My relative silence on this site the past couple of weeks really has been a consequence of having too many irons in the fire, and not a ploy to illicit comments from my readers on how much they’ve missed me. Still, I’ve been gratified to hear from readers saying that they have missed my writing, and to discover that I had a much larger readership than I originally thought. For that reason, I’m going to make a real effort this week to post every day so as not to let down any of my five readers.
Today’s question is whether or not Christians will be able to recognize one another in heaven.
To answer, I think it helps to understand what assumptions are behind the question. I don’t know exactly what the man who asked this question has in mind, but a common concern seems to be that Christians could not be happy in the afterlife if they are aware that one or more of their closest loved ones is not present. Some Christians, therefore, have devised a theory that we therefore could not recognize one another in heaven, for to do so would open the door to unhappiness in the land of eternal bliss. Others take the theory even further and suggest that in heaven we will have no memory at all of our earthly life, lest we find ourselves sad in the presence of the Lord.
The Bible, however, offers no evidence to support either of these theories. In fact, the evidence points in exactly the opposite direction.
First Corinthians 13:9-12, for example, says that “When the perfect comes….then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Assuming that “the perfect” in this case refers to the resurrection in eternal bodies at the return of Jesus, Paul seems here to be saying that the quality of our knowledge will in that day be akin to God’s own knowledge.
Such an interpretation of 1 Cor. 13 would bear no weight, of course, with Christians who believe that the passage refers not to the return of Jesus, but to the completion of the New Testament canon. Still, 1 John 3:2 indisputably is talking about Jesus’ return, and there the Apostle John writes that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him just as he is.”
Granted, that passage does not stipulate that we will necessarily be like God in knowledge–the context, in fact, suggests more purity of heart–but it does point to what I believe is a more biblical perspective of knowledge and resurrection life. That perspective is this. Who could doubt that God loves each one of us more than any human being could ever do? And, few Christians would doubt that God has total knowledge, even now, of who will and will not be saved. Yet who would be so presumptuous as to assume that God’s joy is ruined by his knowing that many of those he loves are not among the saved? If we bother to think about the issue, we can see that God’s greater knowledge is sufficient to prevent his eternal agony over those who are lost.
In like manner, then, the solution for Christians sustaining joy in the afterlife would seem to be found not in less knowledge but in more. Although I cannot irrefutably support this theory from Scripture, I am inclined to believe that in heaven we will understand God’s mercy and judgment in such a way that we will be as at peace with the divine judgment as is God himself.
At the same time, I think the assumptions behind the kind of question discussed here belie a profound lack of appreciation for the blessings of God’s presence. What are Christians really saying when we are more concerned with being around our earthly family members than worshiping forever in the holy presence of Almighty God?
I serve as sports writer for the Manchester Times and preacher and elder for the Church of Christ at Fredonia. The ideas expressed here, however, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of either the Times or the church.