Have you seen the late night TV ads,”Truth Restored” from the Church of Latter Day Saints, in which a young women asks, “I can be married forever?” She’s totally wowed when she discovers that she will be with her husband in eternity. As comforting as this may be for some people, many of my gen-x friends don’t buy the whole resurrection thing. Not to mention that having been totally traumatized by the divorce of their parents, they feel ambiguous about commitment. Indeed, with the prevalence of second and third marriages many of us have such complicated family trees that the idea marriage is forever poses all sorts of problems: which family will I be with in heaven? My mom’s or my dad’s; my step-parent’s?
In fact, many of us are not interested in a continuation of the status quo in eternity: it sounds more like hell than heaven! I wonder how many people who have been married 50 plus years really want to be together forever? Certainly there are couples that have discovered the power of love and forgiveness to renew their relationship. The rest of us are thinking how unfair it is that we should have to make such a once and for all choice to begin with. As long as resurrection is treated this way, it doesn’t have much to offer.
In Luke 20:27-38 Jesus says there is no such thing as marriage in eternity: this was good news for some, especially since the status quo in his society was so abusive to women. He says this in response to a trick question. The Sadducees, who supposedly don’t believe in the resurrection want to know what man a women will be married to in the resurrection. Her husband has died and left her without children. According to the Levitical law she must marry her husband’s brother. When the brother dies, she then must marry the next brother and so on down the line, she ends up married and widowed seven times.
Why is it so important that this women should immediately remarry? Sexual desire provokes rivalries, which can tear human communities apart. Therefore, one of the primary foundations to any society is the structuring of sexual relationships. In many traditional societies a woman is passed directly from the father’s household to the husband’s ensuring that she’s always under the authority of one man. She is allowed no control over her own sexuality or desire. For instance, Deuteronomy 22:13-21 demands that any woman who has sexual relations outside of marriage be dragged from her father’s house and stoned by the men of the community! Such acts of punishment are carried out to this day under oppressive regimes in Iran and Afghanistan.
So when the Sadducees recite the transference of a women from one man to the next, they are completely blind to the insensitive treatment of women in their society. Not to mention that the idea a woman would continue to be constrained by such oppressive rules completely contradicts the resurrection as Jesus understands it.
Ironically, the emphasis today on marriage and family values has contributed to the loss of community. Isolated and without adequate social support, families are forced to rely on their own resources. The day to day stress on families has increased significantly as both parents are pressured to work more hours than their parents. Children hardly get to be children these days, passed as they are from one activity to the next, one parent to the next. The pressures and tensions are just too much for individual households to bear and literally pits family members against each other.
So beware of political candidates who claim to support family values, it actually demonstrates a lack of vision, an inability to imagine a better basis for our society.
Marriage cannot serve as the foundation of our society. Like Atlas trying to shoulder the weight of the world, marriage is crumbling under a burden it cannot possibly bear. Attempts to artificially reinforce it as the basis of society only make it a rigid and oppressive structure. And worse, insisting on this false foundation deprives us of the firmer ground we so desperately need.
Does this mean we shouldn’t get married? No, but marriage needs to be grounded in the larger context of a human community founded on compassion rather than oppression. If we remember to view marriage as a fragile relationship rather than an institution, we are much more likely to honor the humanity of the people involved. In this light the idea of resurrection becomes more attractive. For unlike the Sadducees whose understanding of social order originates as a response to death, Jesus’ response demonstrates a vision of life in which death plays no role, with the result that heaven starts to look more like heaven and less like hell.