Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Until Death

Meditating on the Gospel reading from this Sunday's Mass, I stumbled across an amazing truth.

In Luke 20 we are told of those pesky Sadducees, who were known primarily for not believing in the resurrection of the body, trying to "catch" Jesus with a fictional scenario of a man who married a woman and had no children through her before he died. According to Jewish law, that man's brother would have been obligated to marry her and produce an heir on behalf of his deceased brother. But in this scenario of the Sadducees' concoction, that brother also dies heir-less, and again with the third brother, all the way down the line of seven brothers.

The Sadducees thought they had him there - for which of the brothers would be her husband in the afterlife? What a pickle. Jesus, true to his divine form, blows their minds with his answer - "The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."

What? No marriage in heaven? How can this be? How can she who is my soul-mate, my beloved, my better half, be apart from me in paradise? This makes no sense.

What we fail to comprehend, however, is that we fail to comprehend. There is no marriage in the next life because it is not needed. The very next thing Jesus says is, "They can no longer die."

The purpose of marriage is thus somehow inextricably connected to death. Sounds morbid, eh? But it's not... when you look at it from a particularly Darwinian perspective, it actually makes a ton of sociological sense. Marriage, when entered into properly (the only sense in which I'll ever refer to it), secures the family structure. The stable family structure is the most beneficial method of producing healthy, well-rounded offspring. Offspring, as any manatee, pigeon, or paramecium will tell you, are what keep our hope for the future alive.

This is especially so when you know you're going to die, be it 5 minutes or 5 decades from now. It is frequently quipped that nobody, on his deathbed, wishes he had spent more time at the office. I would expand that, and quip that nobody on his deathbed surrounded by his 8 children wishes that 5.7 of them didn't exist to be there. On the contrary, many dying people wish that more of their children could be with them, and that they hadn't burned so many bridges in their short spans on earth. [Heh... bridges - spans... a made a pun!]

I know that I have some readers out there who have opted not to have children, and I don't presume to judge any of you on that choice; judgment rests with God alone. Please don't absorb my thoughts on this subject as a condemnation, but rather as an invitation to consider the miracle of new life. The primacy physical, corporeal purpose for getting married is not for the unbridled pleasure of constant sex (and if any of you single & chaste people think that's what marriage is like, you're absolutely right - for the first few months), but rather to produce offspring. Why do you think God made sex so damn fun? So we'd have fewer kids?

No - he has always intended for the sexual act to include an openness to life, if not an outright intention to create life. Look to the animal kingdom for wisdom in this matter: rats enjoy sex. When given the options of stimulating their pleasure centers or eating, they invariably choose stimulation over food, until they die of exhaustion. So why do they enjoy it? What evolutionary advantage does "fun" have, if not to promote an activity frequently? And why, for a plain animal, would frequent sex be a good thing? For no other reason than it ensures that when momma possum passes on, there is a slough of baby possums to keep possums around.

Not that I'm a die-hard evolutionist, mind you, but usually the critics of Catholic teaching on sexuality also reject the concept of a Creator God. So I like to turn their own arguments inside-out against them. They don't like it when species go extinct, and they are constantly harping about how many species we haven't yet discovered which will disappear because Uncle Pélé cut down some trees around his farm in Uruguay to make room for his cattle. So if extinction is a bad thing, and if we're concerned about an obscure type of gnat never being cataloged for posterity, should we not be all the more concerned about our own species propagating prudently?

The one thing which confounds my thinking on this matter is the fact that the command to Adam & Eve to be fruitful and multiply came before the Fall (the moment they brought death into the world). Creation of new life is not therefore only something which sustains our species; it also shows us something of the nature of God, in whose image we were created perfectly. He created us as male and female - initially as man, with woman taken from his very being - and then gave us an urge to reunite. That reuniting creates new life. So what can we discern of the nature of God from this truth?

Remember that the words he spoke at creation were, "Let us create man in our own image." (Gen 1:26) Every other act of creation was an external statement: Let there be light; let the earth bring forth vegetation; let the water teem with an abundance of creatures; etc. But the creation of man was a uniquely self-involved proposition: Let us.

It is also undeniably plural. God is a triune being; Father, Son, Spirit. The interplay between the Father and the Son is a creative one, and what they create is the Spirit. The Nicene Creed states that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Thus there is a constant creative act and a constant creative product within the very persons of God, and we are created in that creative archetype.

That, by the way, is called the Theology of the Body. Check out Christopher West for more info on it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your profound and inspiring words, James. I look forward to co-creating in my upcoming marriage!


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