Marriage, Sex, New Heaven, New Earth

by Jimmy Akin

in Bible, Eschatology, Theology

Heaven A reader writes:

If the new earth is a restoration of the original Creation plan by God and God affirmed marriage or the role of a spouse in Gen 2:18, how do you deal with the Mark 12:25 passage of people will neither marry nor be given in marriage? Is marriage and procreation a result of sin to be burned away in the refinement of passing over? Was it intended to be a temporary blessing only viable for the first stage of existence not long term?

These are very good questions. I think the key to understanding them involves Our Lord's statement in the gospels that we will be like the angels of heaven, neither marrying nor giving in marriage, and St. Paul's statement in Romans 7 that death ends marriage, so that spouses who remarry after being widowed are not committing adultery. These statements directly address the situation of death and the next age, and so they provide the framework within which to understand the Genesis mandate to procreate.

Undergirding both Genesis, the Gospels, the Epistles, and the whole rest of the Bible is a moral vision that understands sex and procreation–for humans–to be something that must occur within marriage. The affirmation that we will not be married in the next world thus implies the absence of sex and procreation, making us like "the angels of heaven" in that regard.

If that is our reference point then it sheds light on the original Genesis mandate, as well as on God's intent in the renewal of the world–the appearance of the New Heaven and the New Earth.

If life in the next age is as Jesus describes it then it would seem that the renewal of the world is not meant to be simply a restoration of his original plan for creation. It is similar in many ways to a restoration of the original plan (e.g., an environment in which man lives in harmony with God, in which there is no sin; Revelation even depicts the New Jerusalem as being planted with the tree of life from the Garden of Eden).

But it appears to go beyond a simple restoration. If it were the latter then it might well involve an ongoing place for human marriage, sex, and procreation.

Or maybe not. It also could be that the original plan was to have these play a role only for a time–until a certain number of humans were in existence–and then they would pass away.

One strand in the history of theology is the idea that God created our first parents in a probationary state. They were subject to a moral test ("Thou shalt not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil"), and had they passed this test then they would have been confirmed in holiness rather than losing it.

One could hypothesize that, had the human race stayed faithful to God, it one day would have been granted the kind of glorified state that does away with the need for marriage and procreation.

Presumably there would have been some limit to the number of humans needed. Unless God were to radically restructure the world, the earth–or even the whole physical universe–could not contain an infinite supply of them.

What would that maximum number be? We don't know. We are in a realm of pure speculation. However, one speculation that has found a place in the history of theology is that the total number of humans God wished to create is equal to a third of the number of angels.

Why? Because in Revelation 12 the dragon (the devil) is depicted sweeping away a third of the stars in the sky. This has been commonly interpreted (though it is not certain) as a reference to the fall of angels, and if a third of the angels fell then it could make sense for God to create that many humans as new, rational beings to take their place.

Only humans are not the same as angels. We may both be rational beings,but humans incorporate matter in a way angels don't, and angels appear much more powerful than us (as well as being different in other ways–like that non-procreation business, for example).

If humans are meant (and again, this is pure speculation) as a repair effort for God's original plan for the angels then it would seem God often repairs things in a way that go beyond the original plan–just like the New Heaven and New Earth seem to go beyond God's original plan for the present world.

It thus may be that marriage and procreation may have been intended–even in the original plan for this world–to be of finite duration and later to be superceded. Or it may be that God's restoration plan involves an upgrade to the human condition that is different than what the original plan called for.

Either way, it appears from Our Lord's statement that God has deemed there will be enough humans in the next world that there won't be a need for more (at least by marriage and sexual procreation).

Though we can't be sure of all the details, this seems linked to the fact that we will be immortal (meaning incapable of being killed or dying, in this sense of the term) in the next life. Thus there will not be an ongoing need to replace humans who have died.

An additional way that the next world appears to be different than what the original plan involves the role of Christ. Had man never fallen then it is possible Christ would never have become incarnate as a human, never died on the Cross, and never incorporated us as Christians into his mystical body, the Church.

