Q 05. Can suicides be saved?
Q 09. What happens in hell?
Q 10. What happens in Heaven?
Q 20. Will we eat in Heaven?
Q 23. Will Heaven be big?
I would like to attempt the impossible: to answer the 35 most frequently asked questions about Heaven. Obviously, it would take more than an article, more than a lifetime, and more than human wisdom to answer any one of these questions adequately. But “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
If we had no “inside information,” we could only speculate. Fortunately, we have some solid data to build on: divine revelation. I think God wants us to use our reason and also our imagination (for why should we neglect any God-given faculty) to explore the treasure of tantalizing hints in Scripture. To be indifferent to it is to be like the unprofitable servant who hid his master’s talent in the ground.
In having this data, we are in a position very different from that of the unbeliever (or rather, the difference lies in our believing the data, for the whole human race has it; it is public). We are like the sighted compared to the blind, who can only speculate about things visible. We can do more than speculate about things invisible.
“What do you know about Heaven, anyway? Have you ever been there?” We can answer this challenge: “No, but I have a very good Friend who has. He came here and told us about it and showed it to us. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
I suspect this question subconsciously bothers most of us more than we like to admit. I can remember having something of a crisis of faith as a child: I thought I didn’t want to go to Heaven since the popular pictures of it seemed pretty boring to me.
Freud, who occasionally comes up with nuggets of wisdom sandwiched between mountains of nonsense, says that everyone needs two things to make life worth living: love and work. The two are really one, for love is a work and work is a love. Love is a work, for it is something you do, not something you just feel or fall into. And work must be a love, for if not, it is threatening and boring. What love-work will we do in Heaven, then?
We will complete the very love-works we are meant to do on Earth. There are only six things that never get boring on Earth, six things that never come to an end: knowing and loving yourself, your neighbor, and God. Since persons are subjects and not objects, they are not exhaustible; they are like magic cows that give fresh milk forever.
The two great commandments that are our job description for life, in both this world and the next, express this plan: We must love God wholly and we must love our neighbor as ourself. And in order to love we must know, get to know, as endlessly as we love endlessly. This never gets boring, even on Earth: getting to know and love more and more someone we already know and love. It is our clue and our preparation for our eternal destiny of infinite fascination.
George Macdonald answers this question with a counter question: “Will we be greater fools there than here?” Of course we will know our loved ones. This is a divinely designed, essential part of our joy. We are not designed to be solitary mystics, lovers of God alone, but to be, like God himself, lovers of men and women as well.
Just as Jesus on Earth loved each person differently and specially—he did not love John as he loved Peter, because John was not Peter—so we are designed to love people specially. There is no reason why this specialness should be removed, rather than added to, in eternity. Our family and special friends will always be our family and special friends. In this life a child begins to learn to love by loving mother, then father, then siblings, then pets. The concentric circles of love are then gradually expanded, but the beginning lessons are never abandoned. There is no reason to think God rips up this plan after death.
This brings up all sorts of other questions about emotions, relationships, and suffering in Heaven. These will be dealt with shortly, but the simplest and most important answer to this question for now is this: If there is someone you love and identify with so deeply that you cannot imagine being happy in eternity without him or her, and that someone seems now to be in peril of being unsaved, then use the relationship that God’s providence has ordained for you.
Tell God that he has to arrange for this person’s salvation as he has arranged for yours, because this person is a real part of you, and for you as a whole to be saved, this person has to come along, just as your own body and emotions have to come along. It need not be a “wheedling” or “blackmail” prayer; it can be a simple presentation of the facts, like Mary’s “They have no more wine.” Let God do his thing: it is always more loving, more gracious, and more effective than our thing, more than we can ever imagine or desire.
Trust him to use your earthly love as a channel, supernatural and/or natural, of grace and salvation for your friend. Your very question, your very problem, is the clue to its answer. God put that burden on your heart for a reason: for you to fulfill.
Simply, yes. Most people who commit suicide are not in full control of their reason and thus are not fully responsible. Suicide is a dreadful mistake, of course, and a terrible sin. But only unrepented sin locks Heaven’s door, and sometimes sins are repented of at the same time they are committed, or immediately afterward. The deeper part of a suicide’s soul and will may believe and hope in and love God even while the surface part drives him to despair. Or repentance may come in an instant between the act and its result, death, or even at the moment of death. We do not know. Only God sees and judges hearts, not just acts, and God will use every possible means to save us. Perhaps many of those means are unknown and unsuspected by us. No one dare limit the mercy, the cleverness, or the power of God.
