But is there sexual intercourse in Heaven? If we have bodily sex organs, what do we use them for there?
Not baby-making. Earth is the breeding colony; Heaven is the homeland.
Not marriage. Christ's words to the Sadducees are quite clear about that. It is in regard to marriage that we are "like the angels". (Note that it is not said that we are like the angels in any other ways, such as lacking physical bodies.)
Might there be another function in which baby-making and marriage are swallowed up and transformed, aufgehoben? Everything on earth is analogous to something in Heaven. Heaven neither simply removes nor simply continues earthly things. If we apply this principle to sexual intercourse, we get the conclusion that intercourse on earth is a shadow or symbol of intercourse in Heaven. Could we speculate about what that could be?
It could certainly be spiritual intercourse—and, remember, that includes sexual intercourse because sex is spiritual. This spiritual intercourse would mean something more specific than universal charity. It would be special communion with the sexually complementary; something a man can have only with a woman and a woman only with a man. We are made complete by such union: "It is not good that the man should be alone." And God does not simply rip up His design for human fulfillment. The relationship need not be confined to one in Heaven. Monogamy is for earth. On earth, our bodies are private. In Heaven, we share each other's secrets without shame, and voluntarily. In the Communion of Saints, promiscuity of spirit is a virtue.
The relationship may not extend to all persons of the opposite sex, at least not in the same way or degree. Ifit did extend to all, it would treat each differently simply because each is different—sexually as well as in other ways. I think there must be some special "kindred souls" in Heaven that we are designed to feel a special sexual love for. That would be the Heavenly solution to the earthly riddle of why in the world John falls for Mary, of all people, and not for Jane, and why romantic lovers feel their love is fated, "in the stars", "made in Heaven".
But this would differ from romantic love on earth in that it would be free, not driven; from soul to body, not from body to soul. Nor would it feel apart from or opposed to the God-relationship, but a part of it or a consequence of it: His design, the wave of His baton. It would also be totally unselfconscious and unselfish: the ethical goodness of agape joined to the passion of eros; agape without external, abstract law and duty, and eros without selfishness or animal drives.
But would it ever take the form of physical sexual intercourse? We should explore this question, not to kowtow to modernity's sexual monomania but because it is an honest question about something of great significance to us now, and because we simply want to know all we can about Heaven.
Since there are bodies in Heaven, able to eat and be touched, like Christ's resurrection body, there is the possibility of physical intercourse. But why might the possibility be actualized? What are its possible purposes and meanings?
We know Heaven by earthly clues. Let us try to read all the clues in earthly intercourse. It has three levels of meaning: the subhuman, or animal; the superhuman, or divine; and the specifically human. (All three levels exist in us humans.)
Animal reasons for intercourse include (i) the conscious drive for pleasure and (2) the unconscious drive to perpetuate the species. Both would be absent in Heaven. For although there are unimaginably great pleasures in Heaven, we are not driven by them. And the species is complete in eternity: no need for breeding.
Transhuman reasons for intercourse include (i) idolatrous love of the beloved as a substitute for God and (2) the Dante-Beatrice love of the beloved as an image of God. As to the first, there is, of course, no idolatry in Heaven. No substitutes for God are even tempting when God Himself is present. As to the second, the earthly beloved was a window to God, a mirror reflecting the divine beauty. That is why the lover was so smitten. Now that the reality is present, why stare at the mirror? The impulse to adore has found its perfect object. Furthermore, even on earth this love leads not to intercourse but to infatuation. Dante neither desired nor enacted intercourse with Beatrice.
Specifically human reasons for intercourse include (1) consummating a monogamous marriage and (2) the desire to express personal love. As to the first, there is no marriage in Heaven. But what of the second?
I think there will probably be millions of more adequate ways to express love than the clumsy ecstasy of fitting two bodies together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Even the most satisfying earthly intercourse between spouses cannot perfectly express all their love. If the possibility of intercourse in Heaven is not actualized, it is only for the same reason earthly lovers do not eat candy during intercourse: there is something much better to do. The question of intercourse in Heaven is like the child's question whether you can eat candy during intercourse: a funny question only from the adult's point of view. Candy is one of children's greatest pleasures; how can they conceive a pleasure so intense that it renders candy irrelevant? Only if you know both can you compare two things, and all those who have tasted both the delights of physical intercourse with the earthly beloved and the delights of spiritual intercourse with God testify that there is simply no comparison.
A Heavenly Reading of the Earthly Riddle of Sex
This spiritual intercourse with God is the ecstasy hinted at in all earthly intercourse, physical or spiritual. It is the ultimate reason why sexual passion is so strong, so different from other passions, so heavy with suggestions of profound meanings that just elude our grasp. No mere practical needs account for it. No mere animal drive explains it. No animal falls in love, writes profound romantic poetry, or sees sex as a symbol of the ultimate meaning of life because no animal is made in the image of God. Human sexuality is that image, and human sexuality is a foretaste of that self-giving, that losing and finding the self, that oneness-in-manyness that is the heart of the life and joy of the Trinity. That is what we long for; that is why we tremble to stand outside ourselves in the other, to give our whole selves, body and soul: because we are images of God the sexual being. We love the other sex because God loves God.
And this earthly love is so passionate because Heaven is full of passion, of energy and dynamism. We correctly deny that God has passions in the passive sense, being moved, driven, or conditioned by them, as we are. But to think of the love that made the worlds, the love that became human, suffered alienation from itself and died to save us rebels, the love that gleams through the fanatic joy of Jesus' obedience to the will of His Father and that shines in the eyes and lives of the saints—to think of this love as any less passionate than our temporary and conditioned passions "is a most disastrous fantasy". And that consuming fire of love is our destined Husband, according to His own promise. Sex in Heaven? Indeed, and no pale, abstract, merely mental shadow of it either. Earthly sex is the shadow, and our lives are a process of thickening so that we can share in the substance, becoming Heavenly fire so that we can endure and rejoice in the Heavenly fire.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven
by Ignatius Press.
This text is also available as an expanded audio lecture under:
Sex in Heaven