Do you think it is biblical to talk to or pray to loved ones who have gone on to Heaven?

Question from a reader:

My daughter, Emma, died of cancer a couple of weeks ago. In light of the fact that we are ‘surrounded’ by the saints who have gone before us, who are cheering us on, I find I’m tempted to ‘talk’ to her. I don’t talk to her, because I know I need to pray to God in Jesus’ name.
But on two different occasions I have spoken to people, non-believers, who have said that they pray to Emma. I can almost understand why they do, in light of the Scriptures about how they are at least partly aware of what is happening here.
She has touched many people in our community and around the world even, (because of the internet) many non-believers included, and I just wonder how to deal with this. I’m sure it will come up over and over.

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

There’s a difference between talking to someone and praying to them, and if we keep that clear, I think that’s the key. 

When Catholics pray to Mary and the saints, they are calling on them as intermediaries, and to intervene and exercise power in this world. There is no biblical basis for this, and 1 Tim. 2:5 says Christ is the only mediator.

But suppose someone says, “In case you can hear me, Mom and Dad (in my case) or Emma (in your case) I just want to say I love you and I’m looking forward to hugging you again and talking and having you show me some special places there.” That’s talking to someone, but it’s not calling upon them to do something, or exercise power or talk back. Seeking to hear from the spirits of the departed is forbidden as occultish (Deut.18:9-14), but that’s very different than doing what I just described.

Personally, I’m more comfortable praying to Jesus or the Father (there are biblical examples of praying to each, though the Father more often) and saying, “Would you please give my mom a hug, and tell her it’s from me?” Now I think my mom sometimes sees what’s going on here and might hear this when I say it, but I KNOW God hears it, and therefore it’s a sure thing. Does that make sense?

I could see how a person speaking to their departed loved one could become unhealthy or obsessive, but that’s not going to happen when we’re talking to God about them, because He invites us to come to Him with what’s on our minds and hearts. Obviously Emma is on your mind and heart, and I’m certain God would honor your requests.

So, you (and the other people you spoke of) would not be praying TO Emma or FOR Emma (she needs no prayer now), but to God ABOUT Emma, and your feelings, and your desire to convey something to her. I think that is proper and beautiful.

When I gave away in marriage both my daughters to young men I said that I believed their two grandmothers were watching from Heaven. And since Nanci’s mom was blind, she was seeing the wedding in a way she couldn’t have even a few months earlier. I firmly believe this is true, but even if I was wrong on that point (not knowing when God allows people to see events on earth and when he doesn’t), I would not be wrong in praying “Please tell Mom her precious grand-daughters love you with all their heart and married young men that do too. That will mean so much to her.” My guess is she knows all that from watching, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, and God is gracious and understanding of our thoughts and feelings and love for the special people He has put in our lives.

For more information on the subject of Heaven, see Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven.

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries

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