By Rev. Douglas M. Taylor
“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
For centuries there has been but one standard interpretation of this teaching given by the Lord. It has been regarded as an unassailable proof that the Lord taught that there was no such thing as a married couple in heaven, that angels are not characterized or distinguished by sexes, that consequently all marriages are dissolved at death, and are never to be resumed in the other life. This is the way that people have thought when thinking from the doctrine of their church, though many, when thinking from common perception or common sense, have expressed belief in the idea that they will be re-united with their married partners. When thinking in this way, they invariably, and rightly, think of the partner as remaining of the same gender as he or she was while on earth. The notion that men in the other life are anything else but men, or women anything else but women, mercifully does not then enter their heads. Nor does the doctrine that prevails in the Christian world concerning our text come into the thought while one is thinking from common perception.
It is good that this is so, that common perception prevails over the common doctrine, because few things destroy a marriage of love truly conjugial more readily than does the notion that there is to be no marriage lasting into eternity. The teaching on this point ought to be clear, and indeed it is; for we are definitely taught that unless there is in the mind an idea of what is eternal in marriage, that is, an eternal companionship, the woman becomes less than a wife, and the man something less than a husband, and conjugial love perishes (see SD 6110:16, CL 216).
Yet the error of supposing that there are no married partners in heaven, while very serious, is nonetheless understandable. If once it is supposed, as is often done, that a human being is a human being from his body rather than from his mind or spirit, then it is fatally easy to fall further into error, the error of thinking that with bodily differences erased by death, those in the other world will be neither male nor female. If, further, it is thought that the married state is something less than perfect, a kind of natural permission for the sake of the propagation of the human race on earth if, in other words, marriage is held to be inferior to the state of celibacy, as has been taught for centuries and is still being taught then it is only to be expected that people would believe that angels would certainly not have anything to do with marriage. Such false and twisted ideas concerning life’s most precious jewel, a marriage of love truly conjugial, such falsities act like a pair of distorting spectacles before the eyes of many who read in the Word that the Lord said: “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (text). Such false assumptions distort the vision of many readers of these words, causing them to see things there that were never written.
For example, it is not said there, nor anywhere else in the Word, that there are no married partners in heaven. It is said that after death they are like “the angels of God in heaven.” It is not said that the angels are a race apart from the human race, or that they live in a state of celibacy. That is an unwarranted assumption made unthinkingly for hundreds of years. Yet this is nowhere stated. The text does not say that there is no such thing as the state of marriage in the other life. For all joys from first to last, we are frequently taught and reminded in the Writings, are gathered into conjugial love; it is the container of all other delights. So it is that all in heaven are in the married state, and that in the Word heaven is actually compared to a marriage (see Matt. 22:2).
If married couples, while living together on earth, have begun to receive from the Lord a spiritual love of marriage, i.e. conjugial love, and if they have continued steadfastly in it and in the Lord’s commandments until the end of their days on earth, then their marriage will be resumed in the other world. They enter into heaven married. It is not necessary for them to marry or be given in marriage, for they are as the angels of God in heaven. But if a married couple, believing in the eternity of marriage and having love truly conjugial as their ideal, nevertheless find in the other life that there is a hitherto unsuspected internal dissimilarity that separates them, they will each be provided with a suitable partner with whom they may live as married partners in heaven. But note: it is not that they married or were given in marriage in heaven. The suitable partner is provided on the basis of the person’s ruling love, on the basis of the love that he or she attained while on earth. The partner has to be suitable to our degree of regeneration, for regeneration and acquiring conjugial love walk hand in hand. So the criterion is the same; it is our life on earth that determines the nature and quality of our married state in the other life. The marriage takes place before we come into heaven or it does not take place at all. “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (text).