One strand of theology has proposed that he might have become incarnate anyway, but this is speculative. At least it would not seem that there was a need for him to do so if mankind were not in need of redemption.

Because the incarnation and death of Christ seem to be motivated by our need of redemption, and because our being incorporated into his mystical body is based on us becoming partakers in the redemption he supplied, it seems that God has become more intimately involved in the universe, and we more intimately involved in him, than might have been the case had we never fallen.

The fall thus may have opened up a door to a new and more glorious situation between the Creator, the created world, as us as his creatures. For this reason St. Augustine, and later a line in the liturgy for Easter Vigil, refers to the fall of man–paradoxically and ironically–as a felix culpa or "blessed fault." On this view it was a fault that brought about a more blessed state of affairs than what would have been the case otherwise.

Or so we may speculate.

To pick up one last thread from the initial question, it by no means appears that marriage, sex, and procreation were a product of sin. Marriage is created, and procreation is implied, all the way back in Genesis 1, which does not envision the fall at all. The fall does not come along until Genesis 3, and sex is at no point implied to be a moral violation. In Genesis 2, God may make a rule against eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but he does not make a rule against Adam and Eve having sex and procreating children. Indeed, he seems to expect them to.

This still leaves us with questions, of course, about what the end of marriage and procreation will mean for us.

The reader continues:

I have a hard time believing that the procreation will stop in the New Earth or that God does not delight in the fulfillment of Gen 1:28 of his children. Or that when Jesus comes again it marks the immediate end of the relationships with my wife. I know in my head that heaven and new Earth the Church becomes the bride and Jesus the bridegroom fulfilling the original plan, but did not Adam have a special relationship with Eve as much as they both had with God?

It does indeed please God that his children be fruitful and multiply–per Genesis 1:28–but presumably only to a point. Unless the does some really interesting things (which actually would be awesome cool) then the physical world will only hold a finite number of humans, and so procreation would not seem to go on indefinitely. The question is when, and Jesus seems to indicate it will not continue in the next world.

In terms of our own personal experience, St. Paul builds on what Jesus says by indicating our marriages are brought to an end with death. Otherwise it would be adultery for widows and widowers to remarry, which St. Paul indicates it is not.

This leaves us with an existential question regarding our own spouses. How could it be that we could cease to have a special relationship with them? How could it be that sex simply stop? Wouldn't that interfere with the joy of heaven?

As the reader writes, Adam and Eve had a special relationship with each other as well as with God. Surely this special relationship would find a place in the next life.

The answer, I think, is that it does. We will still have special relationships with those who have been close to us in this life, including our spouses. Death will not end that. In fact, in the purified, glorified state that we will then exist in, these relationships will actually be more intimate and the ties between us more powerful than they were in this life.

In the glorified state we will be able to love each other more purely, more intensely than we ever could in this life–and without distraction or weakness or contrary temptation. We won't be our irritable, flawed, exasperating, flawed selves. We will be both more loving and more lovable.

And so we should not face the prospect of the next world as a life without love but as a life with more and more intense and more pure love than we have ever known in this world.

It is to be a life without sex, and this confuses us as in this life the sexual act seems incredibly powerful, but we must recognize that the sexual act offers only a glimmer of the love and intimacy of heaven. It is not heaven itself. Heaven is the real good toward which sex–and all earthly goods–point.

The situation was once addressed by C. S. Lewis. In one of his writings he considered the difficulty that we will not have sex in heaven and how that seems like a diminution rather than an increase of joy. He acknowledged this and compared it to the situation of a little boy and his perception of joy. The boy might think that the greatest joy is eating chocolates, and he might have a hard time understanding how a married couple having sex might have a higher joy that didn't involve eating chocolates at the same time. In this way, adults in the present life may recognize sex as a supreme form of joy and have trouble understanding how in the next life there could be an even higher joy that does not involve sex.

