As a funeral director, I hear many interesting things at funerals! A while back I heard a song that got me thinking. A folk singer sang a song something along the lines of “I don’t know if there are sweethearts in heaven, but if there are, I want you for mine.” It was sung on behalf of the decedent as a proclamation of his enduring love for his widow. It was very touching, and very sweet. Even while I liked the song, though, I was bothered a bit by the unbiblical nature of the lyric. It was American folk religion, rather than classic orthodox Christianity. Its basic framework was the idea that I may not be good enough for entrance into heaven, etc. No thought of justification by grace through faith, or in the atonement of Christ. Even the “title thought” of sweethearts in heaven goes against Jesus’ declaration- “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage…” (Matthew 22:30, ESV). This declaration is the foundation of the line in the traditional vow “…till death do us part.”
The more I thought about it though, the less happy I was with simply rejecting the song as contrary to scripture. There is such a strong internal feeling that such a love should be eternal. It is a gift of God, a creation of God as a reflection of His own nature.
St. Paul proclaims that “Love never ends” and that “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I am unhappy with the idea that God’s gifts are time-limited. This gift of marital love is the way we most nearly enter in to the three-yet-one idea of Trinity. The next closest reflection is the church, interestingly called “the bride of Christ” thus referring back to marriage. Ours of course is a binary, rather than triune arrangement (setting aside for the moment the contested idea that the Sprit proceeds from the unity of the Father and the Son). But by becoming “one flesh” while remaining two distinct persons, bound together strictly by love, we get to enter into something very near to the character of God. The more I contemplate this idea, the more I understand of my own failure to live it out, thus my own divorce.
So if this gift of love is itself eternal, and yet Jesus’ proclamation true, then there must be more to the story. After all, Paul told us in that same chapter of 1 Corinthians that we now see “through a glass darkly.” How is eternal love to be understood? What is it’s role, if not simply annihilated and discarded?
Many things are set aside as Holy, so we may learn how to treat holy things. When we have learned holiness, we may be allowed to think of all things as holy, all things as given by God, and designed for His purpose. IF we start with the idea that all things are of the same worth, we will treat all things as low and common. We mark some things, say communion vessels, as holy, to be given special appreciation and care as the vessels of God. Then, when we are thoroughly comfortable with how to treat these things as special, God may whisper to us
“you know, Eric, everthing I made bears my imprint, I made everything for it’s own purpose. Every flower, every jelly-jar is as special as that golden chalice, which you treat so lovingly”
But we can safely receive that message only after we have learned how to treat holy things. Get it too early, and we will treat the chalice like a humble jelly-jar, instead of treating the jelly-jar like a holy chalice. We go up steps one foot first, not because one foot should be higher than the other, but so that the higher, by virtue of it’s elevation, may then raise the other. Perhaps this is also true to the love we are to know and practice in marriage. Perhaps the love we know, the unity in diversity through love, is ultimately not to be exclusive, although we need it to be exclusive here if we are to learn it aright. I take it almost as an axiom that this present life is part of the process of creation, and our true purpose and work is yet to come. We are being crafted for something more, and what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
As I reviewed the song, I fancied something of a reunion scene in heaven. It involved Jesus introducing a newcomer to the saints gathered just inside the pearly gates. Jesus was saying something like this: “ Folks, we all know Bob. We all know the love he has shown to everyone here, how easily he fit into our fellowship. We have all seen how he uses the unique gifts that make him who he is to bring to light the best in everyone else. He truly loves with the love we all have from the Father. Well, folks, I would like to introduce you to Barbara. She is the woman who taught him that.”