It’s common to hear people say, “We don’t understand now, but in Heaven we’ll know everything.” One writer says that people in Heaven can “easily comprehend divine mysteries.”i Is this true? Will we really know everything in Heaven?
God alone is omniscient. When we die, we’ll see things far more clearly, and we’ll know much more than we do now, but we’ll never know everything.
The apostle Paul wrote: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, emphasis added). The italicized words are based on two different Greek words: ginosko and epiginosko. The prefix epi intensifies the word to mean “to really know” or “to know extensively.” However, when the word is used of humans, it never means absolute knowledge.
In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem says, “1 Cor. 13:12 does not say that we will be omniscient or know everything (Paul could have said we will know all things, ta panta, if he had wished to do so), but, rightly translated, simply says that we will know in a fuller or more intensive way, ‘even as we have been known,’ that is, without any error or misconceptions in our knowledge.”ii
The New Living Translation reads, “Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror.” Mirrors in Paul’s time had serious flaws. Corinth was famous for its bronze mirrors, but the color was off and shapes were distorted. The mirror’s image lacked the quality of seeing someone face-to-face. Knowing and seeing were nearly synonyms in Greek thought.iii The more you saw, the more you knew.
One day we’ll see God’s face and therefore truly know him (Revelation 22:4). Under the Curse we see myopically. When we’re resurrected, our vision will be corrected. We’ll at last be able to see eternal realities once invisible to us (2 Corinthians 4:18).
God sees clearly and comprehensively. In Heaven we’ll see far more clearly, but we’ll never see comprehensively. The point of comparing our knowing to God’s knowing is that we’ll know “fully” in the sense of accurately but not exhaustively.
In Heaven we’ll be flawless, but not knowing everything isn’t a flaw. It’s part of being finite. Righteous angels don’t know everything, and they long to know more (1 Peter 1:12). They’re flawless but finite. We should expect to long for greater knowledge, as angels do. And we’ll spend eternity gaining the greater knowledge we’ll seek.
I heard a pastor say, “There will be no more learning in Heaven.” One writer says that in Heaven, “Activities such as investigation, comprehending and probing will never be necessary. Our understanding will be complete.”iv In a Gallup poll of people’s perspectives about Heaven, only 18 percent thought people would grow intellectually in Heaven.v
Does Scripture indicate that we will learn in Heaven? Yes. Consider Ephesians 2:6-7: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace.” The word show means “to reveal.” The phrase in the coming ages clearly indicates this will be a progressive, ongoing revelation, in which we learn more and more about God’s grace.
I frequently learn new things about my wife, daughters, and closest friends, even though I’ve known them for many years. If I can always be learning something new about finite, limited human beings, surely I’ll learn far more about Jesus. None of us will ever begin to exhaust his depths.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Learn from me” (Matthew 11:29). On the New Earth, we’ll have the privilege of sitting at Jesus’ feet as Mary did, walking with him over the countryside as his disciples did, always learning from him. In Heaven we’ll continually learn new things about God, going ever deeper in our understanding.
Consider again those Greek words ginosko and epiginosko, translated “know” in 1 Corinthians 13:12, used of our present knowledge on Earth and our future knowledge in Heaven. Ginosko often means “to come to know,” and therefore “to learn” (Matthew 10:26; John 12:9; Acts 17:19; Philippians 2:19). Epiginosko also means “to learn” (Luke 7:37; 23:7; Acts 9:30; 22:29).vi That we will one day “know fully” could well be understood as “we will always keep on learning.”
It was God—not Satan—who made us learners. God doesn’t want us to stop learning. What he wants to stop is what prevents us from learning.
Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, who intensely studied Heaven, believed “the saints will be progressive in knowledge to all eternity.”vii He added, “The number of ideas of the saints shall increase to eternity.”viii
Will our knowledge and skills vary? Will some people in Heaven have greater knowledge and specialized abilities than others? Why not? Scripture never teaches sameness in Heaven. We will be individuals, each with our own memories and God-given gifts. Some of our knowledge will overlap, but not all. I’m not a mechanic or gardener, as you may be. I may or may not learn those skills on the New Earth. But even if I do, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be as skilled a gardener or mechanic as you will be. After all, you had a head start on learning. Remember the doctrine of continuity: What we learn here carries over after death.
