The prospect of being in heaven without someone dear to us is a troublesome thought. Will everyone in heaven have survivor’s guilt? How heartless, it would seem, to enjoy heaven if people we love dearly are being continually tormented in hell. We would never dream of going on a vacation and having the time of our lives when a close loved one in the hospital.
Here are four solutions people offer:
Option #1: Heaven is not heaven.
This is the position of the atheist who loves to use this question against Christianity, believing it reinforces that heaven is a myth. Instead, this simply reinforces the seriousness of Christianity, evangelism, and personal choice. This life is not a game; judgment is no joke; eternity in hell is no laughing matter. Is it possible that heaven is overhyped? Paul says that heaven is far better than anything here (Philippians 1:22–23; 2 Corinthians 5:8). God said it offers fullness of joy forevermore (Psalm 16:11). We will be fully satisfied there (Psalm 17:15).
Option #2: Hell is not hell.
This is the view of liberal theologians. Most denominational seminary professors do not believe in a literal hell. They may ascribe to some semblance of faith but do not take the Bible literally. They advance two views that take “hell” out of hell.
- Since hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), it is not for man. After a person is judged unfit for heaven, then God, in a final act of mercy, will simply cause each sinner to cease to exist.
- God is too loving to send anyone to hell; therefore, everybody goes to heaven. Variations include a partial punishment, but in the end, universal salvation.
While these theories may appeal to our sympathies, there is no support for them in Scripture. In the great judgment scene Jesus pictured, all people are assembled, judged, and separated (Matthew 25:31–46). Were all invited to heaven? Were any destroyed? “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ . . . these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (25:41–46). The same sentence that puts the saved in heaven puts the lost in hell. If the fires of hell were to go out, then the light of heaven would be also switched off.
Option #3: Christians in heaven will not remember lost loved ones.
This view says that heaven won’t know the parallel universe of hell exists. Scriptures used in support of this include
- Deuteronomy 25:19: “Blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”
- Psalm 9:5: “Blotted out their name forever and ever.”
- Psalm 69:28: “Be blotted out of the book of the living.”
- Psalm 109:13: “Let their name be blotted out.”
These passages seem inconclusive, since they discuss being forgotten to future generations on earth or names being blotted out of the Book of Life.
It is sometimes explained that just as memories fade here over time, they will fade there. Who was your third-grade school teacher? Can you name any classmates? What grades did you make? What clothes did you wear? Those memories are gone. People and activities that were important in the life of a nine-year-old life seem insignificant now.
God could do it this way, but it is hard to imagine the God of light solving a problem with ignorance. Heaven’s joy would depend on ignorance. This view seems unlikely for these reasons:
First, failing memory is associated with immaturity and senility. Adults remember many years later what small children cannot recollect, although they shared the experience. Will our perfected new bodies (Philippians 3:20–21) have brains that know less than the old ones? Will God give all of us the dreadful Alzheimer’s disease in heaven?
Second, memories tend to deepen joy. One who has suffered hunger appreciates common food more than one who has always had plenty. A father with memories of many layoffs cherishes a stable job. Knowledge of sacrifices and persecutions will make heaven sweeter.
Third, throughout the Bible God has shown interest in our memories. He makes sure we do not forget events like the Flood (rainbow); the Exodus (Passover); the time of Esther (Purim); and the cross (communion). Although the rich man was in hell, he still remembered having five brothers.
Fourth, Paul says that believers will be rewarded when those they taught remain faithful, and they will lose the reward for those who fall away. This verse seems to imply they will remember (1 Corinthians 3:12–15). It seems more likely that we shall be comforted by knowing more rather than less.
Option #4: Heaven is heaven; hell is hell; we remember, and we are still happy.
God’s love is the pattern. Three truths must be considered: First, since God loves all, He loves our loved ones. He loves them more than we do, since His love surpasses any of which we are capable (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8).
Second, some of those God loves will miss heaven—billions of them, far more than will make it (Matthew 7:13–14).
Third, God is happy in heaven (“blessed,” 1 Timothy 1:11; 6:15).
Therefore, we may conclude that in heaven, God can make us happy and wipe away every tear (cf. Revelation 7:17; 21:4).
God’s promise is that nothing will mar our joy.
In Revelation 7:15–17, John pictures heaven as a perfect environment:
- Before the throne—perfect fellowship;
- Serve him day and night—perfect service;
- He . . . shall dwell with them—perfect peace;
- They shall hunger no more—perfect provision;
- Sun shall not strike them—perfect protection;
- The Lamb shall lead them—perfect guidance;
- God shall wipe away all tears—perfect joy.
Jesus promised, “You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you” (John 16:22). If sorrow over lost loved ones ruins heaven’s bliss, then no one could be happy there, because every Christian has family members, friends, neighbors, or erring brethren, who die in sin. Jesus explained that would be the case:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 10:34–39).
Imagine that a rich citizen hosts a banquet for the community. As one gets a plate, a neighbor says, “This rich guy is showing off. I’m not going to eat a single bite.” While his bitterness at the host’s generosity is regrettable, this should not stop the other citizen from enjoying the meal. Similarly, those who stubbornly forfeit heaven will not be allowed to spoil heaven for those who go. C. S. Lewis observed that hell does not have veto power over heaven.
God’s justice will be universally recognized.
In heaven, our perspective will change. The old order—former things—will have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
Our perspective of sin will change.
As sin has affected man physically, it has dulled his perception of absolute holiness. Constantly surrounded by sin, even Christians do not comprehend the magnitude of evil or appreciate how heinous sin is. In a sinless state, we will have a clearer view of the hideous nature of rebellion against God.