But our very uncertainty should send us running from this horribly dangerous sin in holy terror. Those who commit suicide do not automatically ensure their damnation, but they certainly risk their salvation.
This question prompts a series of questions of the form: Will we have the following earthly thing in Heaven? I believe the answer to all such questions is this: Yes, but not in the present form. Nothing is simply continued, and nothing is simply lost forever; everything is transformed, as it is at birth.
We can know very little about this transformation, of course, and our answers must be largely disciplined guesswork. But I strongly suspect that we will have emotions in Heaven, for they are part of God’s design for our humanity, and not only a result of the Fall. But our emotions will not drive us or control us. They will be no less passionate, but they will be less passive. Thomas Aquinas opines that sexual enjoyment was greater, not less, before the Fall (since sin always harms, never helps, every good thing), and Augustine opines that in Heaven the joy that we receive from God in our souls will “overflow” into our resurrection bodies in a “voluptuous torrent” of pleasure.
We know there is no sadness in Heaven: God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17). I think we will not be sad about the damned for the same reason God is not. According to the Sermon on the Mount, he will say to them, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23). God will wipe our memories clean. This is not falsehood or ignorance, but truth, for in a sense, the damned no longer are—that is, they no longer are in the most real place of all, Heaven. They no longer count. They are like ashes, not like wood. They once were fully human, fully alive, real men and women. But hell is a place not of eternal life but of eternal death. We do not love or weep over ashes; we only love or weep over the thing that existed before it was burnt. In Heaven, however, we will not live in the past—we will have no regrets; nor will we live in the future—we will have no fears; but like God, we will live in the eternal present. Our heavenly emotions will be appropriate to present reality, not past reality.
Certainly not. Jesus is very clear about the reality of hell. But he is also clear that it is death, not life, for the soul. In Greek philosophy, souls cannot die. In Christianity, they can—in hell. Is this annihilation? No, it is death. Annihilation is the opposite of creation; death is the opposite of life.
Let me put it this way: Is there any compelling reason why they shouldn’t? Would their perfection be threatened thereby? Can Heaven be Heaven only by being quarantined and having the blinds drawn? It is reasonable to interpret the “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1 not only as witnesses to their faith during their own lifetimes but as witnesses to us, now; not just as the dead “witness to” the living by our memory of them but as the living witness the living by their living consciousness.
Is there anything wrong with your love of your family? Will there be anything wrong with it in Heaven? Will there be anything wrong with your desire to see how they fare on Earth? I see no compelling reason to answer no.
We will be as we are now: equal in worth and dignity, equal in being loved by God. But will we be equal in the sense of the same? God forbid! One of the chief pleasures of this life, as of the next, is the mutual sharing of different excellences, the pleasure of looking up to someone who is better than we are at something and learning from him or her. The resentment expressed in saying, “I’m just as good as you are” is hellish, not heavenly. (By the way, that is one sentence that always means the opposite of what it says. No one who says it believes it.)
Of course. Sex is part of our divinely designed humanity. It is transformed, not removed, in Heaven. We will be “like the angels” in “neither marrying nor being given in marriage,” according to Christ’s answer to the Sadducees (Matt. 22:30), but not in being neutered. Sex is first of all something we are, not something we do. I do not think we will be “doing” copulation in Heaven, but we will be busy being ourselves, and that includes being men and women, not genderless geldings. Vive la difference!
Gnostics of all kinds (Platonists, Buddhists, Hindus, Spiritualists, Manichaeans) say we will become pure spirits, angels, for they do not know the dogma of Creation. Pagans and Muslims say we will have earthly bodies and harems or happy hunting grounds.
Christians say we will have transformed bodies, but real, physical bodies, as Christ had after his resurrection. His body could be touched and could eat. Yet it could come and go as he pleased, with neither walls nor distance as an obstacle. It was the same body he had before he died, and it was recognized as such by his friends. Yet it was so different that at first they did not recognize him. I think our new resurrection body will be related to the body we have now in the same way that our current body is related to the body we had in our mothers’ wombs. If a fetus saw a picture of itself at the age of twenty, it would at first not recognize itself, so unforeseen and surprisingly new would it be. Yet it is the same self, even the same body, now grown radically more mature.
I think not. Christ still had his wounds. But they were badges of glory, not suffering and sadness. I think everything—in the body, in the soul, and in the person’s world—that was offered to God and taken up into the eternal kingdom will be preserved and transformed and glorified in Heaven: but everything that was not—everything that was not the work of God or of the sanctified soul but was of the world, the flesh, or the devil—will be left outside Heaven’s gate. The martyrs’ wounds will glow like gold, but the amputee’s limb will be restored, and so will the brain-damaged person’s intelligence. God’s justice and mercy are perfect, and so is his style.
