My Father Recently Passed Away. He Was a Christian and I Know He's with the Lord, but Can You Tell Me If He Can See or Hear Me from Heaven?
[Note: Some of this response is adapted from Heaven, Tyndale House, 2004]
What an encouragement to know your father’s at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), which is “better by far” (Philippians 1:21). Theologians call the place Christians go when we die the “intermediate Heaven.” (I capitalize Heaven for the same reason we capitalize Chicago or Saturn—it’s a real place.) This current Heaven is distinguished from the New Earth, where we’ll live forever with Christ as resurrected beings (Revelation 21:1-4).
We learn a great deal about the intermediate Heaven from Revelation 6:9-11: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.”
This passage demonstrates that those in Heaven aren’t different people, but the same people relocated. There’s continuity of identity from this life to the next. Your father is now one of the “righteous men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23).
Notice that the martyrs are aware of what’s happening on earth when they ask God, “How long . . . until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” They know that those who killed them haven’t yet been judged.
The martyrs remember their lives on Earth, even that they were murdered. Some say people in Heaven can’t remember or see life on earth because knowing of evil would diminish Heaven’s happiness. But that’s not true. The key to Heaven’s joy isn’t ignorance, but perspective.
An angel points to events on Earth and says, “Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you” (Revelation 18:20). That the angel addresses people living in Heaven indicates they’re aware of what’s happening on Earth. Likewise, there is “the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: Hallelujah!” and praising God for specific events on Earth (Revelation 19:1-5).
When Samuel appeared to Saul, he remembered what Saul had done before Samuel died, and was aware of what had happened since he died (1 Samuel 28:16-19). When called from Heaven to the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah “appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). They seemed fully aware of what was transpiring on Earth, and what God was about to do.
Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” creating the picture of Greek competitions, watched by throngs of engrossed fans sitting high in the ancient stadiums. The saints who’ve gone before us are called a “great cloud of witnesses.” The imagery suggests that those saints, veteran spiritual athletes, are watching us and cheering us on from the great stadium of Heaven that looks down on Earth. (The witnesses are said to “surround” us, not just to have preceded us.)
Earth is center stage, awaiting the universe’s climactic event: Christ’s return. In Heaven, Christ watches closely what transpires on Earth, especially in the lives of believers (Revelation 2Ð3). If God’s attention is on Earth, why wouldn’t the attention of his loyal subjects be here too?
Abraham and Lazarus even saw the rich man in Hell (Luke 16:23-26). Wouldn’t it be surprising if they couldn’t see people on Earth? Angels know what is happening on Earth (1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Timothy 5:21). If angels, why not saints? Heaven’s inhabitants have great vested interests in what’s happening on Earth to those who are also part of Christ’s body and bride.
Christ referred to “rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7). Similarly, he said, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). It doesn’t speak of rejoicing by the angels but in the presence of angels. Surely this includes saints in Heaven, who would deeply appreciate human conversions, especially of those they knew and loved on Earth. To rejoice over conversions on Earth, they must be aware of what is happening on Earth—not just generally, but specifically.
So, I believe Scripture clearly suggests that your father, who’s now in Heaven, is witnessing God’s unfolding plan on earth. If you’re following Christ, no doubt your father is rejoicing. He’s looking forward to your great reunion. In fact, when you enter Heaven, I think he’ll be among those right there with Jesus to give you a “rich welcome” (2 Peter 1:11).