JAMYE DOERFLER | CONTRIBUTOR
I think about heaven a lot. When I’m sad because I’m watching a loved one’s body break down, or because human impact on the environment brings destruction and death, I look to what I know about heaven. In heaven, we will be given new bodies and will inhabit a new earth.
One thing will not be made new? Our marriages.
The cliché is, “it’s a match made in heaven.” However, in reality, every match made on earth will be unmade in heaven. Consider Jesus’ conversation with the Sadducees in Matthew 22.
The Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection and were trying to make Jesus look foolish, asked a hypothetical question:
“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”
“But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.’” (Matthew 22:24-30)
For those who are enduring in a difficult marriage, it might be a comforting thought that heaven is free from that binding relationship. Those who have been widowed and remarried might also be relieved to know that there will be no competition in heaven to determine their spouse. But personally, I’m challenged by this verse.
Our marriages are more difficult because we live in a fallen world. We hurt each other, deeply at times. We’re not as loving or helpful as we could be to one another—sometimes not because of sin, so much as simple exhaustion. Even if we strive for the very best for our spouse, we fall short of the mark, and we know it.
As I find comfort in the idea of new bodies and a new earth, I find myself yearning also for my marriage to be made new. It would be amazing if my husband and I could love one another perfectly and could enjoy the very best of one another, without the baggage of sin and selfishness, forever. Why isn’t that God’s plan?
I understand logically the reasons that human marriage will cease in heaven. Male and female were created and marriage instituted both to populate the earth and give deep, meaningful companionship. Neither of these will be necessary in heaven.
I also understand that I will want nothing in heaven. I will be completely satisfied in the Lord, and that will be more than enough. So, while I might think I will miss marriage, I know that I will not.
Jesus says that we will be “like angels.” On earth, we “belong” to one another within the covenant of marriage. I am my husband’s, and he is mine. That is both a necessary part of commitment, and a comfort and joy. On the other hand, we know that angels belong to no one but God, and that will be our experience in heaven as well.
Yet I wasn’t fully comforted by this logic. As I dug into some commentaries on the passage, I found that, not surprisingly, I’m not the only one who has read Jesus’ answer with a little dismay. What I discovered, however, was hopeful for every person—single, widowed, unhappily or happily married.
The scholars I read all seemed to agree that while the institution of marriage between humans will cease in heaven, the relationships themselves will not, especially those that are closest and most dear to us.
Michael J. Wilkins writes in his commentary on Matthew, “…this does not imply that prior earthly relationships are eliminated completely, nor does it imply that resurrected relationships are without special attachment.”
In fact, writes R.T. France, we will experience more of those close relationships: “He does not say that the love between those who have been married on earth will vanish, but rather implies that it will be broadened so that no one is excluded.” Similarly, in his commentary on Matthew, Daniel M. Doriani writes, “…the intimacy and trust that are unique to marriage and all the best relationships will be universal.”
While on earth, it’s impossible for us to have many relationships that are profoundly deep and intimate. We simply don’t have the capacity for that, and our sin puts barriers between us and others.
Not so in heaven. The community of God’s children in heaven will be vast and beautiful. We will be able to love one another without the barriers that sin brings—jealousy and judgementalism, insecurities and fear—and this will be true of all relationships we have, including the person to whom we were married on earth.
Hope for All
How can this offer hope to both the single and married among us?
For the single who feel excluded from church community because of their singleness, there will be no such delineation in heaven.
For those who are single who wish they weren’t, as well as those married to an unbelieving spouse, heaven holds the hope of a perfect union with God. Romantic and sexual attraction will not be part of our experience in heaven, and those who long for such a relationship will long no more.
For those who have striven for a godly marriage yet have been dismayed at their own or their spouse’s failures, there is the hope of loving that spouse perfectly in heaven, even if the nature of the relationship has changed. It will still be special, but no longer exclusive.
If I were to die before my husband, he has my blessing to remarry. I would absolutely want him to have another full and happy marriage, if that was what he wanted. And what would that reunion be like in heaven? I would be worshipping side by side with both of them without jealousy or comparison. Impossible to imagine on earth, but absolutely true of heaven.
What does this mean for my marriage today? Every time I experience those moments where my marriage is what God intended for it to be—bringing joy, comfort, help, or beauty—is a glimpse of heaven. I can thank the Lord for those good times and persevere in the hard times until heaven comes, when my husband and I will indeed know the redeemed, holy version of one another.
Photo by taylor hernandez on Unsplash