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Jan. 25, 2010

Is there an Awareness in Heaven of Events on Earth?

Note: Before reading this article, please read Rethinking Our Beliefs About Heaven, which lays the foundation for it.

Given the substantial evidence of Scripture to the contrary, the burden of proof is on those who argue people in heaven are unconcerned with and unaware of what is happening on earth. Does Scripture really teach this? Where?

Or is the belief that those in heaven are unaware of what happens on earth merely an assumption, one that over decades or centuries has been elevated by some into a doctrine, one not based on Scripture? I believe it is no more than a deduction based on a faulty premise, namely that for heaven to be happy, people in heaven can't know what's happening on earth. That argument is therefore worth taking a closer look at.

Argument: "It wouldn't be heaven if we knew of bad things happening on earth. We're promised there will be no more crying or pain in heaven."

Answers:

1. It's heaven for God and he knows exactly what's happening on earth.

2. It's heaven for the angels and they know what's happening on earth.

3. Angels in heaven see the torment of hell, but it does not minimize heaven (Rev. 14:10).

4. Abraham and Lazarus saw the rich man's agonies in hell, but it did not cause heaven to cease to be heaven (Luke 16:23-26). If one can see people in hell without ruining heaven, surely nothing he could see on earth could ruin it.

(Note: Luke 16 is in the intermediate state, before the end of the world and the resurrection. It does not therefore necessarily indicate those in the new heavens and earth can see into the eternal lake of fire. However, it suggests those currently in heaven may be able to see into hell, or at the very least be fully aware of its existence.)

5. There is a chasm that those in heaven and hell can't cross, but they can see what was happening in the other place (Luke 16:23-26). If this is true of heaven and hell, is the same true of heaven and earth? A chasm separating them and preventing direct intervention, yet an ability to see what's happening in the other world?

6. The promise of no more tears or crying is after the end of the world, after the Great White Throne judgment, after "the old order of things has passed away" and there is no more suffering on earth (Rev. 21:1-4). This passage is not a valid argument for tearlessness in the present heaven, but only in the new heaven and earth. This doesn't mean those presently in heaven must be unaware of what's happening on earth.

Certainly those in heaven are not frail beings whose joy can be maintained only by sheer ignorance of what is going on in the universe. In fact, even if our knowledge did produce some sadness in heaven (we don't know for sure it would), the old order hasn't yet passed away. Heaven is not in its final state. We should not begin by defining heaven as "no sorrow, no concern, no knowledge of suffering" and then dismiss any scriptural indications that undermine that assumption.

Christ grieved for people on earth (Mt. 23:37-39; John 11:33-36). Is he no longer capable of doing so because he is in heaven? Or does he still hurt for his people when they suffer? If he can hurt for them, could not we? It is one thing to no longer cry because there is nothing left to cry about. It is something else to no longer cry when there is ongoing suffering on earth.

Going into the presence of Christ surely does not make us less compassionate, but more. Hence, it is possible that even with the predominant joy presently in heaven, in light of the fact there is still so much evil and pain in the universe, there could be periodic expressions of sadness in heaven until the evil and pain is permanently gone.

7. Since God is continuously at work on earth, observing saints would have a great deal to praise him for, including people's spiritual transformations (Luke 15:7,10). If there is rejoicing in heaven about what happens on earth, aren't the redeemed allowed to participate in the rejoicing? How could they participate unless aware of the cause for celebration?

Conclusion: Happiness in heaven is based on being with Christ, gaining accurate perspective, and living in a sinless environment. It is not based on a fundamental ignorance of what is happening on earth or even in hell.

Problem: Isaiah 65:17 says in heaven "the former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind."

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 not choose 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 scared 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.

Related articles:

Eternal Rewards (Chart and overhead transparency reproductions)

Heaven: Future Home, Present Reference Point (a sermon on heaven by Randy Alcorn)

What does the Bible say about Heaven?

Rethinking our Beliefs about Heaven

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