There are a variety of topics in our current discourse, such as racial linguistic reference, and the question of the desirability of integration in church or state, to which our disputants often have a ready argument: “there will be no race in heaven; therefore we should operate as if that were the case now.” As will prove to be the case again and again, both the major and minor premises of modern truisms are generally dubious. Here I wish to analyze a premise that functions as the “minor” in that argument, and is taken as “obvious” even by intelligent people today. Namely, the idea that “there will be no race in heaven.”
Speculation always puts us on tenuous ground, and most discourse on heaven is based on speculation. Scripture reveals surprisingly little about the details. But the modern speculation, which without stating it implies that we will become stamped reproductions of a generic humanity, is without any foundation. In contrast, I offer some reflections that I suggest have greater intuitive appeal, and are anchored in Scripture even if not fully explicated there.
(1) C. S. Lewis may offer some help. His basic thesis is that things in heaven are more real, not less. Dogs, if there will be dogs in heaven, will be real dogs. Cats, real cats. And even grass and trees will be more real. When it comes to humans, the same principle applies.
Men will be more masculine and women more feminine. We will not be de-gendered in heaven, but become super-gendered. In paradise, God made man male and female. After the fall woman was cursed in her calling as a wife and mother and man was cursed in his calling as a worker. The curse of the fall will be finally erased in heaven. Woman will be a perfected helper and nurturer and Man a perfected laborer and cultivator. This does not mean that we will return to the Edenic state. There was an implied telos for Adam and Eve that would necessarily develop in one direction or another. (This is a great theme that deserves more elaboration than this essay could devote to it.) As it is, because of Christ’s redemptive work heaven must be something other than Eden. But by other we should intend something greater than what was.
In heaven, races will still exist. That is clear from Scripture. And following Lewis’s line of thought, the races will be even more distinct. True Anglo-Saxons, true Chinese, true Negroes. It is the theology of babel that teaches monistic humanity: one race, one language, one culture. Christianity teaches a plurality of human beings and yet unity in Christ: One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.
This, I believe, is what is being played out in history. The millennial kingdom will be a time when all races and tribes will be redeemed. There will be Mongoloids in Asia, Negroes in Africa, and Aryans in Europe. Their cultures will be advanced and their differences exaggerated. It will not be a vanilla world in which every place is the same as all others. Germany will be more German, Spain more Spanish and Japan more Japanese. And yet, again, all will be unified in Christ.
History on earth, culminating in the millennium, is itself an exploration of themes that will be recapitulated in fulfilled form in the eschaton. The eschaton takes up themes that were “planted” at the very beginning, and developed in redemptive history — think of the tree of life in Genesis and its reappearance in Revelation — and through eternity fully actualizes each of them, with a differentiation that was only hinted at. (Aristotle’s entelechy groped after this truth.)
How exactly this will look goes beyond my imagination. But it goes against our Trinitarian theology to think that distinctions will be obliterated. God did not create a drab world, but one of dazzling complexity and distinctions. The more we discover about it, the more we become awed at its creator. It is Satan who is the monist. If Satan played an instrument it would be a drum; and it would drone on monotonously. God is the creator of a symphony. Theme is introduced, contrapuntally developed and unified. (Tolkien offers a beautiful dramatization of this in Silmarillion.)
(2) In the same vein, think about our families in heaven. It borders on the absurd to think that a man will not have a special relationship with his wife in heaven; that she will be just another woman, no different from, say, a Greek saint from the First Century or a Chinese saint from the 19th. Our experiences on earth will not be lost in heaven. History matters. Of course, the relationship will not be the same as it was on earth. But this is because it will be a deeper one.
Extend this out to parents, children, aunt and uncles. My mother and father will still be my mother and father in heaven. My children will still be my children. My bond to them will not be lessened but strengthened. Blood ties will not be eradicated in heaven. Blood will not be the strongest tie in heaven, but it will still be there. It will be at once transcended and sublimed.
Now extend this to our ancestors, our clans, our tribes, our race and you will get the idea. We will be tied in closer to them. As we grow closer to them, other clans, tribes and races will grow closer to each other as well. But this will not estrange the races, but draw them closer. We will not only accept our difference but rejoice in them.
We may even laugh at them. Lewis gives us a hint of this in The Last Battle. A Calorman recounts his meeting Aslan:
“And this is a marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog–”
“Eh? What’s that?” said one of the Dogs.
“Sir,” said Emeth. “It is but a fashion of speech which we have in Calorman.”
“Well, I can’t say it’s one I like very much,” said the Dog.
“He doesn’t mean any harm,” said the older Dog. “After all, we call our puppies Boys when they don’t behave properly.”
“So we do,” said the first Dog. “Or girls.”
“S-s-sh!” said the Old Dog. “That’s not a nice word to use. Remember where you are.”
This may seem like a minor point, but actually reveals something primal. In the closest relationships I have had with people of other races, there has always been a running joke about our differences. I find humor in their way of speaking, their attitudes and their appearance. And I have become the butt of their jokes as well. No offense intended or taken.
In conclusion, when thinking about a variety of racial topics, the commonplace view of heaven as a gathering place for an undifferentiated multitude, like a bag full of marbles, has more in common with Communism’s vision of the proletariate than it does with the Bible. When reasoning through topics of current discourse, remember that the unspoken assumptions are also usually wrong.