Heaven is like sex, only better

May 6, 2014

One of the premises of my mainline Protestant seminary education was that focusing too much on heaven is unseemly. My Christian ethics professor—an otherwise wise, compassionate, and deeply Christian man—said that he was unwilling to give heaven much thought for fear that it would become a bribe for virtuous living. Other professors, I suspect, thought heaven-talk would distract us from the kingdom work in which we ought to busy ourselves—the promise of heaven is the “opiate of the masses” and all that. And probably a couple of profs didn’t believe in it at all, except as a metaphor for something of this world.

Even at that time in my life, when I was questioning everything I was supposed to believe, I was always more traditional-minded on heaven than I should have been, given how little authority I otherwise invested in God’s Word.

Now, however, along with Paul, I say, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” I think heaven—or, more properly, resurrection—should be near the center of our lives and imaginations.

The problem is that our imagination isn’t up to the task—as any number of pop-culture depictions of heaven make clear. C.S. Lewis, as always, helps us here:

The letter and spirit of scripture, and of all Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life; and this reduces our imagination to the withering alternatives either of bodies which are hardly recognisable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer “No,” he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing which excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. Hence where fullness awaits us we anticipate fasting. In denying that sexual life, as we now understand it, makes any part of the final beatitude, it is not of course necessary to suppose that the distinction of sexes will disappear. What is no longer needed for biological purposes may be expected to survive for splendour. Sexuality is the instrument both of virginity and of conjugal virtue; neither men nor women will be asked to throw away the weapon they have used victoriously. It is the beaten and the fugitives who throw away their swords. The conquerors sheathe theirs and retain them.[1]

Perfect: “In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing which excludes it.”

Similarly, Tim Keller picks up the same theme when discussing sex in his book on marriage. “Sex between a man and a woman points to the love between the Father and the Son (1 Corinthians 11:3). It is a reflection of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the very life of the triune God.[2] He continues:

Sex is glorious not only because it reflects the joy of the Trinity but also because it points to the eternal delight of soul that we will have in heaven, in our loving relationships with God and one another. Romans 7:off tells us that he best marriages are pointers to the deep, infinitely fulfilling, and final union we will have with Christ in love.

No wonder, as some have said, that sex between a man and a woman can be a sort of embodied out-of-body experience. It’s the most ecstatic, breathtaking, daring, scarcely-to-be-imagined look at the glory that is our future.[3]

I thought of both of these passages in relation to the sexual temptations that we often face. What we desire above all else is union with God. This good desire gets misdirected toward a desire for union with someone—or often an image of someone, on-screen or in our imaginations.

So, when tempted, we might tell ourselves, “What I really want can only be satisfied by God. And if I persist in faith and holiness—in part by resisting temptations like these—I can be confident that in heaven it will be.”

1. C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 260-1.

2. Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 235.

3. Ibid., 236.

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