Thursday, June 26, 2014

Intimacy in Heaven

I had a dream about Taylor Swift.  And it was lovely. Let me explain.
Article rambles about the presumably non-sexual nature of future relationships, touching on the subject of sex, by comparison, as necessary.

In the late fall, when I first ran into an old high school classmate who was pregnant, I remember her offering as a prayer request some relief from bad dreams. Apparently she too has active dreams, and something to do with hormonal surges while pregnant--or even perhaps spiritual attacks on account of being recently joined in Christian marriage--had been giving her very vivid, upsetting dreams. That stuck out to me, because I too have, on occasion, very vivid dreams. It is rare that I remember dreaming but can't quite describe what I dreamed about. More often, my brain will give me a detailed exposition or adventurous plot and as long as I remain lying prone when I wake up and recall it, I'm able to remember it afterwards. For some reason, sitting up makes it harder to remember what you were just dreaming and then *poof* off it goes into a memory black-hole and you lose the chance to recall it.

In the last year or two, I've had dreams where I was jumping 30 feet in the air, escaping a rampaging dinosaur; saving people from a burning building while an enormous walrus shot lazers at it; fighting the xenomorph from the Aliens franchise with explosive coloring pastels; catching an airplane's landing gear with one arm while holding my dog in the other, to escape a roiling sea of sharks; floating down the Nile and eventually waking up right before becoming crashed into by a wide-eyed hippo riding a tsunami a la Poseidon in this clip from the Odyssey....

And those are the good dreams. Immersive adventures, plenty of imaginary exercise and heroism.

Then there are the bad dreams. I felt a bit reassured when I heard that young woman talk about bad dreams, without going into details. From that, I got an anecdote to support my reasoning that the kinds of things I sometimes see in dreams are not necessarily reflective on my character, or thought process. I don't really have "night-mares," in terms of things that frighten me, anymore. If I wake up wanting to forget it happened, and relieved that nothing I saw was real, it's invariably because I've had extremely explicit dreams of a sexual nature. You see yourself doing certain things with certain people that you just wouldn't ever want to or consciously choose to, in real life. The upsetting part is the reconciliation--while asleep, trying to deal with the cognitive dissonance; coming to grips with the psychological aftermath of what you've committed. In the midst of the dream, I'm having a personal crisis and trying to stop freaking out about "what I've done." Waking up is a sweet relief when you recall that you actually never went against your conscience. Even so, I never remember getting a choice. In bad dreams like those, I'm always launched into the middle of it, where my deeds have been scripted and I don't even have the privilege of exercising refusal. It is absolutely cringe-worthy on every conceivable level.

That's why my dream about Taylor Swift was so refreshing. It was nothing like that.

Getting to the Point

I didn't write anything down about it, so I hardly remember anything in detail from it. I think there were two main actors other than I, one being "identified" as Taylor--in this dream, as in others, I 'felt' that that was who it was supposed to be, but never actually saw their face. So I didn't see an image of Taylor. But the dream wasn't about sight. It was very feeling-focused. All I remember is being seated on the ground with hundreds of other people in an auditorium or outdoor concert stage setting. Just a big place with lots of people, and it was dark. Whether we were cast as young kids or not is not something I can remember. What I remember is the innocence.

In stark contrast to the sheer discomfort I'm brought by explicit dreams, this dream really made me feel good. It was like puppy love, I 'felt' as if we were little kids, and just sitting close to each other made the butterflies fly. Barely touching, we sat on the floor and leaned against each other, in a little gesture of affection. It was as if the "d'awww" feeling from every time a small child had given me a hug in my life all surged up at once. The bliss of tensionless endearment.

This dream had nothing to do with Taylor Swift.

What it really had to do with was the tantalizing emotion of ecstatic comfort and quiet glee that my unconscious mind is more open to experiencing than my waking mind usually is. When I woke up, I wondered about what it implied: that there's a deeper, more powerful delight than what exists in sexual pleasure. I happen to think about that a great deal, not being in a sexual relationship, but something this time around made me think about how this might shed light on continuing personal relationships in heaven.

The Big Idea

When Jesus answered the Sadducees in Matthew 19, He told them that people wouldn't be married in heaven, and that they would be like the angels, neither giving nor given in marriage. Logically, since God hasn't ever prescribed sex outside of a marriage relationship, one would do well to presume that there will be no sex in heaven--to contrast starkly with Islam's idea of heaven as an eternal orgy. I haven't got a solid lock on whether those 'parts' would still be part of our resurrected bodies--depends on whether our bodies will respond to food in the same way, which could be questioned on the basis that we wouldn't need food to stay alive, so would we need to excrete? But enough rabbit-trails.

