Will I Be Gay in the Resurrection?

As Lent moves rapidly towards its close, I’ve been trying (and mostly failing) to make space in my life for some more meditative reading, and right now I’m inching through Frances Young’s God’s Presence: A Contemporary Recapitulation of Early Christianity. It’s a remarkably unclassifiable book, as Young weaves her work in Patristics (the study of the church Fathers) together with personal, pastoral reflections, largely revolving around her disabled son Arthur. Today this passage struck me in an especially forceful way:

Arthur’s limited experience, limited above all in ability to process the world external to himself, is a crucial element in who he is, in his real personhood. An ultimate destiny in which he was suddenly ‘perfected’ (whatever that might mean) is inconceivable—for he would no longer be Arthur but some other person. His limited embodied self is what exists, and what will be must be in continuity with that. There will also be discontinuities—the promise of resurrection is the transcendence of our mortal ‘flesh and blood’ state. So there’s hope for transformation of this life’s limitations and vulnerabilities, of someone like Arthur receiving greater gifts while truly remaining himself. Perhaps the transformation to be hoped for is less intellectual or physical advance and more the kind of thing anticipated in the present when the fruits of the Spirit are realized in relationships.

Not only am I intrinsically interested in what Young says here—in disability and resurrection theology—but I also can’t help but be struck by how this relates to my situation as a gay, celibate Christian believer. As readers of this blog know, I (and others) sometimes reach for the metaphor of disability as way of thinking about our sexual orientations. In my book Washed and Waiting I used the metaphor of “healing” to describe how I thought my sexuality would be transformed when Christ returns. In my chapter on Nouwen, I wrote, “I expect to stand with Henri Nouwen at the resurrection and marvel that neither of us is homosexual anymore.”

But as time goes on, I feel less sure that that’s quite the right way to put it. Certainly those behavioral aspects of my gay experience that are sinful—lust, for example, and pride—won’t be true of me at all in the kingdom of God. I don’t believe that I will desire sexual intimacy with men in heaven because I believe that that attraction is a result of the fall. And just as certainly, I know I won’t be cordoned off from all the rest of the redeemed by any political identity label. I feel confident that “gay” won’t be a descriptor I’ll want to hold onto (nor, presumably, will it be around much longer in this life, well before the End arrives). And yet, as I’ve said many times here at SF, “being gay” feels much bigger and multilayered and richer than an attraction to bodies, than the sin of lust or the proclivity to identify with an in-group. It is a sensibility—that’s the word I keep landing on—and one that somehow seems to pervade my personality, shaping the friendships I form, inclining me to certain kinds of reading, drawing me to specific types of conversations and hobbies and artistic pursuits. Maybe I’m too much a child of my age, letting Freud affect my thinking about the all-pervasiveness of sexuality more than I should, but I still like the way I put it in my Spiritual Friendship book:

In my experience, at least, being gay colors everything about me, even though I’m celibate. It’s less a separable piece of my experience, like a shelf in my office, distinguishable from the other shelves, and more like the proverbial drop of ink in a glass of water: not identical with the water, but also not entirely distinct from it either.

But if that’s true, and if it’s also true that Christ’s return means I’m to be “healed” of my homosexuality, then will my entire personality undergo a complete overhaul? To go back to Young’s language above, if I’m to be “perfected”—meaning, if I won’t be gay anymore—well, I can’t imagine that that wouldn’t make me into someone who is almost completely different than the person I am now, and that thought isn’t exactly a hopeful one.

Young is right, I think, to stress the discontinuity between our present experience and the resurrection state. I will almost certainly go wrong if I try to imagine too concretely what it will mean to exist with Christ as a resurrected person. I’m mindful here of C. S. Lewis’ famous caution about the dangers of trying to imagine the time Jesus predicts when marriage (and presumably also sexual relations, certainly in their current form) will be no more (Matthew 22:30):

I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer ‘No’, he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it.

And yet I feel too that Young must be right to look for some kind of continuity between her Arthur’s disabled life now and his resurrection life in God’s future, and I think I am right too to look for, to hope for, some sort of connection between the depth and intensity with which I’ve been able to love my male friends now and the way I will love and live in the kingdom of God.

Recently I was emailing about some of this with a theologian friend of mine, and he said this in reply:

[O]ur eschatological healing will not erase the things that have defined us in this life, but will gloriously transform them. So—to pick a couple of the classic loci of identity politics—our various ethnic/national identities will somehow survive and add to the richness of the worship in the Kingdom (I think I have some Biblical support here) and our disabilities will not simply be done away with, as if they were never there, but will be transformed in our healing so that an aspect of the glory we display will be as people who were once disabled. Obviously, it isn’t hard to fit sexuality somewhere in there (much nearer ethnicity than disability, in my estimation)…. [I]n the Kingdom I will be straight, and you and Aelred will be gay, [but] these identifiers will no longer name desires but will instead name facets of the glory of God’s grace that will shine forth from our sanctified lives.

