THIS FROM TIM CHALLIES AND ADDRESSES A KEY QUESTION I ASK ALL THE TIME, EVEN AS I PRAY FOR MY LOVED ONES:
By Tim Challies:
Heaven is far too perfect, far too sinless, far too other
for us to imagine in our fallen minds. Our attempts to put brush to
canvas have led to depictions of cherubs on clouds, idyllic colors of
dawn, Christ as a blinding light, a faceless adoring throng. Some of
these attempts to capture heaven’s splendors are beautiful and even
captivating, yet we know they are also incomplete. They are, at best,
the barest reflection of what awaits. Our imaginations must always fall
short of heaven’s glorious perfections.
Revelation 21:4 assures us that in heaven God himself will wipe away
our tears, that there will be no death, no sorrow, no crying, and no
pain. There is a deeply comforting certainty in our future—a certainty
of joy, bliss, comfort, peace, love, and perfection. However, those of
us with non-believing family members and friends can find this certainty
an area of intense struggle. Why? Because we know that not everyone
will be there with us. Many we love today will have an eternal
experience of pain, torment, and separation. How could we ever enjoy
heaven if our loved ones are in hell? R.C. Sproul tackled this question at a Ligonier Ministries conference years ago and I appreciate his answer.
Sproul begins by recounting a humorous moment from his seminary days.
After attending an event in which a speaker unabashedly tore away at
Reformed doctrine, young Sproul, disturbed by what he heard, quipped to
his professor, “If John Calvin would have heard that sermon, he would
have turned over in his grave.” His professor gravely responded, “Young
man, don’t you know that nothing can disturb the felicity John Calvin is
experiencing right now?”
He reflected little on their interaction, but shortly after heard
that same professor’s answer to how a Christian can enjoy heaven knowing
of loved ones in hell: “You will be so sanctified that you will be able
to see your own mother in hell and rejoice knowing that God’s perfect
justice is being carried out.” Sproul’s knee-jerk reaction was to scoff,
even laugh, at the lunacy of such a statement.
At face value his professor’s answer felt wrong, insensitive even.
However, if we can be certain that our future in heaven is one of
undisturbed joy and that at the sight of God’s perfect justice our
hearts will cry in adoration, nothing, not even the just fate of the
unsaved friend or family member, will disturb our gladness.
Why, then, does our knee-jerk reaction match Sproul’s on this side of eternity? Sproul provides three answers:
We do not know God. That is, we do not really know
God. We do not know him as he actually is. We especially don’t know him
as the God who is holy, holy, holy. In fact, we are often even offended
by his holiness, as if it is an ignoble or capricious trait. We cannot
imagine how we could be content in heaven while loved ones are in hell
because our knowledge of God is too small.
We do not know ourselves. We do not know God as we ought but
we also don’t know ourselves as we ought. Try as we might, we remain
oblivious to how truly heinous our sin is, how truly filthy we are in
the sight of God, and how incredible our salvation is. It is so human
for us to sin that we may even feel as if God is somehow obligated to
forgive us. We need better self-knowledge—the kind God gives by his
Spirit through his Word. We cannot imagine how we could be content in
heaven while loved ones are in hell because we do not know ourselves as
well as we ought.
We do not know what glorification means. The last link of
the Golden Chain of Romans 8:28-30 is glorification. Though we tend to
focus most on predestination and justification, they are simply the
means to that great end of glorification. We ought to long for the day
when we are glorified, when we and everything else is purified of all
traces of sin. Heaven is so much more than the absence of death and
deterioration—it is also the absence of sin.
Can you imagine a place
where there is no sin? Do you look forward to a place of no sin? That is
our hope! We cannot imagine how we could be content in heaven while
loved ones are in hell because we think too little of the beauty
Until we are glorified, our sympathies will rest more easily with
human beings we love than with God—his glory and perfect justice. But as Sproul
explains in his talk,
“once sin is removed from my life… and I love the Lord my God with all
of my heart and all of my soul in undiluted perfection, my compassion,
my love, my concern will be much more for the vindication of God’s
holiness than for a corrupt fallen kinsmen of mine.”
And so we pray for
the lost, we share the gospel with them, we plead for their souls. And
all the while we trust in the God who is good and who does only what