By: Christopher West
Many people have an erroneous “super-spiritual” view of eternal life. Such people tend to see the body as a shell that they’re anxious to get rid of, as if death were the moment in which our souls were finally “liberated” from the “prison” of our bodies. This was great, ancient philosopher Plato’s idea, but it is not the Christian view of things. In fact, the idea that the body is a prison or merely a shell is based in heresy. Christians conclude their Creed with the bold proclamation: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.” The Catechism observes, “‘On no point does the Christian faith meet with more opposition than on the resurrection of the body.’ It is very commonly accepted that the life of the human person continues in a spiritual fashion after death. But how can we believe that this body, so clearly mortal, could rise to everlasting life” (n. 996)? What a mystery! In Christ “the mortal puts on immortality” (1 Co 15:54).
The Resurrected Body
We often speak of the “souls” in heaven. When we buried my grandmother, I saw her body go in the ground and I’m confident that her soul is now enjoying some form of union with God. But the souls currently in heaven (“currently,” of course, is a time-bound word which doesn’t even apply to heaven but is necessary for our human understanding) remain in an “inhuman” state until the resurrection of their bodies. It can’t be any other way for us as human beings. Since God created us as a union of body and soul, the separation of the two at death is entirely “unnatural.” Indeed, it’s a cosmic tragedy.
Our bodies will certainly be different in their resurrected state. Recall that the disciples didn’t readily recognize Jesus after the resurrection (see Lk 24:15-16). But at the end of time, we will certainly have our bodies, as does Jesus. When he appeared after his resurrection in the upper room, he said, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Lk 24:39). And then, just to hammer the point home, he ate some fish in their presence (see Lk 24:41-43).
The difference is that in the resurrection our bodies will be perfectly “spiritualized” (see 1 Co 15:44). This means that our bodies will be permeated entirely by the power of the spirit. And because the “spirit” that will permeate our bodies is not only our own human spirits, but the divine Holy Spirit, our bodies will also be “divinized.” In a way totally inaccessible to us now, we will participate, body and soul, “in the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4).
What is this “divine nature”?
As the Catechism teaches, “God has revealed his innermost secret. God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (n. 221). This is what we mean by the “spiritualization” and “divinization” of the body. To the degree that creatures can, we will share — body and soul — in God’s eternal exchange of love. And this “great mystery” is prefigured right from the beginning in our bodies as male and female and the call of the two to participate here on earth in an “exchange of love”: the two become “one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
So, many ask, will there be sex in heaven? It depends what we mean by the term. Sex is not first what people do. It’s who people are as male or female. Pope John Paul II insisted many times in his reflections on the resurrection that we will be raised as male and female. So, in this sense, yes, there will be sex in heaven: we will be male and female. But Christ points us to an entirely new dimension of human sexuality and our call to union when he says that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30).
Marriage and the “one flesh” union exist from the beginning to point us to the “marriage of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7), to the union of Christ and the Church (see Eph 5:31-32). In the resurrection, the sacrament will give way to the divine reality. In other words, if God created the union of the sexes as a foreshadowing of heaven, Christ is saying, “You no longer need a foreshadowing to point you to heaven when you’re in heaven. You’re there. The ultimate union has come.” And this is the cry of the Spirit and the Bride: “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” And the Lord responds, “Surely, I am coming soon” (Rev 22:17-20). Let us pray that we are ready.