Installment 3: Marriage and the Resurrection

MARRIAGE AND THE RESURRECTION

Papa’s dark skin was oily, and he scooted his oversized square-framed glasses higher on the bridge of his flat nose, to keep them from sliding down. He had this peculiar habit of blowing air from his lower lip to keep his glasses from fogging. I watched him do this as we sat there, him lecturing me, and I remembered him playfully and gently pinching my arm when I was really little saying, “Ing-ing, ing-ing-ing hurt.” He had another little saying meant just for me: “To pretend?” This was in reference to his favorite singer, Nat King Cole, and to the song, The Great Pretender. “You don’t believe me that there’s such a song,” he’d tease. And then he’d sing, “Pretending, la la la la la la la,” because he had forgotten the words. Even now, trying to convince me that we Jehovah’s Witnesses were wrong, he struggled with his words.
I was fifteen years old and Mandel was six. Our older siblings – Cynthia, Eric, Jeanette and Dyna, were all married off. Mama continued to take Mandel and myself to the Kingdom Hall meetings regularly, despite the fact that Papa had stopped studying and didn’t go to the meetings any more. He was now attending the meetings of the Worldwide Church of God. The differences in their religious views set them at odds.
“When I was pregnant with Mandel, I promised him to Jehovah,” I heard Mama say during one of their battles.
“To Jehovah. Your Jehovah!” Papa shouted back.
“Yes, so he belongs with me.”
“But he’s my son too, and so I have the right to take him with me too!”
Mandel, the youngest, and Mama’s treasure, had become some kind of sacred object.
And so Papa did take him to his Saturday meeting once or twice. Mandel never mentioned what those meetings were like, but he dressed as he did for the Kingdom Hall, with his little suit and tie. Mama complained to the elders that she wanted Mandel to be a Witness and didn’t want Papa interfering. The elders told her that Papa, as the head of the household, had every right as she did to take him to his own religious meetings and so advised her to step back. Mandel went with him only a couple of times and then threw tantrums that he didn’t want to go anymore. Papa acquiesced. He never asked me to go with him to his meetings most likely because I was a teenager now and a baptized Jehovah’s Witness. But he did insist on studying the Bible with both Mandel and me. He studied with us separately, shutting the patio sliding door so that Mama couldn’t eavesdrop.
“Read these words carefully, baby: For in the resurrection neither do men marry nor are women given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven.”
He had his Bible, the King James Version on hand and I had mine – the New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He quoted this verse, Matthew 22:30, straight from my own translation. It was almost a year since I had been baptized at 14 years old, but I felt like a little girl again. What exactly was his point in quoting this verse about the resurrection and marriage? That the Witnesses were wrong about the nature of the resurrection, just as they were wrong about God’s name being Jehovah or that God’s people no longer needed to observe the Sabbath. “But you can’t just read that one verse to prove your point,” I said.
“Fine then,” he continued, “let’s return to the context of what Jesus was saying. Look earlier at what the Sadducees were trying to do to him – they were trying to test him and prove him wrong.” He read each verse slowly, from Matthew chapter 22, verse 23 to 33. He read emphatically and slowly, at a pace that irritated me because my mind worked much faster. But I could see his point – the Sadducees, Jesus’ worst enemies, tried to trap Jesus with a question they thought he could not answer.
The question had to do with this scenario: A Jewish man dies without having any children. The Jewish custom of the time was for the man’s surviving brother to take his widow as wife to raise offspring for the dead man – in the dead man’s name. But what if this brother also dies without children? Then the next brother does the same thing – takes the same widow and seeks to produce offspring. There are seven brothers total, and the same thing happens with each one. Each one dies without producing offspring with the widow. In the resurrection, which one will be the widow’s husband? For they were all married to her.
I was familiar with this question through the Watchtower publications. And I knew what point Papa was trying to make because it was a point I myself had stumbled over before. But I asked him his motive anyway, because it was the next natural question to be asked.
“Papa, what are you trying to prove?”
“I’m not trying to prove anything. The scriptures speak for themselves. Notice what Jesus himself says: You are mistaken, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” He read this verse with particular intent – slowly and carefully; Jehovah’s Witnesses were mistaken and knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God – of God, not Jehovah. “And again, he says, for in the resurrection neither do men marry nor are women given in marriage, BUT ARE AS ANGELS IN HEAVEN.”
“So you’re trying to say that…”
“No, I’m not trying to say anything, the scriptures speak for themselves.”