Surely something like that is true. I want to believe that the way God is shaping my celibate, same-sex-friendship desiring life now will bear some resemblance, however gloriously discontinuous it may be, to the life God gives me when “all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In some way, my disability—if that’s the right metaphor for it—will be glorified.

24 thoughts on “Will I Be Gay in the Resurrection?

  1. LOVE these thoughts, Wes. I can’t help but think of the stigmata of Christ. Possessing a perfected, resurrection body didn’t preclude his personhood from bearing testimony to prior experiences of fallenness.

  2. I agree, Wes. As an SSA Christian, my desires are not only sexual, but include particular desires for chaste intimacy, sacrificial love, and deep friendship toward men. These holy desires will not be wiped away in the resurrection. And not only will they still be present, but they will be intensified and perfected! All the temptation and sin will be gone, but the sanctified parts of my orientation will finally be all they can be in the absence of sin. Lord, haste the day!

  3. It’s the first time I’ve given thought to this aspect of the resurrection and our new bodies… As an autistic adult, I get what you’re saying about how this disability touches every part of my being and makes me who I am. (I like to think that God gave me a Different Ability rather than a Dis Ability.) I wouldn’t want to be un-autistic in the resurrection! Because then where would the “me” be?

    However, I am also now considering that perhaps (or likely!) I have a faulty view of resurrection. Not that neurotypical is necessarily God’s ideal, but that somehow the resurrection has nothing to do with preserving the confort of my self-identity, and rather has everything to do with fully embracing my new identity in Christ.

    I hope and expect that each of us will be in for a fantastic surprise when the day comes!

  4. I’m a Christian with a disability (hearing loss), and my church had a class last year on developing a theology of disability. Disability and the resurrection were hot topics, and much of what you say here was discussed in our class. Being hard of hearing has shaped how I think, how I act, what I read, what I enjoy, how I relate to people (or not), and vice-versa. It has been the source of great pain and also great (sanctifying) joy. I have to say, though, that the idea of still being hard of hearing in heaven does not thrill my soul. This bothered me for a while, until I realized that I was basing the question of whether I would hear in Heaven or not on the assumption that being hard of hearing was my whole identity. As Christians, we are in Christ, and our identity is in Christ. Will we have our “disabilities” in heaven? Perhaps, perhaps not. But the joy of finally seeing Jesus is not that we get to be a better version of our earthly selves, but that we shall be like *him* (1 John 3:2). The cost of following Jesus is self-forgetfulness, so it’s hard for me to imagine being terribly concerned, in Heaven, whether I am hard of hearing or not. I will be with Jesus! I will be like him! That is joy.

  5. Thanks for this! Surely your “gayness” in the resurrection is analogous to one’s gender in the resurrection. Here, Paul’s “conflation” of gender (a creational reality) with ethnicity and social status (results of the fall) in Gal 3:28 surely is quite relevant.

    That is, just as CS Lewis is surely right that in the eschaton we will “all be female,” since our primary identity is defined in terms of our love-relationship with Christ (who is “male”), something similar holds for sexual orientation.

    I think that your “sexual orientation” (it has to be in scare quotes because words fail) in the new heavens and new earth will be *no different* from mine (that is, that of a “heterosexual” male) or from that of my wife (a “heterosexual” female): we will all be one in Christ, that is to say, Christ’s Bride.

    Thus, if “sexual orientation” is a “thing,” then I’d have to say that, yes, in Christ, we (including you) will all be “heterosexual.”

    It seems to me, however, that the scare quotes are crucial, since–both in the case of gender, and in the case of sexual orientation–our language fails. That is to say, what we today mean by “gender” and “sexual orientation” bear a distant relationship to the reality that will obtain in the new heavens and new earth.

      • I perceive you are equivocating ethnicity with race. Ethnicity is a category of people who identify with each other based on common language, ancestral, social, cultural, or national experiences.

        It’s a subjective thing.

        For example JRR Tolken was English in ethnicity but his forefathers where a bunch of Germans.

        At the time of the Resurrection we will all be one people.

      • Hey… just saw this comment of yours about ethnicity today, hypatia, and that’s something I’ve been thinking about lately!

        The scriptures seem to imply that the parts of ethnicity that separate us will be erased when there’s new heavens and a new earth. (and that, indeed, some of them already should be in the Christian church.) But I think there are parts that will be retained, like Jesus’ wounds, as Nathan mentioned up there.

