Sex and Eschatology Revisited
In August of 2011 I wrote a post entitled, “Sex and Eschatology.” In that post I essentially tried to articulate that sex is a biblical type. It functions typologically as a pointer to the eschatological joy of believers. If you are interested in how I articulated this check out the post here.
The reason for revisiting this post is because of a blog posted yesterday (May 6) by Dr. Len Hjalmarson (nextreformation.com). Dr. Hjalmarson, who is a professor at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL (a suburb of Chicago), wrote a post that overviews 5 basic approaches to sex and eschatology. The third position, which was attributed to me and linked to my earlier post, is described as “sex is a type of something (intimacy with the Creator), a shadow which is now fulfilled”. He writes of my position, “I suspect a Hellenistic model of perfection and completion is in view, where there will [be] no meaningful vocation in the new creation thus there is nothing for us to do in the new world.” After referencing my statement that Heaven is superior for not containing sex, Dr. Hjalmarson states that my view “feels gnostic and contra the Incarnation.”
I have much that I want to say in response to this, but first I want to say that I was very delighted to see that my earlier post was utilized by Dr. Hjalmarson, yet I want to take this opportunity to clarify my position and go a little beyond what I had said previously in my earlier post.
At several times since the inception of The Two Cities I have taken the opportunity to articulate what I think is the most important eschatological emphasis that Christians ought to have, namely, the new earth. It is truly a shame that Christians have identified their eschatology around questions such as the timing of the rapture, or the precise nature of the millennium. The emphasis of the Bible is not on a rapture or a millennium. The focus is on God’s restoration of creation. This will lead ultimately to new heavens and a new earth. God is reclaiming and renewing creation. Thus, our eschatological focus should always be centered there. I have written about this and various Gnostic tendencies within evangelicalism which replace the Biblical vision of a restored created order with an ethereal-spiritual “heaven” where disembodied souls commune with God. I wrote “The Parable of the Janitor” to articulate why Christians should be concerned with ecology, “All Dogs Do Go to Heaven” to offer a vision of the restoration of the entire created order (that is, not just resurrected bodies), and “(Un)Christian Music” to highlight how many contemporary “Christian” songs share worrying affinities with actual contemporary Gnostic worship songs.
I mention this because I was genuinely upset to see my position on sex and eschatology labelled as Gnostic and Hellenistic. As someone who has tried to champion an anti-Gnostic (pro-matter) and anti-Hellenistic (pro-Jewish) eschatology, I was a bit shocked at the association. After looking over my post again, I realized that I hadn’t mentioned how my view of sex and eschatology fits within my new creation emphasis.
To be brief, the theological rationale of the new earth is to restore the cosmos from the effects of the Fall. Surely this means that sin, death, sickness, sadness, and all such evil will be defeated forever. Yet there is more to the story. In fact, the vision of the new earth in Rev 21-22 ought to be read in light of Gen 1-3. As has been said so often (because it is so true!), these chapters function as bookends to the entire Bible. We begin with creation, and we end with new creation. When we look closely at Gen 1-3 we see that humanity was intended to rule over all creation within God’s cosmic temple as “the Image of God.” And in Rev 21-22 the same emphasis on humanity ruling over creation in the presence of God is affirmed. The link between Gen 1-3 and Rev 21-22 also shows us that the new earth is this earth. God’s original intentions for humanity and for creation broadly will come to fruition (I like to call this the “protological paradigm”) or else sin can claim the victory. Thus, the new earth is not a brand new earth, but a renewed earth, a resurrected earth. This allows us to see Gen 1-3 and Rev 21-22 as proper bookends to the Bible.
But of course, there is one important difference. In fact, this difference creates all the rub. In Gen 1 we find that humanity was meant “to be fruitful and multiply.” If I claim that sex will not exist in the new earth, how does this relate to God’s original intentions for humanity?
To begin, it should be noted that Matthew 22.23-33 (and parallels) essentially provides all the argumentation necessary to deny that there will be sex in the afterlife, though I will set this aside for now. More to the point for this post, the recognition of sex as a biblical type for eschatological joy is not a way to undermine the command for humans to be fruitful, rather it points to the fact that the Church’s function as the Bride of Christ replaces the function of sexual intimacy in the afterlife. I believe that sex was designed to point to that great image of Christ and the Church. And to make this more consistent with my reading of Gen 1-3 and Rev 21-22, I want to claim emphatically that we must make a distinction between the events of creation (Gen 1-3) and the events of new creation (Rev 21-22). The creation was performed ex nihilo, meaning, “out of nothing” (that is my interpretation of Gen. 1.1). Yet, new creation is a resurrection or transformation or renewal of existing creation. Thus, the days of creation are past. This would then mean that if sex extended into the new earth there would be opportunity for procreation. Yet if we recognize that new creation is about renewal, then we recognize that the days of creating (of any kind) are past. God has no doubt always sustained and providentially provided for the entire cosmos and will continue to do so into the new earth, but eschatology is about renewal primarily. The new earth and our resurrected bodies are not future works of creation ex nihilo. If it is the case that eschatology is primarily concerned with renewal, then I see procreation and therefore also sex itself as things that do not continue into the new earth.
To reiterate: sex is a type. When we reach the new earth we’ll recognize that sex was rather like chocolate candy in the presence of God’s infinite beauty.