“Okay, it says neither men nor women will marry in the resurrection because they will be like angels in heaven – meaning spirits, right? In other words, not resurrected as human beings like the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, right?”
“You said it, girl.”
I looked up at the patio window above the couch we were sitting on, separating us from the kitchen. I was sure Mama was sneaking around to eavesdrop. But I didn’t see her – just the reflection of the kitchen light, and the sound of pots and pans clanging in the sink. I smelled the rice steaming, and the strong vinegary odor of the adobo told me that lunchtime was approaching. Soon we’d be sitting at the oval-shaped dining table that had shrunk since the others had moved away. Mama had removed the middle section and attached the remaining wooden boards together so that the table – rather than seating eight – now seated four. We faithfully had our meals together and were not allowed to eat our meals in front of the TV in the living room, or in our bedrooms.
I wondered if Mama could hear anything through the crack in the window, which she had taped up instead of getting repaired. That crack and that tape were tacky and made our house look cheap, even though they both demanded a clean and orderly house: Papa the clean one and Mama the neat one. But no one cared about this window.
“Are you still listening?” Papa asked, noticing my distraction.
“Yes. Yes I am, but I’m tired now Papa and I’m hungry, and I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” I answered in irritation, rubbing my eyes. I needed time alone, to read these verses again carefully, to think them through. I always needed time alone to think, and there was never enough of it.
“Okay baby, that’s all for today then.” He was content at signs of my confusion. There was still hope.
Neither will they marry nor be given in marriage, but will be as angels in heaven.
Maybe they simply won’t want to get married, period. Like the angels who don’t marry. They don’t need to. They don’t want to. But why not? Jehovah doesn’t allow sex without marriage, so…but maybe when they live forever on earth as perfect human beings, their needs will be different than their needs of this time, this world. Death dissolves the marriage ties. And so even when the dead are raised up in Paradise, the fact remains, death will have ended their marriage contract. So when it says they won’t marry, it means they won’t marry the same person they were married to before Armageddon! That must be it!
I’m so confused.
I approached the oldest, wisest looking elder in the congregation.
“I have a Bible question that is really bothering me. Do you have some time to go over it with me?” He was a jolly looking, gray-haired man in his 70’s, with a wrinkled forehead and a heavy paunch, and had been a Witness for decades. Of course he was willing to sit and listen for a few minutes, in the back room of the Kingdom Hall. He wore a dark blue suit, and I wore my matching blouse and skirt outfit – buttons running down the back of the blouse, with a high collar in front, fitted down to the waist and then flaring out with a fringe. It gave my rail-thin body some shape, with the pencil skirt gliding down to just past my knees. I wore black pumps to go with the black stripes that ran down the gray/blue outfit. He wore no cologne that I could sense, but I could smell my own Liz Claiborne perfume doused on my neck, wrists and on my clothes. This mixed with my newly shampooed hair. I rubbed the bottom of my nose with my finger as I flipped open my mini-sized leather bound maroon Bible, the thin, gold dusted pages still sticking together.
I showed him the verse in question.
“Well it’s simple really. Those who will be resurrected will be like the angels in the sense that they will be perfect as the angels are perfect. Further, in this perfect condition, they will not marry the person or persons they were married to before the Great Tribulation, because death ends all marriage ties.”
I was right!
He then directed me to look in the Watchtower Index under “Questions from Readers,” reassuring me that there were definitely questions on this specific verse. He was right. One of the Watchtower readers had asked about whether or not she could hope to be reunited in marriage to her husband who had passed away in the Paradise. Researching more closely, I found the answers to this question had changed over the years. But the most recent answer from the Faithful and Discreet Slave was that no, she would not be married to him; as difficult as it was to imagine, everything would be okay in Paradise because everyone and everything would be just perfect.
Besides, with everyone perfect and living forever, the earth would become overpopulated if men and women were to continue marrying and having children!
I thanked the elder for his help, and he smiled at me his warm, jolly smile as he tightened the dark blue suit coat he struggled to button. His belly wouldn’t allow it.
I took my answer to Papa on our next study session, and this time he didn’t take out his Bible or ask me to take out mine. “Brainwashed,” was all he could say.
I was satisfied with this explanation; however, in the back of my mind, the question lingered – how would it be in an earthly paradise without men and women being given in marriage? The Bible does not allow sex without marriage…could Paradise be paradise without it?

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