A NOT QUITE ETERNAL PROBLEM
It is widely believed that sex in heaven doesn’t occur and that angels are male or else sexless. After all, doesn’t Jesus state that in heaven the righteous will be like the angels in heaven who don’t marry (Matt.22.30)? The tendency to think that spirituality is bodiless plus horrified incredulity at the thought (the substance of occasional vulgar jokes) that with a heaven full of male angels there could only be what there couldn’t be – sex unmentionable – has all added up to a frigidly no eros paradise. But is this really true to Bible, spirituality and common sense?
I had always had doubts about the sexless, genderless (or mono-gendered) heaven as it doesn't make sense within the larger biblical pattern despite the words of Jesus as commonly understood. After all, why the Genesis story of the fallen angels who desire and mate with human females? (Gen 6:2) These are angels who plainly have gender and genitalia and surely they wouldn’t have the latter to no purpose or acquired them solely as a result of the fall? And although it sounds suspiciously like a projection onto women of existing popular rabbinic superstitions (along with purely Semitic notions of what sexual attraction entails), St Paul wants women to cover their heads “because of the angels” (1 Cor.11.10). Perhaps he wasn’t thinking of rabbinic notions of mortal women seducing angels by their long locks (we can never know now and he could have been influenced more by the fact that Corinthian prostitutes went about head uncovered) but quite likely he had in mind a biblical/rabbinic tradition of sexed angels that Jesus would have to have been aware of.
Whatever….various significant experiences hitting me in late ‘06 and recorded in my Thunder Perfect Minds diary – which heaven forbid won’t suffer more publishing house snafus because I'll manage to seem out of some category for originality, in this case visionary – left me unwilling to take stock spiritual answers for granted. I had become pretty sure there was a bit more for me and everyone to know about sex and spirit than was currently acknowledged in churches.
ARE THERE FEMALE ANGELS?
First let’s sort out of the gender issue. Especially feminists inside and outside the churches have become off-put by the all male heaven of angels, tiresome copies of the male God it is thought. The assumption here is that because vision portrays certain classes of angels as messengers or warriors and males to their task that no female angels exist nor perhaps were even intended to. Remember that in the NT there is really no quite specific word for “angel” (it means messenger in Greek) but it is plain from sense and context that heavenly/spiritual messenger is meant. On the same basis this means, (albeit in the OT whose Hebrew does have words for such as cherubim) we should assume that a reference like that of Zechariah 5:9 is to what we understand angels to be.
“Then I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! And the wind was in their wings like the wings of a stork and they lifted up the ephah between earth and heaven”.
These “women” are plainly quite as much angels as the “men” which angels in the resurrection and ascension narratives are taken to be. What would these “women” be doing flying between earth and heaven to do the divine will if they were not to be understood as angelic beings? If we hear less about female angels it’s perhaps because they are otherwise occupied than upfront biblical angels of whom we do hear. Modern NDEs sometimes report angelic singing in very high register female voices, so female angels are choiring. Also there is occasional report of mother type angels welcoming and instructing children who have died young. This would certainly make sense if one believes in angels and heaven at all.
A DIVERSE HEAVEN
So much for deduction. What about experience?. While I have no personal experiences of heaven, just before leaving Australia and shortly after I had fallen over the Zechariah reference I also chanced to be introduced to a pastor who had undergone a fairly prolonged NDE experience. He was considered by his doctors (though not quite by himself!) lucky to be here and alive…he would have preferred to remain in the Beyond. This is the only person I have met who had notably undergone otherworldly experience and could lucidly describe it.
Points I absorbed before posing the questions about angels were: that unless and until you have a body of resurrection heaven is too much of everything, including noise, to be able to bear easily despite the bliss. Angels praise and the voice of God thunders and mighty waters rush. Much of heaven, even the simpler things like its innumerable colours and textures cannot even begin to be described and as in the vision of Ezekiel there are beings that defy description. Angels however are more “human” than other heavenly beings. Even so their light and power can be quite terrifying as it was for the women at the tomb at Easter and they need to assume a more human form, (dim down one might say), for mortals or even visitors to the Beyond to be able to cope at all.