What we do know, again per St. Paul, is that the things we must forego (either in this life or the next) do not compare to the weight of glory that will be revealed to us. If the next life does not involve sex, that's okay. God's got something better in store. And something so much better that it will make sex seem like a pale shadow. It will be the thing that sex and all earthly goods ultimately pointed toward–and thus something that dwarfs them with the power of its reality.

Finally, the reader addresses a particular point of practical living in this life:

I am fully cognizant that I may at times place my relationship with my wife more at the forefront in my mind than my relationship to God. I can only hope that by serving or honoring her that I am serving Him at the same time.

I think this is exactly the right way to look at it. God created us with finite mental resources. This includes a finite amount of attention that we can devote to things and a correspondingly finite amount of emotional energy with can devote to them.

Because of these limitations, we are in a situation to which the science of economic applies–economics being the study of how to manage limited resources that have alterantive uses. We've only got so much intellectual and emotional wherewithal, and we can spend it on different things. So how does God want us to spend it?

We know that he must be our ultimate reference point. He is of infinite value, and anything in this universe that has value is only a reflection of him, the source from which all value–all good things–comes. This is what is meant by the command to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

But he does not expect us to devote all our intellectual and emotional resources to him directly. Otherwise there would be no room left over for the command to love our neighbor as ourself.

Or even loving ourself!

God does not even expect cloistered monks and nuns to think exclusively of him 24/7. That kind of singlemindedness is simply not possible. And anyone who tried it would not only fail but starve to death in the attempt.

We therefore see that God wants us to devote our direct attention to things other than himself, to created realities, including our own personal needs and those of the humans around us–most especially our families and friends, the ones we are closest to.

By serving them, we serve God. As long as we have in the back of our minds the fact that God is the source of all goodness and that we wish to serve him by acknowledging and caring for the created goods he has made, we approach life with a fundamental orientation toward God.

It is thus okay–and even mandated by God–for our relationship with our spouse to sometimes occupy the front place in our mind. The virtual intention (as theologians call it) to serve God by serving others suffices to bring this relationship into alignment with God.

And so we do, indeed, server God by serving others, including our loved ones, who he wishes us to care for in a special way.

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{ 16 comments }

Rhys March 1, 2011 at 11:36 pm

That’s the first I’ve heard of the theory of all human beings that ever have or ever will exist being equal to the number of fallen angels.
My own thoughts is that there has to be at least enough unfallen angels for the maximum number of people at any time to have a guardian angel. And that’s if Guardian angels get reassigned after people’s deaths, if everyone who ever has and ever will existed gets a unique Guardian angel, then there has to be at least enough angels to cover everyone who ever has and ever will exist.

unbornhumanrights March 2, 2011 at 2:46 am

Great article Jimmy! Well said.. We must understand that marriage, sex/procreation are earthly pleasures as you have mentioned. There would be no need for them in heaven or the new earth even if we are existing in our glorified bodies. The idea is that in heaven or on earth in our glorified state our only need is to be in the presents of God, there will be no sun for God is our light! We will have no need for food etc.. And no need for earthly pleasures. When God is all we need and glorifying him with our prayers is our only joy, who needs anything else? I think people have a hard time understanding the difference in earthly pleasures with the ones we will have in the presence of God!

Barbara March 2, 2011 at 6:27 am

One curious verse to consider in the mix is from Wisdom 3:13
“…For blessed is the barren woman who is undefiled,
who has not entered into a sinful union;
she will have fruit when God examines souls.”
Earlier in the chapter, it is speaking of the final judgement. So, it would seem that in some way, shape, or fashion, those who remained pure will “bear fruit”. What kind of fruit would be speculative.
Also, it is interesting to consider that when Mary conceived, she was ‘overshadowed by the Holy Spirit’. Completely non-sexual, but still produced a child. Just a thought.

