place, and if that is so, then why does it matter about homosexual relations on earth?

While discussing this concept, my dad was reminded of the end of the Tom Robbins’ book Jitterbug Perfume where as the people are boarding the ship, one side says “Heaven” and as it sails away the other side reads “Hell”. One’s attitudes of afterlife are completely arbitrary because afterlife is what you make of it, much like life on earth. One man’s Heaven can be another man’s Hell, and I quite agree with that.

You made an interesting point that the brief definition of Christianity does not mention anything about “happiness” or what the entails in Heaven. Perhaps humans are such social creatures that it must be carried out even in an eternal setting (granted that is not true with every religion, but the major three have it as a significant element). As for the questions you pose, I think everyone will (obviously) have a different view on what version of “you” continues on. Some people think it’s “you” as you are here on earth, others think it is a sexless environment, but it all ties back to what/who you consider “yourself” to be. If there is happiness in Heaven, then why can’t there be sadness, anger, jealousy etc. There is the obvious answer there of “Well, it’s God’s place and he can make the rules, and those traits are reserved for Hell.” I don’t know about others, but to be constantly happy for the rest of eternity, without feeling any other emotion, no matter what it is, seems kind of hellish to me. I enjoy cynicism, does that mean I will be denied this pleasure in Heaven because it may be at the expense of others? I certainly hope not, other wise I’d be aiming to go elsewhere for eternity.