A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).
Thursday, March 12, 2009
A question I’ve heard asked all my life is, “Will we know one another in heaven?” Recently I’ve been asked the question several times, and I promised to put something together in answer to it. I’m happy to do it, and happy to post it here, since this sort of thing is the primary reason I started this blog. So, here goes, and I invite your further questions and comments after you read.
Before I start, let me say that I think the question exists primarily due to a single factor: Misplaced love for unsaved loved ones (which I’ll address in more detail before I’m done here). I’m going to answer the question in three steps. First, I’ll write about a few passages directly. Then, I’ll simply reason through some related issues. Last, I’ll tell you why I think many people disagree and offer them some solutions that I hope will guide them into a fuller acceptance of the truth.
Please read Luke 16:19-31, then Revelation 6:9-11. While neither of these passages directly addresses conditions after the resurrection, they do reveal something about the state of man after death. Both the rich man and Lazarus maintained their identities and personhood after death. They knew who they were, and still knew the life situations and loved ones they had left behind. So also, the souls of the martyrs, figuratively shown to be resting beneath the altar (i.e. they had given their lives in sacrifice to the Lord by being willing to die for their faith), had not forgotten who they were, or what evils had been perpetrated against them. They all were aware of their identities and in the cases of the rich man and Lazarus knew and could recognize each other. This point is very important, so remember it, and I’ll revisit it in a moment.
Now, please read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. This passage shows that there will be some believers alive on the earth when Jesus returns. The purpose of the passage is to show that we need not grieve as if we’ve lost our (faithful) departed loved ones for good, because Jesus is bringing them back with him. These believers fortunate enough to avoid experiencing physical death will still be changed to have the same kind of body and life the resurrected dead will have. “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV). My point is this: If we won’t recognize one another post resurrection, how does 1 Thess 4 offer any comfort? Also, if it is true that we’ll all lose our identities, where and when does the memory wipe take place? Certainly it doesn’t happen at death, because the rich man and Lazarus maintained their identities, and 1 Thess promises a great family reunion in the sky, so it doesn’t happen then. When does it happen? Truth is, the Bible doesn’t teach that it will happen at any time, or anywhere!
Why do I bring up a question about memory wipe? I could reference every passage in the Bible and all of them speak of us knowing who we are in this life, after this life in death, and after the resurrection. Never anywhere is there ever any mention of any of us not knowing who we are. You see, for us not to know one another in heaven, we must not even know ourselves, for if I know myself, I can introduce myselt to you even if my appearance has changed, and vice versa, and so on until we all meet each other all over again and know each other. For us not to know one another in heaven, there must be an entire memory wipe of the whole population. That idea is never even hinted at in the Bible. In fact, it’s contrary to what the Bible both says and implies.
Now let’s reason together. Eternal life is the reward for faithfulness to God in this life. A reward is only a reward if there is the remembrance of what it stands for. If I cannot remember the victory or honorable deed that deserved rewarding, then what I have is no reward at all, it’s just something I have. Unless there is the memory of this life, of the things experienced; joys and sufferings, trials and tribulations, successes and failures, etc.—all of which contribute to the totality of the person I am—heaven has much less greatness about it. Don’t get me wrong, having something good is good in itself, but it’s even better when you can relate to not having it, or having something bad instead. Part of the greatness of the eternal reward is being able to appreciate what we’ll have in all that glory by remembering when we didn’t have it; when we had the troubles and sorrows of this life. Everything the Bible says about how great we’re going to have it with the Lord someday is based in the understanding (the Bible takes this for granted) that we remember who we are, what we did, and what we knew and did not know in this life. If I remember all that, I remember who I am. If I remember who I am, you’ll remember who you are, and so, even if we don’t initially recognize each other, we’ll have eternity. We’ll get reacquainted. We’ll know one another in heaven! I’ve talked about rewards, but what about punishments? Does it seem just to you for one to suffer in hell with no memery of why he’s there? You see, the idea that we won’t know one another in heaven just isn't a well-reasoned premise.
Notice what Jesus said about life after the resurrection: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12 ESV). Will we know Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in heaven? If we don’t, how will we know that this great prophecy has been fulfilled and rejoice in the experience? To try and make this long story short (too late, I know), why do I believe we’ll know one another? Because, that is what the Bible implies in every case and the concept of losing one’s identity in resurrection is so against what one would expect that we would need a clear statement from the Scriptures to believe otherwise. The burden of proof is upon those who say we won’t know one another, and well, there’s no Bible for it (1 Peter 4:11).
Now, why do many believe we won’t know one another in heaven? There may be several reasons, but in my experience, one has come up more often in conversations than any other. “I just don’t see how I could possibly be happy in heaven if my husband… wife… son… daughter… father… mother… so on, and so on isn’t there.” In all kindness, that isn’t a credible Bible reason. It’s just emotion; perhaps understandable, but mere emotion nonetheless. What many fail to realize is that with this view, not only does the eternal destiny of our lost loved ones not change, but in addition we basically eternally lose all our loved ones. If we understand memory loss to be so, so sad in this life, why would we think it a good thing in the next?
Ok, I’ll grant you that the idea of living in bliss while dearly beloved ones suffer away from the presence of God is presently unpleasant (as much as it is to God), nor do I ever expect it to be a pleasant idea. Know, though, that the Bible never (to my knowledge) says that we will forget all unpleasant memories in eternity, only that we will have been exalted to a state in which we will have transcended all that. In a state of victory, and revelling in God’s glory we’ll be above it! I urge you to be on God’s side. Don’t allow improperly prioritized love for those among mankind who refuse to honor God to make you doubt how good the reward will be. I expect that when you see God, there will be no room in your heart for choosing any lost one over him. On Judgment Day, the lost will be so because of their choices. Do your best to get them saved while there is still time, and trust the God who is both just and merciful to do what is right toward those who’ve already passed on. Prepare yourself to say, “Amen!” to God’s pronunciations of judgment upon any and everyone you know. Whatever he says will be right, and I suspect that we’ll understand when the time comes.