Don’t you love to discover something new? On the New Earth, some of our greatest discoveries may relate to the lives we’re living right now. Columnist and commentator Paul Harvey made a career of telling “the rest of the story.” That’s exactly what we’ll discover in Heaven again and again—the rest of the story. We’ll be stunned to learn how God orchestrated the events of our lives to influence people we may have forgotten about.
Occasionally we hear stories that provide us a small taste of what we’ll learn in eternity. One morning after I spoke at a church, a young woman came up to me and asked, “Do you remember a young man sitting next to you on a plane headed to college? You gave him your novel Deadline.” I give away a lot of my books on planes, but after some prompting, I remembered him. He was an unbeliever. We talked about Jesus, and I gave him the book and prayed for him as we got off the plane.
I was amazed when the young woman said to me, “He told me he never contacted you, so you wouldn’t know what happened. He got to college, checked into the dorm, sat down, and read your book. When he was done, he confessed his sins and gave his life to Jesus. And I can honestly tell you, he’s the most dynamic Christian I’ve ever met.”
All I did was talk a little, give him a book, and pray for him. But if the young woman hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have had a clue what had happened. That story reminded me how many great stories await us in Heaven and how many we may not hear until we’ve been there a long time. We won’t ever know everything, and even what we will know, we won’t know all at once. We’ll be learners, forever. Few things excite me more than that.
The first humans lived in process, as God ordained them to. Adam knew more a week after he was created than he did on his first day.
Nothing is wrong with process and the limitations it implies. Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52). Jesus “learned obedience” (Hebrews 5:8). Growing and learning cannot be bad; the sinless Son of God experienced them. They are simply part of being human.
Unless we cease to be human after our resurrection, we will go on growing and learning. If anything, sin makes us less human. When the parasite of sin is removed, full humanity will be restored—and improved.
The sense of wonder among Heaven’s inhabitants shows Heaven is not stagnant but fresh and stimulating, suggesting an ever-deepening appreciation of God’s greatness (Revelation 4-6). Heaven’s riches are rooted in Heaven’s God. We will find in Heaven a continual progression of stimulating discovery and fresh learning as we keep grasping more of God.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare called what lies beyond death “the undiscover’d country.”ix It’s a country we yearn to discover—and by Christ’s grace, we will. Jonathan Edwards—as fine a theological mind as the world has ever known—defended and developed this thought, which he considered critical. He wrote, “How soon do earthly lovers come to an end of their discoveries of each other’s beauty; how soon do they see all there is to be seen! But in Heaven there is eternal progress with new beauties always being discovered.”x He continued, “Happiness of heaven is progressive and has various periods in which it has a new and glorious advancement and consists very much in beholding the manifestations that God makes of himself in the work of redemption.”xi Edwards contended that we will continually become happier in Heaven in “a never-ending, ever-increasing discovery of more and more of God’s glory with greater and greater joy in him.”xii He said there will never be a time when there is “no more glory for the redeemed to discover and enjoy.”xiii There won’t ever “come a time when the union between God and the church is complete” because we will always be learning something new about our Bridegroom.xiv
We can anticipate an eternity of growing in Christlikeness as we behold God’s face and are continuously “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We can begin this joyful process here and now, and there’s every indication it will continue forever.
After creating the new universe, Jesus says, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5). Notice the verb tense is not “I have made” or “I will make” but “I am making.” This suggests an ongoing process of renovation. Christ is a creator, and his creativity is never exhausted. He will go right on making new things. Heaven is not the end of innovation; it is a new beginning, an eternal break from the stagnancy and inertia of sin.
Could God impart knowledge so we immediately know things when we get to Heaven? Certainly. Adam and Eve didn’t go to school. They were created, it appears, with an initial vocabulary. But Adam and Eve are the exceptions. Every other person has learned by experience and study, over time. And Adam and Eve were learners the rest of their lives. Nothing ever came automatically again.
