In my book Heaven, I share how years ago, Nanci read me letters we’d never before seen translated, written in 1920 by her grandmother Anna Swanson to her family in Sweden. Anna suffered severe health problems. While she was in Montana, cared for by relatives, her husband, Edwin, was in Oregon, working and caring for their seven children day and night. (Anna and Edwin are with five of their children in the picture; two more were to come. Nanci's mother, Adele, is sitting on Edwin's lap.)
Anna’s letters tell how Edwin wore himself out, got sick, and died. Because Anna was too weak to care for her younger children, they, including Nanci’s mother, Adele, were given up for adoption. Anna’s letters reflect her broken heart, her nagging guilt . . . and her faith in God.
Nanci and I were overcome with tears as we read those letters. What tragic lives. What inconsolable disappointment and pain. Anna and Edwin loved Jesus. They once had great dreams for their lives and family. But poor health, misfortune, separation, and death forever stripped them of each other, their children, and their dreams.
Or did it?
As Nanci and I talked, we considered what God might choose to give this broken family on the New Earth. Perhaps they’ll go together to places they would have gone if health and finances had allowed. Certainly Anna won’t be plagued by illness, fatigue, grief, anxiety, and guilt. Isn’t it likely their gracious God, who delights in redemption and renewal and restoration, will give them wonderful family times they were robbed of on the old Earth? Perhaps the God of second chances won’t merely comfort Anna by removing her grief for what she lost. Perhaps He will in some way actually restore what she lost. Our God won’t just take away suffering; He’ll compensate by giving us greater delights than if there had been no suffering. He doesn’t merely wipe away tears; he replaces those tears with corresponding joys. Hence, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
I believe the New Earth will offer us opportunities we wished for but never had. God’s original plan was that human beings would live happy and fulfilling lives on Earth. If our current lives are our only chances at that, God’s plan has been thwarted. Consider the injustice—many honest, faithful people never got to live fulfilling lives, while some dishonest and unfaithful people seemed to fare much better.
But God is not unjust, and this is not our only chance at life on Earth. The doctrine of the New Earth clearly demonstrates that. Do we have further biblical support for this? I believe we do.
Luke the physician tells of a great number of people who came to Jesus “to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all” (Luke 6:18-19). Consider what was going through Christ’s mind as He dealt with these image-bearers plagued by sickness, poverty, and spiritual oppression. He knew the world was full of people whom he wouldn’t heal in this life. He also knew that the same people He healed would one day grow weak again and die, leaving their families wailing over their graves. What could Jesus say to such people? Luke tells us: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6:20-23).
Jesus tells the hungry they’ll be satisfied. Those whose eyes are swollen with tears will laugh. Those persecuted should leap for joy now. Why? Because of their great reward in Heaven later.
Where will Heaven be? In the parallel passage Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:3-5). Earth is the setting for God’s ultimate comfort, for His reversal of life’s injustices and tragedies. We will live on what we inherit—the earth. All the blessings Jesus promised will be ours in the place we will live—the New Earth.
That’s one reason I believe that on the New Earth Anna and Edwin Swanson and their children will be able to experience much of what they didn’t on the old Earth. God promises to make up for the heartbreaks of this earth.
I wanted to share this story again because Nanci’s sister, Donna Schneider, recently sent Nanci and their brother Ron this note:
You are familiar with the letters that our family has from the Swanson family. I happened to pull out one of these letters recently and noticed the date.
One hundred years ago, on March 3, 1920, my grandmother Anna Swanson wrote a letter to her family in Sweden giving them the sad news that her husband, Edwin, had died on February 25.
Since Anna was in ill health she was unable to care for her seven children, ages newborn to 12 years. Now she was faced with a decision about the care and future of her children.
Below is a quote from this letter that gives me a window into her life and her faith in God:
“Yes, the Lord’s ways are strange. It would almost tear the heart from my breast. If I didn’t have God to trust in I don’t know how it would go.”
Anna provided a wonderful legacy of faith.
Anna probably never dreamed that 100 years after she wrote that letter, her grandchildren (and her great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren) would be reading her words and be touched by her trust in God.
Both Nanci and I look forward to meeting Anna and Edwin and thanking them for their example of faith in Jesus. We also can’t wait to see how our faithful God has comforted them and how He will fulfill their dreams on the New Earth.