I woke one morning thinking about the new heaven and new earth, and how so many writers have now challenged the common view that heaven is a disembodied existence. Instead, as NT Wright put it, “there is life after life after death.”
Behold – God will make all things new, and answer our prayer that His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. (Rev. 21:1-6). (By the way, I have not read the book pictured at left).
If the new earth is really a restoration and renewal — a new paradise — this time a garden city —
a place of peace, fulfillment and new creation —
a restoration of paradise and innocence (in the best sense) —
How could it be all this apart from new creation in humans and animals? In other words – is there no sexual union in the kingdom? No children? No new people, just we resurrected or restored ones?
The strongest arguments against sex in the new creation seem to be :
1. there is no need for children when death is destroyed
2. personal fulfillment is complete therefore the complementarity of the sexes is unnecessary, and related —
3. sex is a type of something (intimacy with the Creator), a shadow which is now fulfilled
4. Jesus words in Matthew 22 with reference to the angels, stating there is no marriage in heaven
5. a suspicion that sexual relations are less spiritual or less pure than mental and spiritual relations.
History has revealed too many people who have tried to be spiritual before they have learned how to be human! It is a major problem. – Richard Rohr
The Incarnation and a good theology of creation discounts #5. But I suspect this dualistic frame is in the background of much of the speculation and is a key support for the popular belief. The problem with these lenses is that they tend to be transparent to us, but the basis for our whole approach to Scripture.
I suspect that we have misread Matthew 22 (#4). I suggest that Jesus response to the Sadducees may be built around social issues, the error of regarding wives as property. So the Sadducees are saying, “Wives are property, and seven men cannot own the same woman.” Jesus response is, “No they can’t. But your assumptions are that humans can be property. You are wrong on marriage as on resurrection. The issue was never ownership.”
The Problem with Angels
What has this to do with angels? There are a few possibilities, and some have settled on the connection to immortality. Angels are immortal, and therefore there is no point in reproduction because there are no new angels needed. I’m not sure this is where Jesus was going. If we make the connection back to the women as property issue, divorce had become common by the first century for as small a thing as a burnt meal. Women were disposable property. Therefore the main concern for a woman was keeping her husband happy. But what is the concern of angels? The angels in heaven are concerned to please God, yes. But this isn’t a whimsical notion of making God happy, as though God were “husband,” but now immortal and eternal. Rather the work of angels relates to the meaning of the coming kingdom.
We aren’t too sure what would occupy the angels vocationally in a renewed world. But we know that they are servants with a purpose, and that purpose continues. Human destiny is unique, however, because we are created in the image of God. Our purpose is not merely service, but partnership in creation — our destiny is to rule and reign with Christ! There must be a vocation in view here, and an ongoing work of creation. In other words, whatever the shape of the renewed creation, there will be meaningful work to do. With this background, the shape of Jesus reference to angels looks quite different. In heaven women will no longer aim at pleasing selfish whims of an earthly husband, but will serve God by fulfilling their fulfilled human destiny of rule. In other words, even in the new creation we have callings! Jesus answer likely has nothing to do with reproduction.
What about the “shadow and fulfillment” motif? JA Dunne makes the argument in #3– “sex is a type.. of the eschatological joy that we will experience in relationship with God.” Once we are with God we have no need for lesser pleasures. “The perfect has come” and “we put away childish things.” (Not his words but its this kind of theological motif).
In this shadow and fulfillment argument I suspect a Hellenistic model of perfection and completion is in view, where there will no meaningful vocation in the new creation thus there is nothing for us to do in the new world. But if that were the case then the new world is completely discontinuous from this one, and embodiment itself would have no real meaning. But even Jesus, who we assume had no need of food in his resurrection body, could choose to share in the meal with the disciples. And his body was real, as demonstrated in the upper room.
Dunne also argues that “Heaven is itself superior for not containing sex,” which to me is an unfounded assumption. It feels gnostic and contra the Incarnation. (He bases this loosely on a CS Lewis argument found in Miracles).
But it’s an important starting point for conversation, because this “sex as a lesser expression of intimacy” also pushes at #2: our deep longings are not for sex but for true intimacy, and when we achieve that intimacy in the new creation sex will be superfluous. I don’t find that argument compelling — in part because even in this life sex flows out of true intimacy, and not the reverse. In other words, complete intimacy has never been achieved in this life, but when we do experience it there is no reason that it should exclude physical intimacy, and some good reasons that it might. (More on this below in relation to the Trinity).
I suspect that #2 — an individualistic model of fulfillment — is more compelling in the evangelical view than we have admitted, in part because we are so immersed in expressive individualism that we are unaware of its force. But individual fulfillment wasn’t possible even in the original paradise. Rather, we hear that “it is not good that man should be alone.” Remember that this statement was made before the fall.
Identity, Intimacy and the Trinity
So if we admit that human identity remains socially grounded in the coming paradise, and that intimacy will continue to mirror a Trinitarian reality, what shape will it take between gendered persons in the renewed creation?
With the coming of Jesus a completely new reality entered the world. God took flesh. It’s difficult to grasp the meaning of a reality so new: just how difficult is shown by our continuing tendency to minimize matter in favor of spirit. There seems to be something gnostic at the core of the religious impulse, at least post-Enlightenment.
But there is a second new reality: the resurrection, the most complete affirmation of matter we can imagine. To be fully human is to be enfleshed. Flesh is not a dispensable “add-on” to humanity, even post-eschaton. Flesh is no longer dispensable even in the Godhead! Therefore the most complete expression of intimacy should remain a physical one. Sex is more than a picture of something spiritual, but expresses something true about humankind.
So what about children? A thick description of creation as God’s ongoing work in the world, not ending with the new creation but actually enhanced in the Kingdom of God, would seem to require children as a natural expression of intimacy, our own “third person.” Complete intimacy results in something new birthed in the world. But what about resource limits? Where will be the space for new children?
We have a problem before we even consider the question of children. Those who are alive and brought into the restored earth combined with those resurrected will instantly overcrowd our world. But maybe this isn’t really a problem at all.
We know that the resurrection body is unlike our current body in some metaphysical sense. I suspect that we won’t be limited to this world in our restored creation. There must be some reason for those millions of planets whirling around millions of other suns! So I doubt that overcrowding will be an issue. Maybe our science fiction writers are intuiting something true when they envision galaxies where trade ships move between planets, and using wormholes, in days, not hundreds of years. And maybe there will be planets which specialize in certain commerce.
Myself, look for me in a vintner planet – I’ll be experimenting with cross breeding grapes related to the Muscat that have not yet been imagined. There will be some great Jazz or Reggae artists hanging about, and think how good you could get on that saxophone given a hundred years of practice!