When we enter Heaven, we’ll presumably begin with the knowledge we had at the time of our death. God may enhance our knowledge and will correct countless wrong perceptions. I imagine he’ll reveal many new things to us, then set us on a course of continual learning, paralleling Adam and Eve’s. Once we’re in resurrection bodies with resurrected brains, our capacity to learn may increase. Perhaps angel guardians or loved ones already in Heaven will be assigned to tutor and orient us.
We will also study. Martin Luther said, “If God had all the answers in his right hand, and the struggle to reach those answers in his left, I would choose God’s left hand.” Why? Because it’s not only truth we want, it’s also the pleasure of learning the truth. God reveals himself to us in the process of our learning, often in bite-sized chunks, fit for our finite minds. The great preacher Donald Gray Barnhouse once said that if he was told he had three years left on Earth, he would spend two years studying and one preaching. Expressing a similar desire, Billy Graham said that if he had his life to do over again, he would study more and preach less.
Will we study doctrine in Heaven? Doctrine is truth, which is an extension of God’s nature, and therefore also cannot be exhausted. We will have eternity to explore it. Truth will be living and vital, never dry and dusty. We will dialogue about truth not to impress each other but to enrich each other and ourselves as we discover more and more about God.
To study creation is to study the Creator. Science should be worshipful discovery because the heavens and all creation declare God’s glory. God reveals his character in flowers, waterfalls, animals, and planets. God’s name is written large in nature, in his beauty organization, skill, precision, and attention to detail. He’s the Master Artist. On the New Earth everything will be a lens through which we see him. Biology, zoology, chemistry, astronomy, physics—all will be the study of God.
Will we discover new ideas? I believe we will. Jesus, the God-man, was sometimes “astonished” at what he saw on this earth (Matthew 8:10). If there was ever a man incapable of surprise, wouldn’t we have expected it to be the “one who came from heaven” (John 3:13)? But if Jesus could be astonished on this old Earth, surely we will often be astonished at what we see in God, people, and creation on the New Earth.
There’s so much to discover in this universe, but we have so little time and opportunity to do it. The list of books I haven’t read, music I’ve never heard, and places I haven’t been is unending. There’s much more to know. I look forward to discovering new things in Heaven—forever. At the end of each day I’ll have the same amount of time left as I did the day before. The things I didn’t learn that day, the people I didn’t see, the things I was unable to do—I can still learn, see, or do the next day. Places won’t crumble, people won’t die, and neither will I.
I heard someone say, “There won’t be any teaching in Heaven. There won’t be any need.” But that assumes we will be omniscient and that we won’t learn, which contradicts both Scripture and the way God made us. I’ve benefited greatly from the stimulation of college and seminary courses I’ve attended and taught.
Discussions among thoughtful students and teachers can be exhilarating. I see God in the insights other people share with me. Learning is exciting. Education on this fallen Earth may sometimes be bland and can even undermine truth, but in Heaven all education will be a platform to display God’s fascinating truth, drawing us closer to him.
Consider how exciting intellectual development will be. Father Boudreau wrote, “The life of Heaven is one of intellectual pleasure.... There the intellect of man receives a supernatural light.... It is purified, strengthened, enlarged, and enabled to see God as He is in His very essence. It is enabled to contemplate, face to face, Him who is the first essential Truth. It gazes undazzled upon the first infinite beauty, wisdom, and goodness, from whom flow all limited wisdom, beauty, and goodness found in creatures. Who can fathom the exquisite pleasures of the human intellect when it thus sees all truth as it is in itself!”xv
If seeing truth “as it is in itself” is that exciting for those of us who’ve had some education here on Earth, imagine what it will be like for those who never had the benefits of literacy and education.
Think of what it will be like to discuss science with Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and Thomas Edison or to discuss mathematics with Pascal. Imagine long talks with Malcolm Muggeridge or Francis Schaeffer. Think of reading and discussing the writings of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, G. K. Chesterton, or Dorothy Sayers with the authors themselves. How would you like to talk about the power of fiction at a roundtable with John Milton, Daniel Defoe, Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Flannery O’Connor?
