Thursday, September 25, 2014

Heaven Blog Part Two: Mansions, But No Marriage!

  [Jesus said,] "In My Father’s house are many mansions;  if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."
 John 14:2-3

Well, friends, it's only taken me six weeks to post Part Two of my, "Heaven Blog."  That is due to my struggle in editing to a reasonable length more than my being too busy to write (yes, sadly I really did edit this)!  But thanks for bearing with me and coming back.  

I mentioned in Part One that my, "big issue" with Heaven needed its own post (it probably needed two)!  From my title you can probably guess what it is:  Yes, I am not pleased that there is no marriage in Heaven.  Perhaps some of you feel the same way (and the rest of you will think I am crazy after reading this)!  But we know there is no marriage in Heaven based on Jesus' teachings in Matthew 22 (as well as, from other Scriptures: Luke 20:34-36, Mark 12:22-25, & Romans 7:1-25).  In Matthew 22 (I'll choose it as my primary reference in honor of my husband, Matthew), Jesus is speaking to the Sadducees, one of the ruling councils of both a religious and political nature in Israel, at the time.  They were basically wealthy aristocrats who ran things and thought they knew it all:

Matthew 22:23-30,  
23 "The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 24 saying: 'Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 25 Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. 27 Last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.'
29 Jesus answered and said to them, 'You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in Heaven.'"
I have known for years that there is no marriage in Heaven--it isn't like I just read this passage.  But for some reason this fact has really been tripping-me-up all summer.  I say this often, but it is so strange how we can know something and not really "know" it.

I recall one friend, whose life's purpose and greatest mission has been to have several children, home-school them, and raise them to be followers of Christ.  Years ago in a Bible study on Heaven, this friend shared that she was devastated that we will not have babies in Heaven.  She chuckled about it as she shared, but I know she was serious.  She LOVES her kiddos and being a mom has been her life's work (and she has done it with great passion and flair)!  Now, I love kids--I even taught young children for 16-years.  But I remember laughing out-loud at her comment and thinking, "Wow.  I guess I am not very maternal because I am DONE with having kids, even now with only having ONE.  I CERTAINLY don't want to have babies for all of eternity!"   Some of you will read this post and similarly, laugh at me for my thoughts about marriage.  Touche`!

We know from Scripture that in Heaven we will no longer need marriage because we, the church, will be united in marriage as ONE BRIDE to Christ and as ONE BODY in Christ.  We will finally be in one, unified, happy marriage to Him, our perfect Husband.  In the Bible, Jesus is often referred to as, the Bridegroom, and the church as, the Bride of Christ (Revelation 21:1-2, John 3:29, Matthew 25:1-13).  In Ephesians 5:25-30, we read this again, as well as, our clear, yet temporal purpose for marriage here on Earth:

25 "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, 27 so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of His body."

Paul wrote this letter to the church at Ephesus sometime around 60 A.D, and this passage is still used in wedding ceremonies all over the world today.  Why have these words remained in discussions of marriage for this long?  Well, for obvious reasons, because they are God's words, which we know will last forever (1 Peter 1:25, Isaiah 40:8).  But they are also relevant nearly 2,000 years later because they not only tell us our purpose for marriage now, but also speak of Christ's selfless love for us as part of His very own body.  We are essentially practicing "oneness" and "selfless love" in our earthly marriages and in our churches.  God wants us to understand these unions, value them, and be ready to live it all out eternally when we are united together with Christ.   

We also know from Scripture that in Heaven, the church (those who believed and trusted Christ as their Savior) is united with Christ in a wedding ceremony unlike any other:  Revelation 19:7, "Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!  For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready."   This all sounds grand and wonderful--who wouldn't agree that the church living as, one, together in perfect unity and joy will be a marvelous thing?!  But as I pondered the reality of that and what it will truly look like, I was faced with the fact that my earthly marriage will be no more.  No more.  No more Matt and Steph.  No more T-bone and Brownie.  Would my Matt be just another face in a very big, heavenly crowd?  Would he not even be that big of a deal to me anymore? Suddenly the glory of Heaven seemed a little less glorious to me.  

