Can people in Heaven still see things happening on earth?
Question from a reader:
You say in your book that people in Heaven can witness events happening on earth. But what about Isaiah 65:17, which says in heaven “the former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind”?
Answer from Randy Alcorn:
First, Isaiah 65:17 must be weighed against the dozens of other passages of Scripture previously cited in this article and the earlier one. If they clearly teach some things from earth will be remembered in the eternal state, then properly understood this verse does not contradict them.
Furthermore, whatever this verse means, it specifically comes after the New Heavens and New Earth, not before. Hence, it has no bearing at all on the question of whether saints presently in heaven can witness events happening on earth.
Isaiah 65:17 is linked to the previous verse: “For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from My eyes.” This does not suggest literal lack of memory, as if the omniscient God couldn’t recall the past. God knows everything. Rather, it is like God saying, “I will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34). It means he will choose not to call to mind or to hold against us our past sins.
In eternity, past sins will not plague us or God, nor interfere with God’s acceptance of us. Likewise, both God and we will be capable of choosing not to recall our past troubles and sorrows and sins in a way that would diminish the wonders of heaven. However, it seems likely that recalling the reality of such troubles and sorrows and sins would set a sharp contrast to the glories of heaven, as darkness does to light, as hell does to heaven. This contrast would be lost if the sense of what sorrow is was entirely forgotten. (If we ever forget we were desperate sinners, how could we appreciate the depth and meaning of Christ’s glorious work for us?) It is even possible that an awareness of the perfect justice of hell will enhance the depth of gratitude to God of those in heaven.
Even in the New Heavens and Earth there are memorials to the twelve tribes and the apostles (Rev. 21:12-14). Christ’s nail-scarred hands and feet in his eternal resurrection body (John 20:24-29) prove his suffering and redemption—and the fact it was necessitated by our sins—will not be forgotten! Hence, these passages clearly preclude the “we’ll remember nothing on earth” understanding of Isaiah 65:17.
Every believer’s crowns and rewards will continuously remind us of acts of faithfulness to God done in that window of opportunity on earth.
While God will wipe away the tears and sorrow attached to this world, the drama of God’s work in human history will not be erased from our minds. Heaven’s happiness will not be dependent on our ignorance of what really happened on earth. Rather, it will be greatly enhanced by our informed appreciation of God’s glorious grace and justice in what really happened on earth.
For more information on this subject, see Randy Alcorn's book Heaven.