Heaven is a Mystery
Will we know each other in heaven?
We will not understand some aspects of “what happens after death” until we experience them. For example, John tells us that while we know we will be resurrected from the dead, we know very little about the type of body we will inhabit. We do know our resurrected body will be like the resurrected body of Jesus (1 John 3:2). Other than that, we know very little about our resurrected body.
What will we do in heaven? Will all of our eternal existence be spent praising God? Or will God assign us certain responsibilities like some of the angels?
So for all the New Testament reveals about “what happens after death,” much remains shrouded in mystery.
Will We Know Each Other in Heaven? I Hope So! But…
One question many of us want answered is, “Will we know each other in heaven?” From the outset, let me say, “I hope so.” I would like to see many dear people again if at all possible.
However, there are some who would answer, “No, we will not know each other in heaven.” Their reasoning goes something like this:
- Scripture says in Revelation 21:4, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
- In heaven, God eliminates all causes for sorrow. No more reasons to cry or to feel pain remain.
- If that’s true, then what about people we knew and loved here on earth who did not make it to heaven?
- If we know one another in heaven. And if we know there are people close to us who are not in heaven. Would we not be sorrowful knowing they were in hell?
- Thus, it might be better if God erased or altered our memories of our earthly lives in some way so that we would not be cognizant of who is missing.
- No memories mean no reason for sorrow.
Two Key Points
But this line of reasoning — though it makes some sense — overlooks a couple of key points.
The first is the most obvious: do we have any clear scriptural evidence that God will comfort us in this way? Do other Bible passages indicate that our memories will be altered to the degree we will not know one another? Is there any corroborating evidence that supports this extrapolation?
The second is less obvious: can we fully anticipate how we will be impacted by divine judgment? I have an inkling of what it will be like to stand before the throne of God in judgment. But it’s only a notion based on scant information provided by the Bible.
The Impact of Divine Judgment
When God reaches the end of his discourse with Job, the righteous man’s response is insightful. Job confesses he has no response. He speculated about things he had no right to speculate about. For the first time Job sees the real God. The reality of God leaves Job humbled and speechless. There no longer remains an objection to be raised or a grievance to be aired.
Job’s example reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 3:19, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” The judgment of God stops – it halts or closes – the mouths of everyone.
If I see someone I love condemned to hell will I weep? I think so, it’s difficult to imagine that such a thing would not upset me. Will I carry that sorrow into heaven? It’s difficult to imagine I would not. But again, we’re all a bit like Job in this instance.
Seeing God in all of His majesty and experiencing divine judgment will affect us in ways we cannot anticipate. It is impossible to fully anticipate how the judgment of God will impact all of us and its ensuing implications.
The Impact of Divine Comfort
On the flip side, we also cannot fully anticipate the depth and breadth and length and height of divine comfort. God comforts us in countless ways as we walk by faith. But God’s methods of consolation — like all of His blessings — are inherently limited by the constraints of this physical realm ruled by sin and death. As some of us know, there are some pains, some sorrows, some heartaches that cannot be escaped — time does not heal all wounds.
Revelation 21:4 implies the boundaries that hinder us in this realm will be removed. Is it possible that when victory swallows up those restraints, when God pours out the unfettered potential of divine consolation, that the deepest of sorrows are fully assuaged? Or, to put it another way, do the riches of heaven require a full “memory wipe?” Must we enter a city of complete strangers in order to dry our tears? Is it possible the comfort and bliss of heaven exceeds the limits of our imagination?
The best evidence we have in Scripture points to our personalities and identities remaining intact following death.
After Death, Samuel Knew Saul
In 1 Samuel 28, King Saul sought the counsel of a medium. Saul relentlessly pursues David, attempting to put to death the successor to the throne. Because of Saul’s rebellion, his jealousy, and his vengeance, the Lord cut off all communication with the king. Desperate to know what to do next, Saul resorts to visiting a medium. He does so in disguise and demands that the medium contact the dead prophet Samuel. To her surprise, the medium successfully reaches Samuel and he appears before the king.
In this curious episode, Scripture presents Samuel’s personality and identity as intact. Even though he is dead, he is, without question in Saul’s mind, the prophet Samuel. And Samuel retains memories of what he had told Saul in the past. He also predicts future events.
After Death, The Rich Man and Lazarus Knew Each Other
Luke 16 records a similar portrayal of memories after death. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, two men — a wealthy man and the poor beggar who sat at his gate — die. They end up in two very different places. The Jews of Jesus’s day interpreted great wealth as a sign of righteousness. But this rich man ends up among the wicked after death. Lazarus reclines on the bosom of Abraham in a place of bliss and rest.
Like the story of the medium recalling the spirit of Samuel, the memories, personalities, and identities of the principal characters remain intact. The rich man, numbered among the dead transgressors, remembers his living family. He urges Abraham to warn them about this terrible place of torment.
Now someone might observe that the rich man’s memories remained intact because he was in the place of torment. However, when Abraham talks with the rich man, the patriarch knows something about the life Lazarus experienced. Abraham is not omniscient, so how would he know about Lazarus’s life? Probably because Lazarus shared those experiences with Abraham.
So I find many reasons to conclude from both of these examples that memories, personalities, and identities remain intact following death for both the unrighteous and the righteous.
Whatever we think heaven will be, we are likely wrong.
We know heaven will be a beautiful, magnificent place — it’s the dwelling place of God. But will it be a literal city on a mountain, surrounded by a wall, with streets paved in gold? As I read the book of Revelation, I cannot help but notice the ubiquitous use of symbolism. I see no reason to believe that this changes once we reach chapters 21-22.
In John 16:21, Jesus compares His resurrection from the dead to a woman giving birth. The comparison is apt. A baby in the womb senses the world beyond his or her mother’s body, but it is a relatively limited sense. And he or she interprets the world beyond with a developing brain that does not fully develop until years into its growth.
Regardless of our intellect, accurately anticipating what heaven will be like is an impossible proposition. God communicated it to us in ways we can comprehend using symbols that give us something concrete to latch on to. But we are truly no better off than that baby who senses a bigger world beyond, but who, in no way, can fully comprehend what lies ahead.
So whatever we think heaven might be like is probably wrong or, at the very least, a wholly inadequate conceptualization. But God does not expect us to understand and we don’t have to understand in order to reach that glorious place. Our focus should be on walking by faith. The hope for something far, far better cheers us, motivates us, and stirs our imaginations for the possibilities of what lies ahead.