        What if the original pre-Babel language had all the features of every present human language in it?
        That would be a piece of the great Christian dream of understanding one another perfectly and loving one another perfectly…

        I think about clothing, too. There was no clothing before the Fall, it being not necessary. I know I won’t be utterly disappointed if, in the eschaton, the people of God either:
        A. do not wear clothes again (‘cuz we’ll be made pure enough to handle that) or
        B. literally wear white robes (Those white robes are rich scriptural symbols of 100% absolute purity. I want the righteousness they signify… way more important than the literal clothing.)

        But I suspect that… people will still wear a variety of beautiful clothing, and still have the memories of the cultures and ethnicities they lived in.
        But we’ll wear these things purely be because we’ll want to – not because “I need to mark myself as being a part of this tribe so other people from this tribe know I support them, and people from that other tribe know to back off.”

        Well, I think I got a little carried away there… maybe I used your comment partly as an excuse to babble (pun intended) about one of my obsessions…
        (I.. don’t even know if WP will notify you of a new reply…)

  6. Brings to mind some interesting questions for me. I have a brother who is Autistic, and I know there’s been a movement in the the exact opposite direction: of trying to remove the “autism stigma” from these people’s identities. Or in other words, they aren’t “autistic people” but “people who struggle with autism.” Even my experience with my brother seems to support this. I don’t see him as an autistic individual, but as an individual trying to express himself who is often hindered by certain biological or psychological constraints. His identity as a person, in fact, is not in his Autism.
    But on the other hand, I understand your point, Wes, about perfection and how our resurrected bodies aren’t changed, but transformed. Plus our “disabilities” (whether they be SSA, or Autism) shape our identities. But what about, for example, a person born without arms? Another case of a disability who (I’d like to think) would have a resurrected body with arms? But perhaps I’m wrong; Lucy’s comment above also provides some insight about the focus on Christ, not necessarily us and our bodies. Are arms necessary for the kind of communion we experience in heaven? I don’t believe so. But what about cognitive or social abilities? It’s hard to say.
    But coming back to my first paragraph, maybe it is better to consider Autism as part of a person’s identity. My brother’s “disabilities” really do feed into how he perceives and functions as an individual. If anything, they at least provide a connection to his identity, which I don’t think would be eliminated in his resurrected body. And similarly with gay Christians, I believe.

    • Hi, Zachary,

      This post really got me thinking too…
      You mention the case of the person without arms.
      What if in the kingdom of heaven, the people with arms are turned into people for whom it is constantly an utter delight and privilege to serve a person who has no arms? And that person’s presence causes love to increase.
      It seems certain God will change our hearts to be that way, and I think isn’t that cool?

      On autism – one of the things a friend has told me is that autistic people have this wonderful gift: they have a special relationship with Reality… they’re not interested in what other people say Reality is – they’re interested in what Reality is.
      So they don’t tend to be very pulled by “the group says such-and-such is true, so I need to pretend such-and-such is true.”
      In this ole world, (especially while it’s under the curse) I think that’s such a rich gift.

  7. I love what you’re voicing. Thank you!

    I also thought of Christ’s wounds remaining.

    I have often thought of my sexuality in the context of my gender. Somehow I don’t think gender is obliterated in the eschaton—which is why it still matters now. If sexuality is a subset of gender, out closely linked, perhaps some of this persists in our facet. But in the same way conjugal love won’t matter so much then I don’t think sexual labels will either. It reminds me of an experience I had once with a friend. I was suddenly tempted to desire him inappropriately and cried to the Lord for help. “Why!? ” I said. The response took me by surprise. I could have this incredibly shallow enjoyment or this. This was a vision I saw of spiritual vistas shared with this friend that literally shined a purity, holiness, and intimacy completely incomparable. This inability to compare extended particularity to non-sexual nature and rooted in a fraternal rather than sexual paradigm.

    I also think there is some limitation in thinking of ourselves ontologically add merely human beings that are static. I’m not the same person before I lived abroad. That experience transformed me. Japanese language is inside of me. It shapes me some and shapes my perception some more. I’m a different person now but I don’t think I’m different ontologically because I’m still a human becoming. The are much more greater transformations then this and Baptism is the greatest (including what it inaugurated in us). I think this frees is from some of our fears of preserving self.

    Lastly, a few years ago I had been struggling with the implications of needing to be Christ-like. Or getting to be. Doesn’t this erase us? It’s kind of like the inaugurated aspect of resurrection (so the same conundrum). The response I got from the Spirit was surprising. ,,, Have you ever seen the animated film “Princess Mononoke?” (If not, it’s a classic I recommend). In one seen the wolf girl is fighting against the metamorphisis going on in the wild boar god that is turning him into a demon. She shouts, “But I don’t want to be a demon!” But she fails and collapses into the amorphous evil consuming the boar god. The protagonist, Ashitaka, rescues her. He heard her cry. ,,, at that moment I saw the word rescue flash across my mind. In the same way that Ashitaka’s salvific act imitated Christ such is Christ likeness. Christ rescues and when we become like him we have a component of that too, but we are still the one acting. We as us, not with a Jesus face. But we’ve been changed by him and so we act like him.

