Q. Since the recent death of my wife, a godly "Proverbs 31" woman, I have been wondering if our marriage will continue in heaven. What does the Bible say about this?
John Riesberg, 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 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 some find intriguing. It suggests 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."
Scriptures like the Ephesians passage, and Jesus' well-known teaching that "the two will become one flesh" (Mark 10:8), 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. But we'll have to wait and see what form this relationship will take in eternity.
A related issue that inevitably arises is, What happens if a believer was married more than once? 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 "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 won't speculate.
Although we can't imagine how the marriage relationship might appear in heaven, it's enough to know 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. As you continue to "seek first God's kingdom" in this life, she is very likely united with you in that purpose, worshiping God in heaven even now.
Frederica Mathewes-Green is the author of The Illumined Heart (Paraclete Press)
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian magazine.
Click here for reprint information.