By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Roger will respond in as timely a manner as possible. Due to the large volume of questions, patience is requested. When questions involve mental health issues, no part of any response to an “Ask Roger” question should be interpreted as a substitute for seeking professional counseling from a licensed mental health professional. Email him your questions at [email protected].
I would like to know about my unsaved family and friends. Will I know they’re missing heaven?
– Jack Wilson
You may have asked the unanswerable question.
Let’s see if we can clearly understand what you are asking?
Simply stated: “Will we have memories of people who are not in heaven?”
Here is a clarification as I see it. You are saved and go to heaven. Your unsaved friend has rejected Jesus and is on his/her way to hell.
We normally assume that we will remember our family members and friends who died without Jesus, and it will break our hearts to see them in punishment.
However, that’s not what the question is asking. The question asks, “Will we even remember that we had friends and family. In other words, they are missing and we don’t realize they’re missing because we don’t remember them at all?
Let’s examine some thoughts and passages that may apply.
We probably won’t see our unsaved loved ones.
The Bible doesn't specifically say that people in heaven cannot look down on loved ones in hell, so we can't be dogmatic. However, it is unlikely that they can. People in heaven are likely preoccupied with other things such as worshipping God and enjoying the glories of heaven.
“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind…” (Isaiah 65:17).
Revelation 21 speaks to this issue. Before the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth, we may or may not know about the existence of our lost friends in hell. However, after the New Creation is completed, all memory of them will be gone. We will not even know that they are missing.
Nothing that has gone on before the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth will be remembered after the New Creation appears.
“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be death; there will no longer be sorrow and anguish, or crying, or pain; for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
However, the same passage may reveal we may see our unsaved loved ones in hell:
“Now the dwelling place of God is with men and he will live with them...He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I’m making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-4)
This same passage may prove that the tears of the saints are wiped away because they do remember those who did not receive Christ. According to this passage, we will most probably see our unsaved friends in heaven until God wipes away our tears. When the tears are gone there’s no more weeping and no more pain and that may be because God wipes away all remembrances of our unsaved relatives.
Some will cite the story of Lazarus to affirm we can see unsaved loved ones in Heaven.
The problem with using this passage in Luke 16:19-31 is that the verses state that the Rich Man can see Lazarus, but the story never indicates that Lazarus can see him.
We will certainly have a renewed perspective on all things in heaven.
We will be untainted by sin. Our earthly attachments will be displaced by or new future deeper relationship to God and others.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)
Finally, we must trust in the character of God.
By faith, we must rest in His infinite goodness, compassion and mercy.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” (Rom. 11:33-34)
Let’s focus on pointing our loved ones to Christ.
While it is delightful to focus on the positive dynamics of heaven, we should primarily focus on how we can point our loved ones to faith in Christ—so that they will be with us in Heaven.
Guiding our friends and loved ones to faith in Christ can be a touchy thing.
Peter advises, “”Be sure you live a godly life before your lost family, friends and neighbors as a lovely manifestation of the life of Christ.”
In this passage Peter is addressing husbands and wives; however, the principle here works both ways.
“Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over, without talk, by the behavior of their wives when they see the purity and attractiveness of your life.” (1 Peter 3:1-2)
So often, evangelism with our friends and neighbors degenerates into an argument or theological discussion that leads to disagreement, hurt, anger and pain. Don’t argue. Don’t be pushy. Listen to what they have to say and answer with humility.
When you see them hurting and in pain, comfort them.
Very few things open a heart like receiving comfort when you are hurting. Tell them how sorry you are that they are hurting. Put your arm around them and say comforting words. Comfort produces lasting bonds of love and openness. Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” When you see your friends mourning, comfort them.
Personally, when I see hurt, I comfort it.
I suggest that you do things like reading your Bible where they can see you. Make it obvious how much your Bible means to you.
Live before them a life of love and compassion and they are more likely to open up and listen to you.
Don’t let a fear of appearing “preachy” keep you away from talking about Jesus. Using the story in John eight of Jesus’ restoration of the woman caught in the act of adultery gives a hopeful sense of picking up the pieces and starting over again. Using Philippians 4:10-13 about the God who pours in the power through Jesus Christ to give victory in every situation can be helpful and appropriate.
Remember that Jesus dealt carefully and lovingly with those who he was trying to reach. He didn’t yell at them or spend time judging them he loved and served them.
In fact, there’s only one place in the Bible where Jesus candidly shares his character and personality.
“He said, for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29.
It’s good to remember that we really don’t know what’s going on in a person’s heart just before they die. Only God knows that.
Perhaps, the Holy Spirit has done a work of grace in someone's soul at the last moment before they die. They may have been aware of the hours leading up to their death and cried out to God for salvation. The thief on the cross proves that "deathbed conversion" is certainly possible.
And if someone is unable to speak, or too weak to respond, those around them would not know of that conversion. We may be surprised and delighted to one day see them in the presence of Christ.
Rejoice! Our saved friends, neighbors, and loved ones will all be with us in heaven.
We will see and know them all.
“Then the angel said to me:” Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9)
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)
Jack, sort out the passages that discuss who are the souls, the martyrs, those who would be slain in Revelation 6:9, the “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1, and then consider my previous thoughts and perhaps you can finally reach some conclusions which satisfy you.
Personally, I think that those Christians who are in heaven before the creation of the new earth and new heaven will know the status of their unsaved family and friends. After the completion of the New Heaven And Earth they will be remembered no more.
I hope this helps. Let me know what you think.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
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