    Peace.

    • I was recently privileged to hear +Kallistos Ware speak with characteristic clarity about the matter of “Christ-likeness.” He proffered that our creation in the “image and likeness of God” suggests a dynamic life process, rather than a static reality. In other words, that we are “in the image of God” is never at issue, for so are we created. Life gives us occasions to grow that “image” into “likeness” – such that, throughout our lives, we are given grace and offered choices to become more “like God.” So, “the image and likeness of God” becomes a developmental movement, across a spectrum that will not be finished in this life, but at the resurrection on the last day! I find this very helpful in my appreciating my sexuality, as well as other aspects of my identity. What these culturally defined “identities” will be in the Resurrection isn’t for me to say, though speculation is always fascinating. Of one thing I am certain: I will be whole, and so will all others. We will see one another in the “wholeness” of our Christ-likeness, for Christ will be all in all.

      • This sounds like process theology to me, if I may be frank. It seems to bypass the fact that sin jarred and continues to marr that image. Because if how sin infects us we need a new us. The get a new spirit in baptism and a new body in the resurrection. In the meantime our mind/soul is being renewed in the image of God.

      • Labeling the co-redemptive function of a believer’s faith a “process” is fine; when Paul says “work out your salvation with fear & trembling” is he not implying that it’s a process? If your concern is the “school” of Process Theology, then we can talk about how that may/not apply to the questions raised in the articles.

  8. I don’t get this line of reasoning.

    Whatever else can be said about them, the words “gay” and “homosexual” are about desiring and/or engaging in sexual/romantic union with another/others of the same sex. I see that there is lot more to them than that, and I can see why you want to stress that. But you seem to want to use the word in a sense that is just “bigger and multilayered and richer than an attraction to bodies” — that is, “bigger and multilayered and richer than an attraction to bodies” without attraction to bodies. I don’t see how you can do that without causing a whole lot of confusion.

    And that’s because being gay seems to be in some way essentially constituted by desiring and/or engaging in sexual and/or romantic union with someone of the same sex. And so because it’s essentially constituted by that, it isn’t just in-fact confusing to use the word “gay” to exclude that. It’s also justifiably and naturally confusing to do so. And I’m finding it hard to see how it could be anything but confusing.

    And, along the same lines, I find it really hard to see how gayness in the Resurrection could be “much nearer ethnicity than disability”.

  9. “11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ 14 When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.'”
    – Luke 17:11-19

    “2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’ 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”
    – Acts 3:2-8

    “’47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ 48 And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ 50 And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”
    Luke 7:47-50

    It seems to me that the healing of our disabilities leads to worship. In the case of the man who couldn’t walk, it resulted in leaping. In the case of the leper, it resulted in shouting praises rather than the warning “unclean” and falling at (perhaps, even touching) the feet of Jesus. The one who is forgiven much and, in this case, is healed much, loves much. And loves according to that from which they were healed.

    Maybe it’s the case that rather than defining our fallen state (reminders of our sin), that in the Kingdom, our disabilities will then define our worship of God (reminders of our forgiven-ness).

    “34 And Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.'”
    Luke 20:34-38

    I find it interesting that the reason for no longer being given in marriage is because “they cannot die anymore.” You may know more about this. It seems a strange justification for the abolition of marriage.

  10. “I feel confident that “gay” won’t be a descriptor I’ll want to hold onto (nor,
    presumably, will it be around much longer in this life, well before the End arrives.)”

    It’s going to disappear from this life? How? When? In whom?

  11. “11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ 14 When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.'”
    – Luke 17:11-19

    “2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’ 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”
    – Acts 3:2-8

    “’47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ 48 And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ 50 And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”
    Luke 7:47-50

    It seems to me that the healing of our disabilities leads to worship. In the case of the man who couldn’t walk, it resulted in leaping. In the case of the leper, it resulted in shouting praises rather than the warning “unclean” and falling at (perhaps, even touching) the feet of Jesus. The one who is forgiven much and, in this case, is healed much, loves much. And loves according to that from which they were healed.

    Maybe it’s the case that rather than defining our fallen state (reminders of our sin), that in the Kingdom, our disabilities will then define our worship of God (reminders of our forgiven-ness).

    “34 And Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.'”
    Luke 20:34-38

    I find it interesting that the reason for no longer being given in marriage is because “they cannot die anymore.” You may know more about this. It’s a strange justification for the abolition of marriage.

  12. Unlike the writer, I don’t see gayness as a result of the fall or a disability. I see my sexuality as a gift. I believe I was created for love, intimacy, sexuality and marriage. I find it sad that people still think of it as broken, disordered and sinful. I see that as a toxic message that has done a great deal of harm to LGBTQ people and their families.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s