How about discussing God’s attributes with Stephen Charnock, A. W. Pink, A. W. Tozer, and J. I. Packer? Or talking theology with Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther? Then, when differences arise, why not invite Jesus in to clear things up?
Imagine discussing the sermons of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, and Charles Spurgeon with the preachers themselves. Or sitting down to hear insights on family and prayer from Susanna Wesley. Or talking about faith with George Mueller or Bill Bright, then listening to their stories. You could cover the Civil War era with Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Or the history of missions with William Carey, Amy Carmichael, Lottie Moon, or Hudson and Maria Taylor. You could discuss ministry ideas with Brother Andrew, George Verwer, Luis Palau, Billy Graham, Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Colson, or Elisabeth Elliot.
We’ll contemplate God’s person and works, talking long over dinner and tea, on walks and in living rooms, by rivers and fires. Intellectual curiosity isn’t part of the Curse—it is God’s blessing on his image-bearers. He made us with fertile, curious minds so that we might seek truth and find him, our greatest source of pleasure. In Heaven our intellectual curiosity will surely surface—and be satisfied—only to surface and be satisfied again and again.
In 1546, Philip Melanchthon gave a memorial address about his departed friend Martin Luther. In it Melanchthon envisioned Luther in Heaven, fellowshiping with predecessors in the faith: “We remember the great delight with which he recounted the course, the counsels, the perils and escapes of the prophets, and the learning with which he discoursed on all the ages of the Church, thereby showing that he was inflamed by no ordinary passion for these wonderful men. Now he embraces them and rejoices to hear them speak and to speak to them in turn. Now they hail him gladly as a companion, and thank God with him for having gathered and preserved the Church.”xvi
We know that sixty-six books, those that comprise the Bible, will be in Heaven—”Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Presumably, we will read, study, contemplate, and discuss God’s Word.
There are also other books in Heaven: “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Revelation 20:12).
What are these books? They appear to contain documentation of everything ever done by anyone on earth. To say the least, they must be extensive.
While some people take these books figuratively, to represent God’s omniscience, we should not assume these aren’t real books. It would have been easy to tell us “the all-knowing God judged everyone.”
The other book is the Book of Life, in which the names of God’s people are written. John mentions it throughout the book of Revelation (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). It’s mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures as well (Exodus 32:32-33; Daniel 12:1). It’s also referred to in later literature, such as the book of Jubilees and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The apostle Paul refers to it in Philippians 4:3.
Other passages describe a scroll in Heaven. Jesus opens a great scroll (Revelation 5:1, 5), and an angel holds a little scroll (Revelation 10:2). The psalm writer David said, “Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8). He asked that his tears be kept in Heaven’s permanent record.
Malachi 3:16-18 is a remarkable passage that tells us God documents the faithful deeds of his children on Earth: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. ‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.’ “
God is proud of his people for fearing him and honoring his name, and he promises that all will see the differences between those who serve him and those who don’t. Those distinctions are preserved in this scroll in Heaven.
The king often had scribes record the deeds of his subjects so that he could remember and properly reward his subjects’ good deeds (Esther 6:1-11). While God needs no reminder, he makes a permanent record so that the entire universe will one day know his justification for rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked.
There’s no hint that God will destroy any or all of the books and scrolls presently in Heaven. It’s likely that these records of the faithful works of God’s people on Earth will be periodically read throughout the ages.
The books contain detailed historical records of all of our lives on this earth. Each of us is part of these records. Obscure events, words heard by only a handful of people will be known. Your acts of faithfulness and kindness that no one else knows are well-known by God. He is documenting them in his books. He will reward you for them in Heaven.
How many times have we done small acts of kindness on Earth without realizing the effects? How many times have we shared Christ with people we thought didn’t take it to heart but who years later came to Jesus partly because of the seeds we planted? How many times have we spoken up for unborn children and seen no result, but as a result someone chose not to have an abortion and saved a child’s life? How many dishes have been washed and diapers changed and crying children sung to in the middle of the night, when we couldn’t see the impact of the love we showed? And how many times have we seen no response, but God was still pleased by our efforts?