This leads us to consider another kind of marriage that is also to be understood by the Lord’s words on this occasion. What the Lord was referring to in mostly was the marriage that has to take place in every human mind: the marriage or wedding of the will to the understanding. The mind consists of two parts, the will or affectional side, and the understanding or thinking side. The will is made up of affections or feelings, while the understanding is made up of thoughts and reasonings. The whole effort of our life on earth should be to make these two the will side of the mind and the understanding to act as one, to be no longer two but one flesh. This is done when we act according to what we believe and understand to be good and true. The understanding is first instructed in what is good and true, and then begins the struggle to bring the will into line with this new vision of heavenly life. What the understanding sees as the true and good way of life, the will must learn to love and live. Or, as the Writings express it, the doctrine of life in the understanding must become the life of doctrine in the will. In this way, when every deed matches our creed, our mind is united and at peace. One part is no longer battling with the other; the will and understanding work together in conjunction. They are wedded together, married to eternity.
It was this kind of marriage to which the Lord was primarily referring when He said that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” This marriage of good and truth, of will and understanding, of deed and creed, must take place in this life or it will never take place. In the resurrection it will be too late. After death, the will and the understanding do not marry nor are they given in marriage. They must be united in this life.
But why did not the Lord explain this to the Sadducees when they tried to trap Him with their question about marriage in the afterlife? Why did not the Lord explain plainly that there is certainly a heavenly marriage, though it differs from an earthly one? Why did He allow the Christian Church, founded upon the words of His Gospel, to remain in such obscurity with regard to marriage? Could He not have given (at that time) the unambiguous explanation He has now given in the Writings?
No. That would have been worse than useless. The Lord in His infinite wisdom and mercy could perceive that mankind in general was incapable at that time of seeing such interior truths. Even the disciples, who were allowed to see more than the multitude, were unable to see the heavenly meaning of the parable of the sower, and needed to have it explained to them (see Luke 8:9). There were many things that they could not bear, including the doctrine about the spiritual marriage of good and truth, and the idea of a happy marriage to eternity. This was simply over the heads of the disciples.
Still less could the bodily-minded Sadducees have grasped even an introductory idea of a spiritual marriage. They were renowned for their complete denial of the afterlife. Concerning the nature of such people, we read: “When a man is such that he does not believe that he will live after death, he also disbelieves that there is anything internal which is spiritual and celestial; and such are those who live in mere lusts, because they live a mere life of the body and of the world, especially those who are immersed in loathsome avarice” (AC 1201).
These Sadducees were like that, and because their idea of marriage was manifestly restricted to the plane of the body, the concept of conjugial love, a love pure and clean above any other love of which mankind is capable, the concept of a spiritual kind of marriage, was quite beyond them. Even the Lord’s Divine wisdom itself on this subject would have been like thick darkness to their carnal minds. It was better, then, to let them think that there was no marriage in heaven than to have them defile the idea of a heavenly marriage with their gross, bodily ideas. For certain it is that there is no such thing in heaven as the kind of marriage the Sadducees had in mind. There is no such thing in heaven as marriage simply and solely for the sake of the propagation of physical offspring. The Lord’s words were literally true when applied to the Sadducees’ concept of marriage, and that is another reason for His speaking in the way He did.
In the work Heaven and Hell there is a passage explaining these words of the Lord with regard to marriage in the afterlife, in which it is said that while there are indeed married people in heaven, such marriages differ from those on earth. They differ principally in this, that there is no propagation of offspring. We read: “The procreation of offspring is another purpose of marriages on earth, but not of marriages in heaven, since in heaven the procreation of good and truth takes the place of the procreation of offspring … In heaven marriages are spiritual, and cannot properly be called marriages, but conjunctions of minds from the conjunction of good and truth. But on earth there are marriages, because these are not of the spirit alone but also of the flesh” (HH 382b).
