How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...
I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
On our last wedding anniversary I sent Carolyn a card with two frogs on the front, one of which mutters to the other, “I’ll love you till I croak.” I added, “And beyond.”
Shall I but love Carolyn better after death? Does love count for anything in the next world?
Jesus seems to imply that there’ll be no marriage in heaven: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). Carolyn has always hoped that’s a scribal error.
Actually Jesus’ statement about marriage doesn’t have anything to do with relationships in the hereafter. It was made in response to the Sadducees of Jesus’ day who posed the question of multiple marriages and how a man who had seven wives on earth could sort them out in heaven. It was a trick question since the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection at all. (That’s why they were so sad, you see.)
Jesus’ answer was concise: you don’t get it. Angels are not born and don’t die so there’s no procreation. (No, a cherub is not a baby angel despite Rubens’ chubby munchkins.) Thus marriage, as an institution, will be passé, unnecessary in heaven. But love will last forever. God’s gifts are given without repentance. Would he give our loved ones to us in this here and now to take them away in the hereafter?
No, I think heaven is just another place for our love to grow, and it will keep on growing forever.
One of my favorite reads is George MacDonald’s novel The Golden Key, especially the final paragraphs in the book. They always touch me in an inexplicable way.
The Golden Key is the tale of two children Tangle and Mossy, their love for one another and their journey together to find the door that can only be opened with the golden key (Jesus). They love, marry and grow old together and then are lost to one another through separating death. Mossy, old, lonely and foot-weary, finally arrives at the “place from which the shadows fall.” (Think Plato here.)
He came to a great precipice of rock, up which he could discover but one path. Nor did this lead him farther than halfway up the rock, where it ended on a platform. Here he stood and pondered. It could not be that the way stopped here, else what was the path for? It was a rough path, not very plain, yet certainly a path. He examined the face of the rock. It was smooth as glass. But as his eyes kept roving hopelessly over it, something glittered, and he caught sight of a row of small sapphires. They bordered a little hole in the rock.
He tried the key. It fitted. It turned. A great clang and clash, as of iron bolts on huge brazen caldrons, echoed thunderously within. He drew out the key. The rock in front of him began to fall. He retreated from it as far as the breadth of the platform would allow. A great slab fell at his feet. In front was still the solid rock, with this one slab fallen forward out of it. But the moment he stepped upon it, a second fell, just short of the edge of the first, making the next step of a stair, which thus kept dropping itself before him as he ascended into the heart of the precipice.
It led him into a hall fit for such an approach — irregular and rude in formation, but floor, sides, pillars, and vaulted roof, all one mass of shining stones of every color that light can show. In the centre stood seven columns, ranged from red to violet. And on the pedestal of one of them sat a woman, motionless, with her face bowed upon her knees. Seven years had she sat there waiting. She lifted her head as Mossy drew near. It was Tangle. Her hair had grown to her feet, and was rippled like the windless sea on broad sands. Her face was beautiful, like her grandmother’s, and as still and peaceful as that of the Old Man of the Fire. Her form was tall and noble. Yet Mossy knew her at once.
“How beautiful you are, Tangle!” he said, in delight and astonishment.
“Am I?” she returned. “Oh, I have waited for you so long! But you, you are the Old Man of the Sea. No. You are like the Old Man of the Earth. No, no. You are like the oldest man of all. You are like them all. And yet you are my own old Mossy!
David and Carolyn Roper co-direct the work of Idaho Mountain Ministries, a ministry of clergy care. David is the author of 14 books. The most recent: Teach Us To Number Our Days. His musings are archived on davidroper.blogspot.com/
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.