However, this same witness said you just sort of know angels have gender and that there’s not an all male heaven. And he maintains (in line with what one does read of the odd Semitic euphemisms that the Bible sometimes applies in which the genitals can be the thigh or the feet) that the wings of Isaiah’s seraphim that cover their faces and their feet (Is 6:2) should be understood as covering their face and genitals.
This doesn’t make too much sense to me since the still perfect Adam has no desire to cover his genitals when God walks with him. But then neither did he cover his face. It seems one would just have to accept that things are different for angels and mortals. The more important point if the cited witness is to be believed is that, covered or uncovered, angelic beings should be sexed at all. And even from persons who have not “visited” heaven but who claim to have seen or felt angels I have heard of sensing a vibe, strongly male in such as the class of warrior type angels, milder and more feminine in others.
If one affirms angelic gender then one raises the problem, for some people, of sex in heaven. A classic reason to spiritualize the idea of sex out of heaven is precisely Jesus’ words (in a question about levirate marriage custom of his society) that there is no marriage in heaven. To literalists the alternative to a no sex heaven would have to be the impossibility of “sex outside marriage” - i.e."fornication". This was a term which biblically started out meaning most essentially sex with prostitutes but which over church history would evolve into meaning just about anything apart from missionary position marital sex and perhaps especially the gay sex which believers would then additionally decide must remain at the "fornication" level unallowed any forms of union that might sacralize it. So, as heaven couldn’t possibly be promiscuous/hedonistic (given to "fornication") there simply couldn't be any sex. This way the literalistic moralist follows a circular logic that banishes sex from spiritual worlds entirely.
I think the point is that yes, there’s sex in heaven but as with everything in paradise it’s not exactly like the things of earth. Earthly sex is reflective of, but not identical with, whatever heavenly sex might be. And it is only commonsense to assert that earthly sex, whatever other purposes and meanings it may have, is most essentially about procreation and this most essentially entails such as marriage and family.
Though angels are sometimes loosely referred to as “sons of God”, we don’t hear of “families” and marriages of angels or angels reproducing unless the fallen angels on earth. And then, as opposed to the mortal spans within which family operates, eternity is a very long time to be linked to only one person even if one’s behaviour were to be very far from riotously promiscuous and orgiastic! Perhaps those who have passed some of the tests of marriage on earth might be better qualified to negotiate the discretionary behaviour of heaven and the merging of light which Yeats imagined the loves of the angels to be? So I think no marriage in heaven simply means exactly that and nothing more. There’s no marriage in heaven but that can’t be taken to mean there’s nothing at all that corresponds to the sexual.
IS HEAVEN ALL HETEROSEXUAL?
If this is good news for some what might this seemingly heterosexual heaven have to offer those gays who don’t quite fit the picture once we have seemingly got rid of that seminary-like all male heaven of angels? Let those whom Jesus referred to as born “eunuchs from their mother’s womb” (which by his times could mean not attracted to the opposite sex, not castrates) fear not. Their identities are supposedly so little wiped out that if they make it to the heaven of Isaiah (he of the seraphim) that prophet has already declared they have a chance of being more honoured than those who married and made dynasties (i.e. the heteros) (Is 56:5).
But this begs the question, if you’re born gay and might even finish with a better place in Isaiah’s heaven for having got through life being so, of just what are you archetypally derivative? No matter how imperfect the earthly models, sex and gender can only be modelled on something else and higher – the Judaean Christian worldview is nothing if not Platonic for archetypal design and thought modes.
The answer hasn’t been revealed to me, and I didn’t ask and it wasn’t told me by the NDE visitor to heaven but I deduce it…..There are said to be messenger angels, warrior angels, praise angels, healing angels and others. However visionaries and NDEers do keep on seeing the dancing angels. From report they seem to be male. Their purposes may be rather more spiritual but I am much inclined to think they are the distant archetype of sleepless disco gays whose life would, if they could, be turned into endless ecstatic celebration. I feel like saying shhh, it’s a secret, but you can be pretty sure some or all of them are, sort of, gay.
(The article "If the Holy Spirit has been Seen" includes perspective on certain sex/gender dimensions of the heavenly.