We first wrote about the possibility of sex in Heaven in 2015 and built an argument primarily from the Bible, and today we’re revisiting the topic by looking at the works of a few brilliant thinkers and artists.
As we noted previously, one of the key verses relating to sex in Heaven is Matthew 22:23-33. Here, some Jewish leaders who don’t believe in an afterlife (the Sadducees) attempted to trip up Jesus by asking him about a hypothetical woman who was married to seven men: whose wife would she be in Heaven? Jesus responds:
You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
Go to our previous post to learn more about what the Bible reveals on the topic of sex in Heaven (spoiler: some interesting clues, but not much definitive).
For today, let’s begin with this passage from the 20th-century’s preeminent literary critic Northrop Frye, who writes about these Matthew verses in his book “Words with Power”:
[w]hile many would feel that the inference was obvious that angels are asexual — “barren angels,” as Donne would call them — the inference is not inevitable.Northrop Frye, “Words with Power”, Chapter 6
Just because angels are not “given in marriage” does not mean they are asexual.
In “Paradise Lost” John Milton gives us two striking perspectives on angelic sexuality. First, in Book V we read about Eve preparing a meal and serving it to Adam and the visiting angel Raphael.
… Mean while at tableJohn Milton, “Paradise Lost”, Book V
Eve Ministered naked, and their flowing cups
With pleasant liquours crowned: O innocence
Deserving Paradise! if ever, then,
Then had the sons of God excuse to have been
Enamoured at that sight; but in those hearts
Love unlibidinous reigned, nor jealousy
Was understood, the injured lover’s hell.
Milton writes that the angel Raphael, and indeed all sons of God, were attracted to Eve’s (pre-fall) innocent, naked beauty and service — though without lust or jealousy. (See “The Peak of Eve’s Sexuality in Paradise Lost” for more discussion of this passage.)
Second, in Book VIII Adam and Raphael hold a long discourse on love and sexuality; near the end, Adam asks Raphael directly how angels express their love for one another. This quote begins with Adam, and then Raphael responds.
To love, thou blamest me not; for Love, thou sayest,
Leads up to Heaven, is both the way and guide;
Bear with me then, if lawful what I ask:
Love not the heavenly Spirits, and how their love
Express they? by looks only? or do they mix
Irradiance, virtual or immediate touch?
To whom the Angel, with a smile that glowed
Celestial rosy red, Love’s proper hue,
Answered. Let it suffice thee that thou knowest
Us happy, and without love no happiness.
Whatever pure thou in the body enjoyest,
(And pure thou wert created) we enjoy
In eminence; and obstacle find none
Of membrane, joint, or limb, exclusive bars;
Easier than air with air, if Spirits embrace,
Total they mix, union of pure with pure
Desiring, nor restrained conveyance need,
As flesh to mix with flesh, or soul with soul.
Raphael blushes and says whatever pure thou in the body enjoyest, we enjoy in eminence — and goes on to explain that, even better, angelic embrace is unhindered by the obstacles of flesh and bone.
Influenced perhaps by Milton’s vision, William Blake writes about Heavenly sex in “Jerusalem. The Emanation of the Giant Albion/Plate 69”.
Embraces are comminglings from the Head even to the Feet,William Blake, “Jerusalem. The Emanation of the Giant Albion/Plate 69.”
And not a pompous High Priest entering by a Secret Place.
Like Milton’s Raphael, Blake writes that Heavenly embraces are total meldings of separate individuals into a single blended whole — taking one flesh to the next level, because in Heaven even souls and spirits can be united without bodies getting in the way.
That second line of Blake contains some brilliant imagery, comparing the annual entrance of the Hebrew high priest into the Temple’s veiled Holy of Holies with the limited nature of earthly sexual union. God’s glorious presence was in the Holy of Holies, and the high priest alone was commanded/permitted to enter it once per year to commune with God and make atonement for the sins of the people. Jesus Christ, as our great high priest, has eliminated the veil and invited us all into direct communion with God.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. […] Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.Hebrews 4:14, 16
Blake’s metaphor is this: in the same way that our communion with God will be perfected in Heaven, our sexual unions will be perfected in Heaven; Heavenly embraces will be far superior to a penis (“pompous high priest”) entering a vagina (“secret place”).
Finally, consider this passage from C.S. Lewis in his book “Miracles”.
The letter and spirit of scripture, and of all Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life; and this reduces our imagination to the withering alternatives either of bodies which are hardly recognisable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer “No,” he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing which excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. Hence where fullness awaits us we anticipate fasting. In denying that sexual life, as we now understand it, makes any part of the final beatitude, it is not of course necessary to suppose that the distinction of sexes will disappear. What is no longer needed for biological purposes may be expected to survive for splendour. Sexuality is the instrument both of virginity and of conjugal virtue; neither men nor women will be asked to throw away the weapon they have used victoriously. It is the beaten and the fugitives who throw away their swords. The conquerors sheathe theirs and retain them.”C. S. Lewis, “Miracles”
Lewis obviously rejects the notion of “sexuality” in Heaven, but then proposes the presence of a superior intimacy to displace it, presumably called by another name. But what’s in a name? Call the perfect Heavenly embrace whatever you like, “sex” or something else — either way, I see no reason to think that Heaven will be lacking for intimacy.