If we're not going to have sex after death, would that mean that we'll forever have missed out on that feeling, unable to reach the pinnacle of experiential delight? I doubt it. Instead, it would seem reasonable that whatever we'll be feeling in eternity, however we'll be experiencing things in eternity, that our experiences will be more satisfying and delightful than sexual arousal or climax.

How, then? Well, haven't you ever felt really good listening to music, or laughing to great comedy, or cheering on when watching or accomplishing something exciting? The experience of victory, aural enjoyment, humor and thrill will still be a part of the eternal state. Sex is only one portion of the human experience. There must be sermons on this somewhere, and I am nearly fully confident that the theologians will predict that sexual intercourse will be obsolete. There will be something better, I'm sure. And that's what made me ponder:

How might we interact with other brothers and sisters in Christ physically? I doubt we'll avoid touching each other at all. Will there be hugging? Hand-holding? Surely hand-shakes upon meeting a new face (until a few million years have passed and you'll have met everyone, I guess)? And this made me think: science fiction writers imagining different alien species are very creative. They could imagine galactic races who experience ecstasy through touching one's pointer finger to another's. Or by putting a hand on a shoulder. Maybe bringing the face together with another and touching foreheads allows you to "share thoughts" and experience deep intimacy and warming enjoyment together.

These are suppositions about science fiction aliens. But the point is to underline this fact: we don't know just how different the experience of eternity will be. We can't be completely certain just how vastly different that world will be. We know there will be continuity with this life, but there will also be discontinuity. Imagine that sitting close with another believer and holding their hand "arm-wrestle" style and looking into their eyes could make you both feel elated with physical, emotional but also spiritual and intellectual joy and delight. There wouldn't be a sexual component to it. No weirdness or embarrassment.

Speaking of embarrassment: sex looks weird. Can you imagine, even if eternity was a polyamorous sexual experience, just how weird it would be to interact with people that way? I struggle to see what the point would be, and even in redeemed bodies with minds that don't feel jealousy or lust, it couldn't avoid being awkward, just knowing what sex used to be.

What Greater Things Might Lie In Store

Yeah, I'm pretty sure sex won't be in heaven. But what's a big reason people might be upset about its absence? I think it's because it's seen as such an intense pleasure. Why intense? Because of the "lose-your-mind" sensation it gives you when you reach 'that place.' But is this really the best comparison of this feeling to other feelings? Whether you are conscious or unconscious has no bearing on whether something feels good or not. I challenge the idea that the incapacitating nature of the experience of orgasm--for some people, at least--is what makes it feel good. I think it's a side effect. Consider, instead, that in eternity our bodies will be able to handle feelings that are that strong and even stronger, without the waves of sense experience causing our minds to reel or even be incapacitated until the feeling passes. What if sensations as strong, and even stronger and better than the sexual experience will be a regular part of daily life in eternity, and that our minds will be able to both fully enjoy every bit of these sensations but to fully function, simultaneously?

I think I finally reached the climax (har de har), if you will, of my article. This is the main point I'm driving at: that we might be missing out on the act of sex, but we won't be missing out on good feelings or intimacy with others. Our experience will be cleaner and our ability to enjoy it will be undiminished. At some point in the infinite future, sheer logic will tell you that you'll be more intimate with your most distant stranger (prior to heaven) than you were at any point with your wife or husband on earth, prior to entering eternity. And the feelings of joy, satisfaction, love, affection, etc that you'll feel for them will surpass the feelings you once had for your spouse when you were yet not transformed.

And on that note, it's a guarantee that we'll be more intimate and have more love for each other in eternity, because no matter how high we climbed in our sanctification on earth, we were (as of this writing, are) still sinners, and our sin would inevitably hinder our ability to reach our FULL love and intimacy with one another. So we will be closer in every way possible with people we meet for the first time in eternity, than people we have known our whole lives here.

It's a pure ecstasy. There's an enjoyment that surpasses the greatest mental roller-coaster we can have down here. God's preparing for us far more of a 'wild ride' than the sex-limited (now there's a thought) 'ride' we can give each other in our human capacity.

Yeah, you might miss out on sex. Yeah, I might miss out, if I die or the world ends before I get that chance. Well, bummer. There's better stuff in store.

Keep dreaming.

Eternity will be better than your wildest dreams.

~ Rak Chazak


  1. Easy to say when you're still in your twenties. Will your "oh well, bummer" laissez-faire attitude still hold up when you are a 48 year-old virgin, and realize that your obedience to God's laws have left you out in the cold, as it has me?

    1. Indeed I would. I wouldn't like it, but I'm confident I'd remain content because that confidence lies in God's provision for me, and not my ability to trust the permanence of my own emotions.

      I'm almost 10 years out from graduating high school. I know a couple that just got married at the age of 19. I'm way behind if I compare myself to them. And yet, I'm content to not rush a relationship, or despair for the future. So, based on past experience, I trust God will continue to keep me from despair going forward, regardless of the specifics of my circumstances.