Sympathetic tolerance of sin will be replaced by a holy repulsion of sin in heaven. Here we think of “good people” who never worship their Creator, refuse to surrender to the Lord Jesus, and practice sin for a lifetime. Jesus said, “There is none good but one, that is, God” (Matthew 19:17). “There is not a just man upon earth” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). There we will no longer have any illusion that sinners are good without Christ.
It is not the case that any person deserves to go to heaven. Every sinner deserves to go to hell. Jesus said, “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:18–19). There will be no one in hell who does not deserve to be there; at the same time, there will be no one in heaven who deserves to be there. In heaven, we will not marvel at how good people went to hell but at how bad people (albeit forgiven) got into heaven.
Our perspective of justice will change.
Every time God renders a judgment of come or go, it will be the right decision (Matthew 25:31–33; Genesis 18:25). No one will second guess the One who knows all, loves all, and did all to make salvation possible.
All angels, saints, and martyrs will praise His judgment on that day. John wrote, “After these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are his judgments” (Revelation 19:1–2). God’s righteousness will be vindicated (John 5:22–29; Romans 2:5–16; 12:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9; Revelation 6:9–11; 18:1–19:3; 20:11–15).
We will nod in approval at God’s decisions, even in cases of those we knew and loved on earth. Consider three illustrations that show we already sometimes do this on earth. Imagine a young man lands a good job. His parents are pleased. But they notice after a few weeks that he is late to work a couple of times a week. They encourage him to do better, lest he be fired. Then they hear that he laid out one Friday to go fishing with his friends. They talk strongly to him about his priorities. Nonetheless, he continues his careless habits. His employer is patient but eventually lets him go. The parents are not angry with the employer; they support the just decision (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
When Christian parents have a married child break up his/her marriage with adultery, they support the innocent son-/daughter-in-law instead of their own child because justice prevails over emotion (Matthew 19:9).
Nadab and Abihu’s relatives did not uncover their heads or tear their clothes (acts of public mourning), lest it appear to others that they disagreed with God’s righteous judgment in their punishment (Leviticus 10:6).
Our perspective of God will change.
This is what we know: God does not send people to hell. Sin sends people to hell. Rejection of the gospel sends sinners to hell. God wants absolutely no one to go to hell (Ezekiel 18:23; 18:32; John 3:17; 1 Timothy 2:3–4; 2 Peter 3:9). He wants that so much that He was willing for Jesus to be beaten, mocked, and hanged on a cross.
Jesus, the appointed Judge, wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) and still pleads for all to come to Him (Matthew 11:28–30). In some fashion, God gives everyone an opportunity to be saved (Romans 1:18–2:16). “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17).
Our perspective on liberty will change. In view of all this, who could suggest that God is unrighteous for punishing unrepentant sinners? Justice demands punishment; someone must pay for every person’s sins. Either a sinner lets Jesus pay for his sins, or God lets the sinner pay for them himself in hell. C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell, choose it.”
We might be tempted to say to one we love, “I don’t want heaven if you are not there.” That might sound like love, but it is idolatry. Essentially, it says, “You are my god. I would rather have you than the true God.” Jesus warned us not to love our loved ones more than we love Him (Matthew 10:37). God is the greatest conceivable Good; therefore, keeping our families but losing Him would be evil. Sadly, if a family member rejects the gospel, then he chooses to separate himself from Christian family members in eternity.
God honors man’s autonomy by giving him complete discretion over his destiny. God gives people freedom to follow Him in life and live with Him in eternity. He also gives them freedom from His rules in life and from Himself in eternity.
God does not overrule bad decisions. Though today’s culture emphasizes gender equality, some laws offensive to women remain on the books. These laws allowed a father and a husband to overrule the decision of a daughter or wife if he thought she was making a bad choice. God thought highly enough of us to let us make a choice and live with the consequences—an incredible compliment.
The omniscience of God assures us that He has a solution.
Richard Baxter wrote,
My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But it’s enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with him.
God does all things right (Genesis 18:25). He never fails at anything. Perhaps, therefore, our attempts to search out a reason are beside the point. It boils down to the fact that we do not need to figure out heaven for God. He is fully capable of keeping His promise that heaven will be filled with joy, bliss, comfort, peace, love, and perfection (Revelation 7:17; 21:4). If God can speak the sun into existence; if He can see every thought of every human mind at the same time; if He can create the human eye with its 137,000,000 light-sensitive cells, then He can handle our eternal well-being. Can we trust an all-powerful, all-loving God?
Our limited human perspective cannot conceive an awesome heaven without our loved ones, but once we are in heaven, God will make all clear to us. An eternity of worship may sound boring now because we are thinking of human physical activity, but such thinking makes heaven about us. Heaven is not primarily about our happiness, it is about God. Our primary focus will be God’s glory, not expectations of human happiness.
We cannot fully understand heaven until we get there, but we know it will surpass all human expectations because God has promised complete joy and contentment. Knowing that should motivate us to share the gospel of Christ with family, friends, neighbors—yea, even the whole world. When we do, we understand both our opportunities and limitations. We can pray for the lost, share the gospel with them, and plead with them, but we cannot make the choice for them.
This is even true of the sovereign God. God does not desire any to perish (1 Timothy 2:3–4; 2 Peter 3:9), yet many will perish in their unbelief (Matthew 7:13). Jesus went to the cross to offer salvation to all (1 John 2:2), but many purchased tickets will never be picked up and used.
Think of heaven today. Speak of heaven today. Live for heaven today.
 Jim Massey.
 The Great Divorce. 1946, p. 72.
 Ray Comfort.