Earthly desires don't make their way into Heaven, and that's a good thing
Q: As an Evangelical Protestant Christian who is disabled, I really want to know if there is sex in Heaven. I am prepared to believe that there is no sex in hell, but since there is no disease or suffering in Heaven I want to know if perhaps in Heaven disabled people like myself will be able to have the physical intimacy and love that they could not enjoy in their earthly lives. This letter is not a joke. It is a real question and a real agony for me and many others who have been forced by disability to live limited lives here on earth. Is Heaven a place of physical freedom for me? -- J in NYC
A: Are you sure you don't want to ask me about Santa?
The religious teachings about Heaven and hell are based upon the beliefs that we are made up of material bodies and immaterial souls. This means that when we die only our bodies die and return to the earth. Our souls are released from their bodily home and return to God to continue their spiritual journey through rebirth (Hinduism) or through an eternity in Heaven or hell. Whatever life after death looks like, what we do believe is that death is not the end of us. What awaits us beyond death obviously cannot be fully known and people who speak about the nature of Heaven and hell with a certainty that we ought to reserve for speaking about Cleveland are foolishly pretending to know what they cannot possess.
Though we cannot know with precision what Heaven and hell are really like, we can infer some things about them. The first is that they are immaterial. They are places for our souls, not places for our bodies that we leave in the grave when we die. So it is reasonable to believe that physical pleasures like eating or sex have no place in Heaven or hell. That is why there is no sex in Heaven. The needs of the body have been left behind.
However, sexual intimacy is a part of love and love is not a mere physical emotion. Love does exist in Heaven -- not sex, but love. Not the physical love making called eros in Greek, but the spiritual love of God called agape. The problem with physical intimacy in our culture now is that we have separated sex and love, and this makes sex merely physical and makes love merely emotional, which is false to both sex and love.
The New Testament seems to support this spiritual inference that our emotions live on but not our need for bodily pleasures. In Luke 20:34-36 Jesus explains precisely this point about Heaven. It releases us from the need to have the pleasures of the body and thus it changes the definition of marriage.
"And Jesus answering said unto them, 'The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.' "
Paul makes clear that our physical body dies and then what is left for us to encase our soul is a spiritual body,
"It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. ... And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." (1 Corinthians 15:44, 49-50)
What does a spiritual body looks like? Sorry that is above my pay grade.
Let me surmise, dear J, that your agonized and intimate question seems to be less a question about Heaven than a question about you. Your real question is not whether you can have sex in heaven. The answer to that is no, but not because there is something bad or dirty or ignoble about sex. It is rather that sex is the physical side of love and that love and its needs cannot endure beyond the grave.
The good news is that the love and intimacy you seek in Heaven is available to you right here on earth. You can fall in love here. You can embrace physical intimacy here to the extent your body permits. That physical contact may be limited, but your capacity for love -- true love -- is not limited in your life on planet earth. God can kiss you here and prepare you for a kiss that will change you forever.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)(c) 2018 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.