In his recent sermon series on Heaven, the Pastor of my church, Dr. Jim Congdon, assured our congregation that we will recognize each other in Heaven (though we will look differently with altered, glorified bodies) and that we will be reunited there with our loved ones.  But he also said our relationships will change in Heaven.  We will all love one another, but our focus will be on God.  We will be caught-up in our worship of Him and in praising Him, delighting-in Him, and working for Him and His glory.  As great as all that sounded, I began to REALLY struggle with the fearful idea of no longer living with Matt in marriage or having the same, special relationship with my daughter, Allie, that I have now.  I began to think strange and negative thoughts like, "Why do we spend our entire lives learning to sacrificially love our spouses and our families, and developing these deep, meaningful, precious relationships with them only to go to Heaven for eternity to have a generalized, equalized love for everyone?  If marriage is a picture and symbol of the covenant between Christ and the church, why would God end that completely in Heaven for all eternity?  Wasn't that a pretty special covenant, I mean, come on, God?!  So then what IS the point of marriage and family here on earth if it is all going to be irrelevant in Heaven in the scope of God's glory, everybody loving everybody else, and eternity?  I shudder to think marriage is just for procreation, sexual pleasure, and nothing else.  Are you kidding me, God?"   I began to pour my heart out through tears to God praying all these things and saying, "God, why would all the relational work we have done here no longer really matter in Heaven if everything is going to be perfect anyway and we're all going to love each other anyway?  What is the purpose of all this?  I cannot even imagine not having a close or special relationship with Matt and Allie.  It sickens me to my core to think that they won't be any more special to me in Heaven than anyone else!"  Every time I prayed about it, I would end-up bawling bitterly and feeling heartbroken.  The more I thought about it, the worse it got.  It felt like I have about 40-years left to love on Matt, my only child, Allie, and my close family and friends (God willing and if I'm incredibly blessed).  After that, my relationships as I've known them will sort of vaporize for all eternity due to my being captivated by, the glory of the Lord.  It got so bad that at one point, I began to angrily feel like I'd been thrown into already grieving the loss of my husband, as if the feelings, memories, and relationship I have with him here on earth were now even more precious because one day they would no longer matter (and in Heaven, perhaps I wouldn't even recall most of them).  I feared that once in Heaven, my memory and perception would be so altered with the glory of God that I wouldn't even care or realize that I was ever married to Matt.   

For days after the initial, plaguing thoughts of this, I could barely speak of it.  I was unexpectedly thrown into this odd, deep sadness, and every time I attempted to share my feelings and thoughts with Matt, I'd burst into tears and be unable to get myself out of the funk in which I found myself.   One day while chatting in the car about it all, I cried so much I had no makeup left on my face--and we were on our way to a nice dinner out (I was forced to go, "au naturel" that night)!  Poor Matt would lovingly try to reassure me that though I would be captivated by The Lord, I would still remember him, too.   The silver-lining in all this grief was I realize how deeply I love my husband.  The guy is in my cellular makeup, as I once heard someone say. 

I found myself thinking even more odd and crazy things.  I found myself staring at the scar on Matt's hand and thinking to myself, "In Heaven, it will be gone.  But I LIKE the scar--it is a distinguishing characteristic on his body that I love."  Matt got the scar of which I am speaking from a farm injury as a young teenager, and when we dated I remember asking him about it for the first time.  I remember touching it and Matt flinching.  I said, "Oh, sorry.  Does it hurt?"  Matt replied, "It's just tender and has this weird sensation now--the nerve endings are damaged there, I guess."  So then throughout our dating, the scar became the object of a fun, flirtatious joke--every time I held that hand, I acted like I was going to caress it and he'd flinch.  This little joke has carried over into our marriage and I still tease him about it on occasion.  I love that stupid scar... (and for some reason, T-bone still buys into the fear that I'm actually going to touch it)!  It's just a silly imperfection, but it's a part of Matt to me.  This got me thinking about these, "perfected" bodies we are going to have in Heaven.  Now I'm all about no one having sickness, pain, or disabilities in eternity.  Those are just no fun at all.  But if Jesus still had His scars after His resurrection (John 20:27), I'm not so sure we aren't going to have a few of ours, as well.  Besides, what is perfect in our minds is probably not always deemed perfect in God's.  Some blemishes aren't really blemishes...and some scars are perfect.