Scripture tells us there will be “a new heaven [that is, sky] and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). If we have a new body, we need a new Earth: bodies are not for drifting in empty space. And if a world, why a dead world, like the moon, rather than a world brimming with life, like this Earth? I think we will have a much more intimate relationship with nature than we do now, not less. I think the images of the nature mystics and pantheist poets are almost right, but as prophecy: In the heavenly future we will get inside the secret of life that we now stare at as outsiders.
C. S. Lewis suggests, in his great sermon “The Weight of Glory,” that the reason we have peopled the Earth with gods and goddesses is so that these projections of ours can do what we long to do but cannot do, or at least cannot do yet: touch the inner secret of the beauty we see in nature. “But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we will get in.”
I think so. Powers that are now largely denied us, for our own safety, will be restored to us when we have learned to use them well. When our souls follow the will of God like orchestra players follow the baton of their conductor, then we will play in harmony. But just imagine what havoc God would allow if he gave us preternatural powers over nature in our fallen condition!
The simplest answer I know to this question, so frequently asked by children, is: Why not? Children’s questions are usually the best ones, and we should beware treating them with any less seriousness than their askers have in asking them. Right now, pets, like everything else in this world, can mediate God’s love and goodness to us and train us for our union with him, or they can distract us from him. In Heaven, everything mediates and nothing distracts.
We will have bodies, so we will be able to eat, as Christ did after the resurrection. But I think we will not have to eat. The resurrection body will live off the soul and the soul off God. As we are now, our bodies are dependent on what is less than they are, subsidies from nature; and our souls are dependent on what is less than they are, our bodies (if our brains are damaged, we cannot think well). This situation of being hostage to our inferiors must be reversed. Perhaps the matter of which the resurrection body will be composed will not have separate atoms and molecules (and so will be indestructible). Perhaps our bodies will not have separate organs and systems, but the body as a whole, or the whole soul in the whole body, will perform all of its operations. But of course this is pure speculation.
Those who claim to have caught some glimpse of people in Heaven, whether in a vision or in a near—death experience, usually say that the people in Heaven are clothed, but differently than we are. The clothing is not artificial and concealing, but natural and revealing. Clothing came after the Fall, to conceal what was shameful only because it was fallen. Once redemption is complete and the Fall wholly reversed, nothing is shameful. Clothes will then be a pure glory, not half glory and half shame, as they now are. Perhaps they will seem to grow out of the resurrection body itself rather than be put on from outside.
The issue is more important than it seems, because clothing symbolizes the whole world and our relationship with our world. We take parts of our world unto ourselves as clothes and make them intimate parts of our lives. In Heaven we will clothe ourselves with the new heavens and the new earth, like the “woman clothed with the sun” in Revelation 12:1
Indeed. Even now, great music seems like an echo from Eden, a souvenir, a memory from Paradise—something not merely pleasant but profoundly meaningful in an ungraspable, unformulatable way, a high and holy mystery. Once again I refer (only as a clue) to numerous visionaries who have said they heard music in Heaven, but of such a different quality from earthly music that it was incomparable—like comparing a toddler’s banging on a toy xylophone with a symphony orchestra.
Music, according to widespread tradition, was the first language, the language God spoke to create the universe. I strongly suspect there is more to this than we think. We usually think of music as ornamented poetry and of poetry as ornamented prose. But God is not prosaic. I think prose is fallen poetry and poetry fallen music. In the beginning was the “music of the spheres,” and so it will be in the end.
Yes, but with a different kind of bigness. Now, space contains us, confines us, defines us. But we can transform space into place by humanizing it, spiritualizing it. A house becomes a home, a space becomes a place, by our living in it. Heaven will be both as intimate and as unconfining as our spirits want.
No one will think it too small or too large. In a sense, it will be in us rather than we in it—not in the sense that it will be subjective, but in the sense in which stage settings and props are in a play, or part of a play, rather than the play being in or part of the setting.
No. If it were, you could get there by rocket ship. It is another dimension, not another world. Yet, in a sense, it is continuous with this world, somewhat as this one is continuous with the world of the womb. From the viewpoint of an unborn child, this world is distant and outside the womb; but from the viewpoint of a born person, the womb is in the world, and the unborn child is already in the world—the child just doesn’t see this until after birth.
I suspect that from the viewpoint of Heaven we will truly say that Earth was part of Heaven, Heaven’s womb. But you cannot get there by rocket, only by faith and death, just as the fetus cannot get into the world outside the womb except by birth.
