May 17, 2014

Thoughts on marriage beyond the veil

Heather and me.
I was on my way home after another mentally exhausting day of critical thinking and pouring over case law. Flipping through the radio, I stumbled across the charismatic voice of a preacher on 88.7 FM (found out later the station’s called Revelation Radio). I’m not sure who he was, but he was focusing on a fascinating story told three times over (with slight variation) in the New Testament;  Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate the same basic Q&A session with the Savior.[1] 

Okay, it was perhaps more of a see-if-you-can-make-Jesus-look-dumb session.[2] Of course the Pharisees, Sadducees, and lawyers (yay) all failed. So much so that “neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”[3]

In the heart of this exchange was a head-scratcher from the Sadducees (who didn’t believe in the resurrection and were understandably sad, you see).[4] Under the laws of Moses, there was a rule right up there with the prohibition on eating bacon—a rule I celebrate being dead and gone. When a man died his brother was obligated to marry his wife to “raise up seed” for his dead brother.[5] Awkward.

According to the Sadducees, supposedly[6] a man had died and in accordance with the law his brother married his wife, only to die unfruitful like the first. So, the next brother stepped up to the plate, only to strike out and die as well. And so on, through the entire family of seven brothers, until everybody was dead, including the wife. The million-dollar question was: “[I]n the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.”[7]

Christ’s answer?
Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.[8]
Now, back to the guy on the radio. He seemed to think what Jesus meant was obvious—there is no such thing as "husband and wife" in heaven; thus, there is no possible chance of him and his own wife being together forever. I don't think that this is what Jesus meant.

First off, it is not clear Jesus even answered the specific question they wanted him to answer.[9] They asked, “Whose wife shall she be . . . for they all had her?” In other words, they had all married her. They were married before they died.

Yet Jesus answers, “In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage…” In other words, "They aren't going to get married." Apparently, the crowd was so astonished,[10] no one had the mind to ask the clarifying question, “Okay... But they were already married, do they get to stay married?”

So, what is the answer to that question? Turns out, it hinges on something many have spent, and continue to spend, millions of dollars fighting over: The definition of marriage.

In reality, the definition of marriage is simple. Marriage is whatever the law says it is. But there are different laws. Man’s and God’s. The first is temporary; the second is eternal. 

Man's law is clearly the substance of Romans 7:1 which says, “[T]he law has dominion over a man as long as he liveth.” This must be referring to worldly law; it would be ludicrous to think otherwise. God’s laws don’t lose force after you die.

In textual interpretation, there’s a helpful semantic canon—in pari materia—that suggests that generally the closer the same words are to each other, the stronger the case for attaching consistent meaning. Thus, there’s a strong argument that the word “law” in the very next verse should mean the same thing—worldly law.

“[T]he woman which hath an husband is bound by the law [man’s law] to her husband so long as he liveth, but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law [man’s law] of her husband.”[11]

So, the guy on the radio was probably only half-wrong.

According to the Bible, there is a type of marriage that clearly does not exist in the afterlife—marriage as defined by man’s laws.

However, the Bible makes a compelling case that marriage—as defined by God’s laws—is meant to last throughout eternity.

The Bible teaches the following principles about God’s definition of marriage:
·         “It is not good that the man should be alone.”[12] No time limit implied.
·         “[T]herefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: they shall be one flesh.”[13] No time limit implied.
·          “[L]et every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”[14] No time limit implied.
·          “[N]either is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.”[15] No time limit implied.
·         Husband and wife should strive to be “heirs together of the grace of life.”[16] Implies husband and wife can be together forever.
·         “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh… What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”[17] Bam!
·         “[W]hatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever…”[18] Bam!
·          “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven…”[19] Bam!

Thus, I think there is more than a healthy argument that a man and woman can be "bound" together forever. Man’s law may only have power to bind “until death do you part," but God’s law has the power to bind forever and there’s nothing man can say or do to change that.

Now, the guy on the radio talked about how some people may find the thought of being stuck forever with their spouses terrifying and be relieved by his interpretation of scripture. Look, if stuck is the appropriate word, then odds are they aren’t living up to God’s definition of marriage, so they shouldn’t have to worry about it!

God’s definition does not just expand the when of marriage, but also the what, why, and how.

While worldly marriages may tolerate or even encourage unfaithfulness (e.g., open marriages), expect selfishness, and frankly amount to little more than sex and tax benefits; God’s unions demand, and offer, much more. For example:
·         “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”[20]
·         “Thou shalt not commit adultery… whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out…”[21]
·         “Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.”[22]
·         “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest.”[23]
·         “[R]ejoice with the wife of thy youth.”[24]
·         “[F]ight for… your wives.”[25] Not against!

One beautiful bride, one lucky dude.
Personally, I have been blessed with an amazing wife. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of [her].”[26] I truly believe that I can be with her forever, not just because of what it says in the scriptures, but because of what God has etched in my heart.

Look, God didn’t give Adam and Eve the best gift they ever had, with the heartless plan to later say, “Psych! Sorry, lovebirds. I’m going to have to take that blessing back!” 

How could heaven possibly be heaven if He did?





[4] Matthew 22:23; old joke in seminary.
[5] Matthew 22:24. Such marriages are called “Levirate” marriages. The practice is explained in Deut. 25:5-10, mentioned in Gen. 38:8, and exemplified in Ruth 4:1-12.
[6] I say supposedly because to me the plain text is unclear whether the story is posed as a hypothetical or not. In general, those asking tricky questions aren’t opposed to dreaming up extreme “what ifs” to test ideas (that’s pretty much all you do in law school). Maybe people were different back then, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was one of those scenarios. Also, Jesus often taught in extreme parables to make his points, so it seems natural that inquirers would pose questions in like manner. Plus, what woman outlives seven husbands? Seriously?
[8] Matthew 22:29-32 (emphasis added).
[9] This is completely in harmony with his teaching method.
[16] 1 Peter 3:7 (emphasis added).
[17] Matthew 19:5-6 (emphasis added); see also Mark 10:9.
[22] 1 Corinthians 7:3. According to Dictionary.com, “benevolence” means “desire to do good to others, goodwill, charitableness.”