The ridiculous thoughts continued.  I found myself staring at all Matt & Allie's physical features so as to appreciate and take them all in before they are gone for all of eternity...before they turn into these, "other, altered" beings.  I found myself lying next to Matt in bed in uncomfortable positions for lengthy periods so as not to disturb his sleep.  I wanted him to sleep as well as possible so he will live as long as possible (later realizing that in my lack of sleeping, I am shortening my own life and time with him)!  Suffice it to say, I've been on a weird and unexpected spiritual journey the past few months.
Don't get me wrong--it isn't that I don't want to have loads of deep and loving relationships in Heaven, or that I don't want to share Matt and Allie with anyone else in Heaven.  I don't even really believe I am struggling with Heaven being God-centered (as long as some of my thoughts and focus can be on my family and other loved ones).  Quite frankly, I'm one of those people who LIKES the idea of Heaven being a constant church and praise service (because singing and leading worship are pretty much my favorite things to do)!  I guess I just can't and don't WANT to fathom my marital and family memories drifting away.  I cannot stand the thought of the special love I have with Matt, Allie, my parents, and other loved ones fading into the distant past in the scope of, "eternity," and the, "glory of God."  

Each time I battled these thoughts, I fretted that perhaps the issue is that I love Matt and Allie more than God.  I mean, if I don't want my entire thoughts and focus in Heaven to be constantly on, The Lord, perhaps there's an issue here with my love for Him.  So then that thought would make me totally overwhelmed, tearful, and fearful that God would get me for it.  I would pray, "Lord, it's just that I don't want to go to Heaven and become a programmed robot who is so focused on You I no longer really remember my loved ones in a special way. I hate the thought that I'll see Matt in Heaven and say, 'Hey, I think we used to be married?!  Well, maybe I'll run into you again sometime in next 40-50 years!  See ya!  I gotta go weed the gardens now for, The King!'"  As I prayed these goofy prayers, I began to clearly see that I DO have an issue with Heaven being totally God-focused.  I want to be ME, as I am now (yet perfected), and I want to give attention to those I love and have our love remain.  I even recall thinking one day, "Why do You have to be so self-centered, God?! Why would you NOT want us to think of others in Heaven?  You've spent an inordinate amount of time telling us to love others and trying to teach us to do so here on Earth!  So then why does Heaven have to be all about YOU?!"  Amazing...He didn't even strike me with lightening.   Suddenly a thought I've never had before plagued me:  If I am going to arrive in Heaven and be so overcome by the power, majesty, and glory of the Lord that I no longer think of or care about Matt and Allie anymore than anyone else, I don't know if I want to go.  And then another thought:  Death really IS death.  Everything dies but our love for God.  It's all going to be gone.  Everything.  Still another horrible thought:  If this is true, how will I ever cope and survive the loss of my husband or God-forbid, my daughter?  What we have had will never be again.

Jesus said in His Father's kingdom there are many mansions (John 14:2).  I have wondered about that because if we're going to be busy being caught-up in the glory of God and nothing else will matter, why do we need mansions?  This thought was one of many that began to snap me out of the crazy fears I was having about Heaven.  Obviously, we are not going to just be caught-up in the glory of the Lord all the time, and if we are, then I guess we will finally be able to properly multitask!  Our work will always be pleasurable because it will finally be 100% God-centered and God-anointed.  We know that we will work in Heaven, and that the work we do here is going to be related to what we will do there (as if we are in training for it now).  So clearly we will have other thoughts.  All I know is, I don't want to share a mansion in Heaven with anyone else but Matt, and I don't want my marriage to be non-existent and unremembered for eternity.   I don't want Matt to become this person who is now in equal measure with everyone else in my eyes.  As blissful as all that perfect unity stuff sounds, it kills me to think that my husband could no longer hold a higher place in my heart and life in Heaven as he does here.  Perhaps that sounds, "needy."  I don't like to think of myself like that and pride myself that I fly solo quite a lot and do just fine.  I guess I just really love my husband.  If that makes me, "needy," then so be it.

I know that in Heaven, we will be so, "whole" in the presence of the Lord that we will not feel loneliness, separation, or "need" for anything.  He will be all we need.  We will just be "needy" for God!  But there is an earthly, doubting-Thomas side of me that doesn't fully grasp this--to no longer feel "need" for Matt feels like brain-washing to me, because I DO need him (or I did).  I guess I like the thought of God being #1 in Heaven, and Matt being #2.  I don't like the thought of God being #1, and everyone else in the heavenly realm being #2 in my life--because sorry, most of the people in Heaven aren't going to have meant a thing to me down here!  I just want my heavenly relationships to include all the people I love but without all the problems.  I guess the reality is, I want Heaven my way.  Ugh.

Part of my problem is my perfectionist side thinks it knows best--and it desires for things to just be "right."  One day in Heaven it all will be...and all my fears and doubts about these things will be gone.  I realize how simple-minded I really am--all I really can fathom is what is in front of me.  My mother has often lovingly told me that I am such a, "doubting-Thomas."  Faith has always been a hard thing for me--maybe it's personality issues and flaws, maybe it's growing-up poor and without a father my entire young life, or perhaps I'm just shallow and sinful.  Maybe it's all of that.