Eternity does not mean simply endless time; that would be boring. Nor does it mean something strictly timeless; that would be inhuman. Time is part of our consciousness, and God does not tear up his plan for us; rather, he fulfills and transforms it.
I think eternity will include all time, as the dying see their whole life pass before them in perfect temporal order, not confusion, yet instantaneously—somewhat as you can do now when you call to mind a story you have read and know well. When you say “David Copperfield,” you mean all the Davids, in order, but you see them all at once, from the young David to the old David, because, having finished the story, you are outside it.
You are “after death” regarding David. One day you will be “after death” regarding yourself. Time now confines us. There is never enough of it. I think heavenly time will be like heavenly space: fully humanized and subject to the soul. Even now there are two kinds of time, as there are two kinds of space (space and place): chronos, or chronological time, material time, and kairos, or lived time, human time, time for some purpose measured by mind and will. Now, kairos is contained and constrained by chronos; there is seldom enough time to do justice to anything. In heaven this inside-out situation will be reversed, and chronological time will be contained and mastered by kairos, somewhat as even now playwrights and novelists master the time in their stories.
Our dissatisfaction with time, by the way, is a powerful piece of evidence that we are made for eternity. There is nothing more natural and all-pervasive in this world than time. Not only our bodies but our souls as well are immersed in time. Yet we complain about it. C. S. Lewis asks, “Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact not strongly suggest that they had not been, or were not destined always to be, aquatic creatures?” We long to step out of the sea of time onto the land of eternity, even though we do not really understand what eternity is!
Medieval philosophers usually thought we would all be 33, the ideal age, the age of maturity, as of Christ’s earthly maturity. I take it this is symbolically accurate: we will all be fully mature. Infants who die prematurely will be given, by God (perhaps through the mediation of their own parents!), all the maturing they missed on Earth.
Geneticists say that the aging process is not inevitable; that a live organism could theoretically be immortal, never age, never die. Cancer cells do not die unless they are killed or their host dies. The aging and dying process began at a certain time in our history, after the Fall. God did not make death, but he unmakes it. In Heaven no one will be old. Yet in a sense everyone will be both old and young, as a reflection of the God who is the Alpha and Omega, oldest and youngest, “beauty ancient yet ever new.” Even now we sometimes see the wisdom of old age in the musing face of a baby or the eternal freshness of youth in the twinkling eyes of the very old. These are hints of Heaven.
My ancestors stoutly maintained that it would be Dutch, of course. A rabbi I know has told me it will be Hebrew; every baby, he said, still remembers the language that will be restored in Heaven, the language of Eden, as evidenced by the fact that a child’s first word is often abba (“Father” or “Daddy” in Hebrew).
It will be none of the languages that now divide us, which began at Babel. Babel and its babble will be reversed. This was foreshadowed at Pentecost, where distinctive languages were preserved, not muddled, yet each person understood everyone else. Perhaps there will be as many languages as there are individuals, and yet at the same time only one. What is sure is that there will be no misunderstanding. Language, like clothing, now both reveals and conceals, unveils and veils meaning. In Heaven, language, like clothing, will only reveal.
I think not. No one will want to hold anything back, for no one will be ashamed or afraid of being misunderstood or unloved. Privacy is like clothes and like laws: necessary only because we are fallen. When sin is gone, all hiding will be gone.
Certainly there will be no private property, no “this is mine, not yours.” Communism, like nudism and anarchism, dimly sees something heavenly, but by insisting on enacting it now, by human force, it turns the heavenly into the hellish, as when adult powers are given to infants.
29. Will we be free in Heaven? If so, will we be free to sin? If so, won’t anyone ever exercise that freedom?
“Freedom to sin” is a contradiction in terms, like “freedom to be enslaved.” Free choice is only the means to true freedom, “the freedom of the sons of God,” liberty.
In heaven we will not sin because we will not want to. We will freely choose never to sin, just as now great mathematicians do not make elementary mistakes, though they have the power to do so. In Heaven we will see the attractiveness of goodness and of God so clearly, and the ugliness and stupidity of sin so clearly, that there will be no possible motive to sin.
Now, we are enslaved by ignorance. Every sin comes from ignorance, for we sin only because we see sin as somehow attractive, which it is not, and goodness as somehow lacking in attraction. This is an ignorance that we are responsible for, but it is ignorance, and without that ignorance we would not sin. In Heaven, in the “beatific vision” of God, overwhelmed and filled with the total joy of goodness, baptized with goodness as a sunken ship is filled with water, no one could possibly ever want to turn from this perceived glory. Now, “we walk by faith, not by sight”(2 Cor. 5:7). Heavenly sight will not remove our freedom. Ask the blind whether sight would remove their freedom.
