I’ve never lost a spouse, though I came close to it a few years ago. And though I can’t speak from personal experience, the mystery of losing a spouse can be cautiously searched out by taking the time to know a little more what a husband and wife is in the first place.
I have visited more widows than widowers in my time; hearing their sweet stories and catching a glimpse of what was, is a privilege. It seems that it won’t be long that my own mother will join the lattice of widows upon the earth.
Before 1963, there were two distinct and separate adult persons, one male – Buddy James Truman, and the other, female – Drema Kay Hall. They each had their own identities, independent of the other. But then in May of 1963, something that is so mysterious to our comprehension, they became one flesh:
“This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall cleave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:23-25). Literally, and more accurately to Hebrew verb tense, for the man and the woman, “becoming, you shall become one flesh.” With the same verb tense that God warned to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “dying, you shall die”, marriage is a progressive cleaving, hardening-up, congealing over time of two distinct and separate persons who become something other than what they were as separate persons. Another whole and completely other person is formed and bonded.
Paul says this becoming one flesh union is a mystery and that this mystery refers to a more profound mystery, namely, Christ becoming one with his church (Eph. 5:28-32). Two persons become another person altogether. So the math does not look like this:
1 + 1 = 1.
A + B = C.
Bud + Drema = (Mystery of One Flesh, Something Other Than What They Were Before).
This mystery is so profound that it is right for Drema to say, “that is my cancerous liver.” So profound that Bud can say, “that is my new hip replacement.” ONE FLESH!
“What you feel – I feel” is not what I am saying. See the independent “I” in that statement and the complete otherness of the referenced “you”? See how difficult it is to truly give a voice to what has happened? No one speaks to themselves like that unless you’re headed for the rubber-room. No one looks down at the cut in their own leg and speak in the second person, “I feel your pain” – as if, you, the person is separate from the leg-member. But in marriage, Bud and Drema Truman can truly look to the other, and say, “I hurt when you hurt because you are one flesh with me as much as my own arm is part of me”, not as two separate persons, but as a human body seamlessly feels all-over what is going on in the leg, “My body hurts.”
This is why in death, the mystery of losing a spouse is beyond understanding. Widowed and still alive, but at the same time, like the severance of your right arm, you are no longer altogether there. The mystery of losing a spouse is appreciated to the degree that you appreciate what a marriage is in the first place. That someone else who was/is you (remember, one flesh) is now gone. This is why the gospel is profoundly good: Those who are in Christ will be united to him forever, in such a way that when Bud and Drema see each other again, that one-flesh-union for over 52 years (and counting:) will find its fulfillment and purpose: “so this was what it was all about – our one flesh union was a primer course for a deeper level of joy, knowledge, fulfillment, and friendship with Jesus, our true husband – united to him as one – forever!”
The reason why there is no human marriage in heaven between a man and a woman is not because there is no marriage at all, but because there is one already between Christ and his church. What awaits us is so far above and beyond this earthly marriage that there is no comparison on earth to help us. Only insofar that we awe the mystery of a one-flesh union over many years that we are compelled to believe that, well, if Jesus borrowed a line from one of my favorite 70’s rock bands, I think he would say to his bride-in-progress, “B b b b baby, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”