After ultimately learning from this sermon series that there will be no mind-altering or memory-erasing in Heaven, and that God is not going to completely rid the new Heaven and new Earth of the beauty we have enjoyed here, I was disgusted and ashamed of myself.  First, that I would concoct doubt that the God of the Universe would be incapable of out-doing Himself, creatively-speaking.   Second, that I would think that He would come here to suffer and die out of love for us all, give us a CHOICE to believe in Him and love Him, but upon our death, would suddenly make us blind, brain-swiped pawns in some perfected little game for His glory and ego for all of eternity.  If God did this, we would not recognize people or even care to recall them, and we know clearly from Scripture we are reunited with loved ones.  Pastor Jim shared further that before the fall of man in, The Garden, Earth was perfect.  So why would God hit delete altogether?!  Likewise, God would not erase all our memories or the mindful reality of the love we have shared with those with whom we have lived our very lives.  We can trust that all the earthly creations and relationships to which God has put His hand will not be gone forever, but will only be perfected and heightened in Heaven.  Only the good stuff will remain.  Pastor Jim summed this up by saying there will be some, carry over in Heaven from this earth to eternity, with a big, make-over, and with God & Christ over all.  Now that sounds good to me.  (In turn, I guess I need to get over my doubts and fears, and trust that the heavenly over-haul will be better than I can even imagine)!

I guess I didn't really get it until now.  I've heard hundreds of times that marriage is a picture or symbol of Christ and the church.  I have understood that the earthly covenant of marriage is much like Old Testament law.  The law was good, necessary, and provided guidance and protection to God's people.  It kept them in righteous fellowship with Him until Christ came to over-ride it with the grace of His perfect gift of salvation.  Once Jesus came, the "law" was no longer needed in order for God's people to stay in fellowship with Him.  They no longer needed to make sacrifices for their sins because the perfect sacrifice, Jesus, had finally come, and left His Spirit with them for guidance and protection.  Likewise, when we are finally united with Christ, earthly marriage will no longer be needed.  We will be in a perfect covenant with Jesus.  We will no longer need to procreate because we will have arrived at the unknown number of those God desires to have in His eternal church.  We will also no longer derive our spiritual and physical pleasure from sex because we will have a union unlike any we have ever known and will get our "highs" in ways far super-ceding our current outlets.  Essentially, all joy and pleasure that we have experienced here on Earth will pale in comparison to that which we will enjoy in Heaven.  Pastor Jim humorously compared our skepticism about no marriage, no sex, and other changes in Heaven to us acting like children wanting to play with mud pies versus desiring to go to Disney World.  All the earthly things we cling to now will be like mud pies compared to what God has in store for us.  In actuality, we all need to prepare to have our minds blown.

So what has God shown me in this weird little journey?  Something I knew but obviously, didn't know.  He has shown me Ephesians 5:25-30 fully--not as head-knowledge, but as heart-knowledge.  I get it now.  I know fully what the point of marriage and family are here on earth.  They are here to provide joy, protection, and guidance in our lives.  They were given to us by God to prepare us for our marriage to Christ in Heaven and to give us a small taste of the awesome unity we will have with our very big family there.  We're just practicing with our small, current sampler plates.  Christ IS my ultimate husband--He is my eternal Husband.  Though my T-bone is a darn good object upon which to practice, he isn't my eternal husband.  Shamefully, I see fully that I've not really thought of Jesus or loved Him as my Husband.  He's pretty much just been the best man at my wedding.

Though I know I need to have Christ (God) in first place in my life, I know I often don't.  It will be a goal for which I will strive daily.  How can I not put a God Who loves me so much He died for me in first place?  How can I not put Him in first place when He isn't a God who desires to mind-sweep me and remove all others from my memory, thoughts, and heart?  God wants to be the cake in my life now and for all eternity, and He wants all the rest that I love to be the icing.  Though I'm not sure how that will all look in Heaven, I know I can trust Him.  Speaking of weddings, cakes, and icing, I pray I get a REALLY BIG PIECE at the wedding celebration in Heaven.  Wedding cake has always been my dessert of choice.  And my word for the year comes into play yet again:  Patience, Steph...patience.

Related Scripture:

2 Cor. 5:6-8, "Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  For we live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord."

Phil. 1:21-23, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far."

Revelation 21:4, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."