Welcome back to the podcast on this Friday to close out the week. As you know, we get a lot of touching emails about marriage, like the one I’m going to read today. It’s from a grieving woman, an anonymous young woman, who lives in the Philippines. Here’s what she writes: “Dear Pastor John, I have been up until recently very happily married. I am now widowed. My husband died just a few weeks ago, and I am devastated. I believe there’s a reason for why I have been left behind. I trust God on that. I believe there’s a reason why he had to go. I can trust God on that. I believe that we can make it without him — myself, our young son, and the church my husband led. I find myself experiencing joy and longing, trust and nervousness, peace and homesickness for heaven.
“Aside from missing him and wanting the life we had back, what I can’t seem to wrap my head around are these questions. Why did God even allow me and my husband to share a love like ours on earth if this will mean nothing in heaven? Can’t I at least be guaranteed that my husband will still be my best friend in heaven? Will he even be excited to see me when I get there? In marriage, two become one. Am I just half a person left behind? I know when I get to heaven and enter God’s presence, none of these questions will matter. But they matter now. And I struggle to find wisdom and comfort as to how I must approach my remaining years on earth. Thank you.”
That’s a beautiful question, because it’s just so full of faith at the front end and then perplexity at the back end. The loss is still painful, and the questions are still real and urgent. So let me sit down, so to speak, with her for a few minutes and think out loud about three of her questions in the hope that maybe my reflections from the Bible and experience will bring some measure of Christ-honoring comfort to her.
Behind her questions is the teaching of Jesus in Mark 12:25: “When [married people] rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” In other words, marriage as we know it will not exist in the age to come. That’s behind her questions. That very fact is raising numerous perplexities for this young widow.
Echoes in Eternity
So, first, she wonders, “Why did God even allow me and my husband to share a love like ours on earth if this will mean nothing in heaven?”
The first thing to say in response to this question is that, in this present life, every relationship of love, and faithfulness, and loyalty, and sacrifice, and care will be celebrated for all eternity in tribute to the grace of God and the faithfulness of his obedient child. The “well done, good and faithful servant” that Jesus speaks to his faithful followers at the resurrection is a well done in every fruitful relationship (Matthew 25:23). Well done for that beautiful love. Well done.
God’s gracious approval of our imperfect works of faith is not a celebrative bubble that pops at the second coming and is forgotten for eternity. There are eternal good effects to all good done on the earth. Ephesians 6:8 says, “Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” Good parenting that lasts five years before a child is snatched away in a car accident; good chastity during engagement before a fiancé dies of a heart attack before the wedding; good faithfulness and intense, mutually self-giving romance in marriage that she describes — these will not be meaningless in heaven. They won’t.
“Every good and beautiful fruit of God’s Spirit in your life will reverberate forever.”
Every good and beautiful fruit of God’s Spirit in your life will reverberate forever to the tribute of his grace and your faith. That’s the first thing to say. The sweetness and intensity of the love between you and your husband will have its echo in the music of heaven. It wasn’t in vain.
God Saves the Best Wine
And the second thing to say about this question of why God gave them such sweet love is this: this world, in its most exquisite pleasures, is designed by God to show something of himself. The heavens and everything else are declaring the glory of God, the psalm says (Psalm 19:1). And all these pleasures are meant to awaken thankfulness now and strong anticipation of the age to come when the pleasures of this age will seem as foretastes of something vastly greater. They are. The pleasures of this present age, even the most godly of them, are not the point of the universe, but they are pointers to the point.
The Bible pictures the age to come as better than this life, not just because bad things will be taken away, but because good things will be seen to be only foretastes of better things — a better feast of pleasure. Jesus showed this when he said that marriage gets replaced by something better (Mark 12:25). Paul showed it when he described the resurrection as replacing this world with something gloriously better. Listen to these words from 1 Corinthians 15:42:
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42–44)
Now, we can’t conceive fully what a spiritual body is. But in Paul’s mind, it exceeded this present body, with all its pleasures, like the brightness of the glory of a blue sky exceeds a decaying, rotting seed in the ground.
“The happiest marriage in the world is but a head start on the joys of heaven.”
So, I conclude that the happiest marriage in the world is but a head start on the joys of heaven. It is the appetizer before the feast. It is the warm-up singer who’s really good before the great artist sings. God saves the best wine, just like Jesus at Cana, till the last (John 2:10). And in a happy marriage, even the first wine was really good.
Greater Melody of Love
Then our young widow asks, “Can’t I at least be guaranteed that my husband will still be my best friend in heaven? Will he even be excited to see me when I get there?” Now, she knows as well as I do, and she says as much at the end, that Jesus is and will be her best friend. She knows that. “No longer do I call you servants . . . but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
But I think what she’s feeling is that, while her husband lived, he bestowed on her something that nobody else on earth could give — a unique kind of affection, a love that gave her a very precious sense of belonging that nobody else could give on this earth. And she wonders whether she will have that sweet experience in the age to come, which only he was able to give her.
And I think the answer is we just don’t know what the music of love on earth is going to be like when it is transposed into the greater melody of the love of heaven, where there’s no sin whatsoever. This is the great unknown about the immeasurable joys of heaven. What will it be like when she and her husband are beyond the possibility of sin — the sin of self-pity, the sin of disregard? What will it be like when we are not capable of being disappointed, when we’re not capable of being sad at any relationship that God has established? Your husband, I venture to say, will be for you, and you will be for him, all that you need each other to be in order for your joy to be full in the presence of God.
Not Less, But More
And finally, she wonders this: “Since in marriage the two become one, am I just half a person left behind?”
The answer is no, you are not only half a person left behind. It’s not that simple. Yes, part of you is gone. I’ll admit that. I think you should own that, and that’s sad. Part of you is gone. Only he could draw out of you certain desires, certain kinds of laughter, anger, peace, and countless other inner responses that you can’t even put into words. He had become so embedded in your life that for him to be absent is, yes, for part of you yourself to be absent. That’s true. Things will never be just the same again. And it would dishonor him to think that they should be.
But consider this: not all that you became by union with him is lost. You know it’s not. You became a wiser, deeper, better person because of life with him. He did not take all of that with him when he left. You know he didn’t. You know who you are. And what you became through him is not less, but more than you were before he entered your life. God has not made you less, but more.
Things will never be the same. That’s true. But God’s call on your life now is to be the person you became through love with your husband, for the glory of God.