Robyn March 2, 2011 at 6:38 am

“I am fully cognizant that I may at times place my relationship with my wife more at the forefront in my mind than my relationship to God. I can only hope that by serving or honoring her that I am serving Him at the same time.”
Something like this BETTER be the case, and I deduce this from the fact that I have kids. First, it is clear that God gave me my children; therefore they must be an objective good. It is clear also that God intends our every thought and action to be ordered toward him. But for their well-being, my children require a substantial amount of my attention and activity. To deny them these things would be objectively evil because it would be contrary to nature (i.e. I can’t stand to NOT take care of them; I love them), and because it would be harmful to them. Therefore God intends me to devote many of my thoughts and actions to my children. But this would seem to contradict the fact that God intends all thoughts and actions to be ordered to him. The only way to resolve the contradiction is the insight that the act of serving my children is service to God. Thank God for Matthew 25!

Mary March 2, 2011 at 9:22 am

Another possibility is that if we had not fallen, we would all have left the world like Enoch and Elijah; we would get born, grow up, marry, have children, and then, in due course, leave for a heavenly state.
(Sheer speculation on my part.)

Lawrence March 2, 2011 at 10:20 am

Great Post!
There is a Jewish tradition that the number of people that will be born is finite. There is a “legend” of a Tree of Souls in heaven. When the last soul ‘ripens’ and is born in the flesh on earth, that will signal the beginning of the end.
There is a similar Christian line of thought that concerns martyrs. The Final Judgment will come when a predetermined number of martyrs has been reached. This is one interpretation of Revelation 6:10-11
“…they cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

Anton March 2, 2011 at 10:54 am

…..Also, before the fall, procreation and child birth was meant to be a pleasant and pure experience, a different process or procedure than childbirth today, otherwise why would God punish the woman Eve with the words ..”in pain shall you bring forth children”. I speculate that our Blessed Virgin Mary, the new Eve, may have had the honor bestowed upon her of giving birth to our Lord and Savior Jesus in this way, the method (unknown to us) God originally intended, before the fall. This would explain the mystery of the perpetual virginity of our Lady. Hope it is not off topic, and this is just a thought and speculation on my part. God bless.

Johnno March 2, 2011 at 1:52 pm

A very intriguing topic. I don’t think the human population is only so expansive as to simply be the Earth. After all there’s a lot of room in space and plenty of planets and galaxies to terraform and explore! Heh!
Though this sort of reflection also helps us put into perspective worries about global population, land area, and even things like abortion. The odds of a seed fertilizing an egg as astronomical! Yet it’s a clear impossibility that is happening everyday! Every cnception is miraculous in nature and provides a strong proof that conception is a divine action!
The human preoccupation with sexual intimacy is also a proof that mankind in inherently longing for heaven itself! It is starving for it! There must then be a correlation between man pushing God and heaven away while simultaneously growing more sexually perverted and obsessed. It is a void that must be filled and mankind is settling for temporary yet harmful easy pop drugs rather than the more complicated operational cure.

Robert Hagedorn March 2, 2011 at 2:15 pm

In the story God most certainly expected Adam and Eve to have sex and procreate. “Be fruitful and multiply,” He told them. They had sex. But they didn’t multiply until they left the garden. Do a search: The First Scandal.

The Masked Chicken March 3, 2011 at 9:14 am

They had sex. But they didn’t multiply until they left the garden.
That they actually had sex is not clear in the pre-Fall narrative. To be fruitful means to bear fruit, not simply have sex.
The Chicken

Kent March 3, 2011 at 11:21 am

That they actually had sex is not clear in the pre-Fall narrative
How is one supposed to increase in number and fill the Earth without sex unless we were more like amoebas?
I am with you that there is a finite number of people as we are created beings; however that number of finite-ness does not necessarily imply a small number. If the God of creation created “billions of galaxies with billions of stars,” I am inclined He intends His children to fill them and subdue them. The level of our imagination obviously does not limit God’s plans for humanity. If we had not fallen, the exploration of the fiction Star Trek might have been more reality than not. Even shortly after the Fall, the level of technological achievement in the Tower of Babel was outstanding.
It is apparent different traditions have wildly differing views about sexuality. I fall more on God is also God of continuity and you can understand His plans by both His Special and General Revelations (by what He tells you specifically and by what He shows you) If He creates in you a creature that is engineered to delight in certain functions, He actually enjoys the fact or encourages you to do that. When He also further tells your ancestors that go forth and do that which you delight in, it is a pretty compelling argument that all sex is not “defilement” and not intended to rubbish heap of human history.
Of course, I too have a suspicion we won’t be vegans in the New Heaven and New Earth too.