God is watching. He is keeping track. In Heaven he’ll reward us for our acts of faithfulness to him, right down to every cup of cold water we’ve given to the needy in his name (Mark 9:41). And he’s making a permanent record in Heaven’s books.
I believe that on the New Earth, we’ll also read books, new and old, written by people. Because we’ll have strong intellects, great curiosity, and unlimited time, it’s likely that books will have a greater role in our lives in Heaven than they do now. The libraries of the New Earth, I imagine, will be fantastic.
We’ll have no lack of resources to study and understand. I once helped a young friend search for her biological mother, going through old court records, looking for just the right clue. We finally found it. I had the privilege of introducing them to each other. It was a taste of Heaven—where not all reunions will happen all at once, I imagine, but as eternity unfolds.
Will we search for information and do research on the New Earth? Why not?
Unlike the histories we read on Earth, Heaven’s books will be objective and accurate. No exaggeration or overstatement, no spinning to make certain people look better and others worse. We will be able to handle the failings of our ancestors, just as they’ll have the right perspective on ours.
Every biblical genealogy is a testimony to God’s interest in history, heritage, and the unfolding of events on Earth. Will God lose interest in Earth? Will we? No. The New Earth’s history includes that of the old Earth. But a new history will be built and recorded, a new civilization, wondrous beyond imagination. And we who know the King will all be part of it.
Books are part of culture. I expect many new books, great books, will be written on the New Earth. But I also believe that some books will endure from the old Earth. Any book that contains falsehood and dishonors God will have no place in Heaven. But what about great books, nonfiction and fiction? Will we find A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, J. I. Packer’s Knowing God, John Piper’s Desiring God, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim's Progress, and Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps on the New Earth? I’ll be amazed if we don’t find them there, just as I’ll be amazed if no one sings John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” in Heaven.
Perhaps those of us who are writers will go back to some of our published works and rewrite them in light of the perspective we’ll gain. Maybe we’ll look at our other books and realize they’re no longer important—and some of them never were. The New Earth, I think, will confirm many things I’ve written in this book. It will completely dismantle others. “What was I thinking?” I’ll ask myself. (If I knew which parts those were right now, I’d cut them out!) And I’ll marvel at how much better the New Earth is than I ever imagined.
On the New Earth, will you see once more the letter of encouragement you wrote to your teenage son? Or the letter you wrote sharing Christ with your father? Or the life-changing words you jotted on a student’s paper? Many such things written in this life may prove more important than books.
Some old books may be republished in the New Jerusalem. Or if God desires, he could preserve the original or printed copies from this earth. I wonder if John Wycliffe himself will hold again his Bible manuscripts. Will Harriet Beecher Stowe see again her pages of Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Will Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings endure the fire? Will we read again a version of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity or The Chronicles of Narnia?
Will God preserve some books from our present lives? Will they be kept on the New Earth in museums and libraries? Will the God who resurrects people and animals and stars and rivers and trees also resurrect certain personal possessions, including books, which are first burned, then restored? C. S. Lewis portrayed it this way:
My friend said, “I don’t see why there shouldn’t be books in Heaven. But you will find that your library in Heaven contains only some of the books you had on earth.” “Which?” I asked. “The ones you gave away or lent.” “I hope the lent ones won’t still have all the borrowers’ dirty thumb marks,” said I. “Oh yes they will,” said he. “But just as the wounds of the martyrs will have turned into beauties, so you will find that the thumb-marks have turned into beautiful illuminated capitals or exquisite marginal woodcuts.”xvii
God regularly reminds his people of his past acts of faithfulness: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). History, when viewed accurately, teaches us about God and about ourselves. It’s the record of our failure to rule the earth righteously, the record of God’s sovereign and gracious redemption of us and our planet.
The angels will be able to recount the creation of the original universe (Job 38:1-7). But we’ll have an even greater story to tell—the creation of the new universe (Revelation 21:1-4).