I answer the question with another question, from C. S. Lewis: Who talks the most against “escapism”? Jailers. Is it escapist for a baby to wonder about life outside the womb? Is it escapist for someone on a long ocean voyage to wonder about landfall? Is it escapist for the seed to dream of the flower? It is escapist if, and only if, Heaven is a lie. Those who call Heaven “escapism” are presupposing atheism.
No, just the opposite. Does a pregnant woman’s concern for her baby’s future detract from concern for her baby’s present? If she believes her baby will be born dead, she will cease to take care of it, and if we believe that this life ends with a cosmic abortion, we will cease to take much care of it. But if we believe that this life is the preparation for eternity, then everything makes an eternal difference.
The early roads that led to California were well cared for; the ones that led nowhere were abandoned. If Earth is the road to Heaven, we will care for it. If it leads nowhere, we will not. Historically, it is those who have believed most strongly in Heaven who have made the greatest difference to Earth, beginning with Christ himself.
The joy of Heaven does, because Christ is our joy, who tells us “I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20, Phillips). We do not now fully appreciate that joy, but it is here, because the very life of Heaven, the very life that flows from the Vine into the branches, is here. If it is not here in us now, it will not be there in us then.
If Heaven is not in us now, we will not be in Heaven forever. For Heaven is where God is. God determines where Heaven is; Heaven does not determine where God is. God contains Heaven; Heaven does not contain God. If God is in our souls now by faith, then the very life of Heaven is here in us now, in seed form. That is what Jesus came to preach about and to give, the focus of all his sermons: “the kingdom of Heaven.” It is the “pearl of great price,” the thing for which the whole world is far too small a price to pay. And it is free.
This is the most important question anyone can ask. The answer has already been given: It is free. “Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17). Faith is the act of taking.
It sounds crazy, too good to be true. But it makes perfect sense. For God is love. Love gives gifts, gives itself. God gives himself, his own life, membership in his family. We are made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). For God is pure love, and pure love has no admixture of stinginess in it.
The first part of the question is clear, and the answer is clear: Unless Jesus is the victim of grandiose self-delusion or deliberate, blasphemous lying, he is the only way, for he says exactly that (John 14:6). But the second part of the question is not clear. People who have never heard of Christ, and thus have neither consciously accepted him nor consciously rejected him, must also get to Heaven through Christ, for there is no other way. That much is clear from Christ’s own words. But it is not clear what is going on in the unconscious depths of the souls of such people. Only God knows. Perhaps they know and love him in the obscure form of a deep, unconscious desire and love.
The game of heavenly population statistics is one that Christ discouraged his disciples from playing. When they asked him, “Are many saved?” he answered neither yes nor no but said, “Strive to enter in” (Luke 13:24). In other words, mind your own business, your own salvation, rather than speculating about others and statistics. God has not told us the answer to this question, for his own good reasons, just as he has not told us when the world will end, another question about which we love to speculate. I think that in both cases we can see the wisdom of not telling us. If we knew when the world would end, we would not be ready at all times for the thief who comes in the night, unexpectedly. If we knew that most were not saved, we would tend to despair; if we knew that most were saved, we would tend to presumption.
What we do know is that Christ the Savior is not only a 33-year-old, 6-foot-high Jewish man, but also the eternal God, the Logos that enlightens every individual (John 1:9). Thus everyone has a fair chance to accept him or reject him, whether implicitly (for all light of truth and goodness is from him) or explicitly. We are not saved by how explicit our knowledge is; we are saved by him. Faith is the glue that holds him fast (or, more accurately, the glue by which he holds us fast, for faith is also his gift).
This is a traditional, mainline Christian position, from the time of Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria to the time of C. S. Lewis. It is halfway between the liberal view that one can be saved in other ways than Christ (for example, by good intentions) and the frequent fundamentalist view that it takes an explicit knowledge of Christ to be saved.
The middle view does not detract from the infinite seriousness of missionary work, as the liberal view does. For if we do not know how many children will fall through a hole in the ice and drown, we feel just as much urgency in shouting warnings (and in putting our words into action) as we would if we knew exactly who would die and who would not.
ORIGINAL SOURCE: By: Peter Kreeft | Article Link: christianitytoday.com | Tittle: What Will Heaven Be Like? Thirty-five frequently asked questions about eternity.