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Marriage in Heaven, Prodigal Daughter

[Today’s Christian, July-August 2003]

Will I Be Married in Heaven?

Q. Since the recent death of my wife, a godly "Proverbs 31" woman, I have been wondering if our marriage will continue in heaven. —John R., via e-mail

A. May God bless and comfort you, John, on the loss of your dear wife. You can be confident that we will someday be reunited with our believing loved ones. In 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul assures the early Christians that they will see their departed friends and family again upon Christ’s return (4:13-14). What’s more, in his description of the Resurrection of the Dead, Paul stresses that heaven’s beauty and joy will be infinitely greater than anything we experience in this present life (1 Cor. 15:35-57).

So, I think it’s safe to say you will see your wife again. Your question, however, is more specific: will your marriage will continue in heaven?

Most Protestant commentators since the Reformation have not been comfortable going that far. However there is an earlier strand of interpretation, from the first centuries of the church, that I find appealing. It would suggest that there is a special meaning to the marriage bond that continues in heaven, though we can’t know what it will be like. It is based on Paul’s description of marriage in Ephesians 5: 21-33, which concludes: "This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."

What might that mystery be? Fourth-century commentator John Chrysostom connects Paul’s words with Jesus’ teaching that "the two become one flesh," and with Genesis 1:27, "God created man in his own image; male and female he created them." Male and female yearn to reunite, Chrysostom says, in order to regain our original creation as the image of God.

Scriptures like these suggest that the marriage bond has a spiritual meaning different from that of most earthly relationships. If so, God may preserve that mysterious quality in heaven just as he seeks to do on earth: "What God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mark 10:9).

The Sadducees attempted to trip Jesus up with a question about marriage in the next life (Matt. 22:23-33). They believed that the resurrection of the body was a silly idea and spun a tale in which a woman had been successively the wife of seven brothers. Would they all try to claim her in heaven? Jesus restated the reality of the Resurrection, and explained that in heaven no new marriages are formed: "they neither marry nor are given in marriage." He doesn’t say what happens when a person has had more than one spouse, so I can’t tell you.

Although we can’t imagine how the marriage relationship might appear in heaven, it’s sure that we will see and enjoy our believing friends and family again. In fact, John, it’s possible that this temporary separation between you and your wife is felt only on your part. She is very likely united with you in worship in that "great cloud of witnesses," honoring God in heaven even now (Heb. 12:1).

A Prodigal Daughter

Q. My daughter, claiming to be Christian, is living with her boyfriend. My spirit grieves when I visit her and my two grandchildren. If I follow I Corinthians 5:11, I would have to disassociate myself from her altogether! I want to please the Lord and not compromise, yet be there for my daughter. What should I do? —Carlene B., Baldwinville, Massachusetts

A. In this complex situation, the first thing to remember is that you must continue to love and pray for your daughter. Secondly, keep your eyes on the goal: you are trying to help her return to honoring God’s standards. In I Corinthians 5:3-5 and II Corinthians 2:5-11 we see Paul’s method in action: he applies enough discipline to motivate a person to rethink their behavior and turn, but not so much as to crush them with despair.

It doesn’t seem that disassociating from your daughter would have the desired effect, and the harm to your grandchildren would be severe. Am I right in assuming that you have already discussed this situation with your daughter, and shown her from the Scriptures why it is displeasing to God? In that case, the most persuasive thing you can do is communicate, even wordlessly, that this situation saddens you. If she already knows that you disapprove, harping on the reasons why might just make her defensive. Instead, show how her actions sadden you. Show that it hurts you to be spiritually separated from her, and that above all else you still love her and long for her return. It’s likely you can’t conceal this anyway. Her awareness of your loving concern may gradually awaken something in her, and wear away her defenses like water against a stone.

Been There, Done That

Q. How does the Bible explain deja’ vu? —Athena B., via e-mail

A. Didn’t somebody ask me this question already?

Actually, the Bible doesn’t appear to address deja’ vu. But one leading theory is that parts of the brain fall briefly out of sync, so that while one side is recording an event as fresh input, another is saying, "Hey, I’ve already filed that as memory!" Maybe it’s a foretaste of how we’ll feel the first moment we step into heaven, and recognize it as the home we have been seeking all our lives.


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