It should not be supposed from this, however, that in the other world the inhabitants are bodiless minds without shape or form. Let us recall the familiar teaching that there is a spiritual body as well as a natural body, and that when the natural body is put off by death, we live in the spiritual body, and this is an exact replica of the mind, a beautiful mind being represented or manifested by a beautiful spiritual body, a masculine mind being manifested in a male spiritual body, a feminine mind in a female spiritual body. So it is that in the heavens also the conjunction of minds resulting from the conjunction of good and truth descends into the body, the spiritual body, the only difference being that there is, in the nature of the case, no propagation of physical offspring, but instead the propagation of spiritual offspring, that is, of new affections and delights belonging to good and truth.
These and many other detailed teachings about marriages in heaven are given in the Writings, notably in the works Heaven and Hell and Conjugial Love, in both of which works a whole chapter is devoted to the subject. Besides this, there are sundry other references scattered throughout the Writings.
But to what purpose were such details with regard to a blissful marriage to eternity revealed? The answer has already been given in a general way. We have already seen the teaching of the Writings that unless there remains in the mind an idea of what is eternal with regard to marriage, that is, an eternal conjunction of minds, the woman is reduced to something less than a wife, the man becomes something less than a husband, and conjugial love perishes. It is of the utmost importance for the men and women of the New Church to understand this teaching and the implications of it, so that they can use it, because it is promised that to the New Jerusalem will be restored that precious jewel of life, conjugial love.
But this is not attained simply by being a member of a church organization. Conjugial love is given by the Lord according to His laws, according to His way of operation. It is received by mankind only in the proportion that what is contrary to conjugial love is shunned and rejected. And one of the forces most destructive of conjugial love in the world is the notion that there is no marriage in the afterlife, that marriage has nothing of eternity in it. Likewise, in a particular marriage, the failure to keep before the mind the ideal of a happy marriage continuing into eternity causes the loss of conjugial love in that marriage. To entertain constantly the idea that one’s married partner in this life is probably not going to be one’s conjugial partner in the spiritual world is to cause conjugial love to dry up in that particular marriage, leaving an inward coldness even if outwardly there is agreement.
Such is the teaching of the Writings, especially in the following passage: “The reason why those who are in love truly conjugial look to what is eternal is that there is eternity in that love; and its eternity is from the fact that this love with the wife and wisdom with the husband increase to eternity, and in their increase or progression married partners enter more and more deeply into the blessings of heaven, which their wisdom and its love at the same time store up within them. If therefore the idea of what is eternal were eradicated, or if in any case it were to escape from their minds, it would be as if they were cast down from heaven … They are disunited as far as conjugial love is concerned, though not at the same time as to friendship, for this dwells in external things, but [conjugial love] in internals. It is the same in marriages on earth. There, when married partners tenderly love each other, they have what is eternal in their thoughts with regard to the covenant, and nothing at all of its end by death; and if they do think of this, they grieve, and yet in thought are comforted with the hope of its continuance after death” (CL 216a).
The same number from Conjugial Love goes on to give the experience of one couple in the spiritual world who sometimes believed that they would be eternal partners, but at other times lost this belief, the reason being that internally they were really dissimilar. When this became quite clear after death, they separated; but because they both believed in the eternity of marriage, each was provided with a partner who was internally similar.
So the conclusion is that it is the general denial of anything eternal in any marriage that destroys conjugial love. With regard to one’s own married partner in this life, the thought that he or she is internally dissimilar and will not be one’s eternal partner puts an end to any conjugial love in that particular marriage. However, if there remains the general acknowledgment that there is marriage in the heavens, a suitable partner can be provided in the other life; but under no circumstances can this be done if there is a confirmed denial of the eternity of conjugial love; for to deny this is to deny the inmost bliss of heaven.
The practical purpose for which the Lord has revealed so much about the nature of marriage in the heavens ought now to be clear. We are to hold steadfastly to the ideal of the eternity of marriage. We are to enter into our marriage with the conviction that it will last to eternity, and at all times we are to abhor the corroding thought that it will end at death. We are to act as if we know for certain that we are eternal partners, for only in this way can conjugial love, the container of all joys from first to last, be given by the Lord and preserved upon the earth.