Jimmy Akin March 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I think that what the Chicken meant is simply that we are not told that Adam and Eve had sex prior to the fall. They may or may not have. Whether or not they did, they would have eventually had sex whether the fall had occurred or not because this was the way God ordained for us to procreate.
Sex is thus not a defilement but a part of God’s plan. That doesn’t mean that it’s a permanent part of the human condition, though. Life forms can undergo radical changes. Getting our food and oxygen through the umbilical cord is part of God’s plan for each of us at one stage in our lives, but not in later ones. Similarly, caterpillar/butterflies and tadpole/frogs undergo dramatic shifts in their course of existence.
I think the claim is that sex is a natural, beautiful part of God’s plan for this stage of our existence (i.e., adulthood) but not for the prior stage (childhood) or the subsequent stage (immortality).

Dave Hahn March 3, 2011 at 1:25 pm

In the new heaven and the new earth perhaps there will be a restored earth where those living on earth will still procreate and when their time is up they are assumed into heaven where they are no longer married or procreate. The children of those people will marry and procreate until they are assumed into heaven and this will go on for ever.

Johnno March 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Perhaps it is as Dave said. The cycle goes on forever and people will always procreate, it’s just that at a given stage, the person eventually grows up and matures enough to move from the physical state into a transcendent one.
Think for example of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. We are taken up body and all in the new creation, instead of like now where our body must die and we are given a new glorified one.
It was all part of the plan where at a later stage we would be introduced to it and choose of our own free will. The Fall delayed that. Christ restored it. And eventually it will be restored in full.
And just as a thought to throw out there… Perhaps we are offered the choice to be assumed into heaven to be with God, or we may choose to remain on Earth. Just for an example, I’ll use the story of Buddha, where instead of choosing Nirvana, he remained behind to help others get there. We might even compare this to the difference between the Priesthood and Marriage. One can choose the Earthly happiness which is good, or to choose a more supreme intamacy with God which is divine. But of course those on Earth could probably choose to be assumed at any time when they are ready and prepared and understand why this is better. As immortals they will have all the time in the world to experience everything it can offer until they are ready to take that next step with full knowledge that they have tasted all there is in this world and now have a thirst for that which is beyond it. So all in good time…

Franco Bertucci March 5, 2011 at 10:48 am

My wife worries that she won’t go to heaven
if she dies before me-
She will be too jealous and worried,
that I might get married to someone else.
And one can’t be jealous in heaven.
Just be sure not to die first, I tell her.
I’ll be very upset with her if she disobeys me.
Jimmy is right, the joys of this life,
enchanting and gratuitous as they are,
must be but a shadow of what is to come,
though I can’t imagine better,
I believe it.
I love C.S. Lewis’ analogy of the boy
and his chocolates. When I was a boy,
I was so afraid to become a grown-up
who would rather sit around and talk
and drink wine with other grownups
than run around the neighborhood and
climb trees.
I still do climb trees, but I
have discovered that talking with
grownups and drinking wine is closer
to heaven, I think, than climbing to the
top of a hundred-foot-tall fir tree;
(though, the fir tree might technically
be closer in terms of physical proximity.)
The times I am most transported by pleasure
only make me want more.
Nothing here satisfies for long- nothing.
Thank you for the post Jimmy.

Mary March 6, 2011 at 10:15 am

The cycle goes on forever and people will always procreate, it’s just that at a given stage, the person eventually grows up and matures enough to move from the physical state into a transcendent one.

Except that we have been told that that is a product of our age, marriage.

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