When we gather at meals and other times, we’ll tell stories of past battles. We’ll recite God’s acts of grace in our lives. (Are we practicing this now?) Some of those acts of grace we didn’t understand at the time; some we resented. But we’ll see then with an eternal perspective.
Just as we’re now captivated by a person’s story of heroism or rescue from danger, we’ll be enthralled by the stories we’ll share in Heaven. I want to hear Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Nate Saint discuss their final day on the old Earth. I can’t wait to hear John Newton’s story and William Wilberforce’s and Mary Magdalene’s. Wouldn’t you love to hear from the angel who strengthened Christ in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43)? Imagine sitting around campfires on the New Earth, wide-eyed at the adventures recounted. Yes, I mean telling real stories around real campfires. Why not? After all, friendship, camaraderie, laughter, stories, and cozy campfires are all good gifts from God.
Consider the wonderful ending to John’s Gospel: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). The Gospels contain wonderful stories, but they record only a small fraction of what Jesus did. And that was only during the brief span of his life on the old Earth. How much more will there be to tell about his never-ending life with his people on the New Earth? We can look forward to endless adventures, encounters, profound sayings, and delightful experiences with Jesus. When he tells a story, we’ll all be on the edge of our seats. On the New Earth, our resurrected eyes and ears will see and hear God’s glory as never before, and our resurrected hearts will be moved to see his beauty everywhere. We will live in a land of fascinating observations, captivating insights, wondrous adventures, and spellbinding stories.
The greatest novels, plays, and movies are stories of redemption. Think of Les Miserables or The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They draw their shape and power from the ultimate redemption story. The greatest story ever told—and it will be told and retold from thousands of different viewpoints, emphasizing different details—will be permanently engraved in the hands and feet of Jesus. That story, above all, will be in our hearts and on our tongues.
God is an inventor and the director of the unfolding drama of redemption. He created the universe, then wrote, directed, and took the leading role in history’s greatest story. We who have lived our own dramas and participated in God’s, we whose lives were enriched through drama, should recognize its value in the new universe. The quality of drama will likely be vastly improved. Imagine how new minds and bodies on the New Earth will stir us to worship, dialogue, action, and creativity.
Will we use the arts—including drama, painting, sculpture, music, and much more—to praise God? Will they provide enjoyment and entertainment for resurrected people? C. S. Lewis said, “When you painted on earth... it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape.”xviii Ultimately, the new earthly landscape will be Heaven’s landscape. But that won’t eliminate art, which is a God-given gift to his image-bearers. Art will rise to ever-higher levels in the new universe.
Will we see movies in Heaven? Many current movies celebrate sin and therefore won’t have a place there. But good movies, like good books, tell powerful stories. Movies on the New Earth might depict sin, as the Bible does, showing it to be wrong. But for any portrayal of sin, there would be a greater emphasis on God’s redemptive work.
Professor Arthur Roberts writes of drama and the arts in Heaven: “Some people may find it difficult to envision drama or literature without plots involving villainy, deceit, violence, or adultery.... Such fears are understandable, because it is difficult to see beyond the horizon of our experience. These questions reflect an inadequate vision of resurrected life.... Do our aesthetic adventures depend upon sin for flavor? I think not. In heaven, as on earth, effective drama portrays a triumph of good over evil. I daresay the vastness and the openness of the renewed cosmos offers adventures adequate for epic tales, just at it provides raw material for the visual arts, for painting, for sculpture, for architecture.”xix
Rather than forget about our lives on the old Earth, I think we’ll depict them in drama and literature with perspective and gratitude to God. Will people really write new books on the New Earth? Why not? Reading and writing aren’t the result of sin; they’re the result of God’s making us his image-bearers. Unless we believe the present Earth will be greater than the New Earth, then surely the greatest books, dramas, and poetry are yet to be written. Authors will have new insights, information, and perspectives. I look forward to reading nonfiction books that depict the character of God and the wonders of his universe. I’m eager to read new biographies and fiction that tell powerful redemptive stories, moving our hearts to worship God.
We’ll be resurrected people with minds, hands, and eyes. As we’ve seen, there will be books and buildings in Heaven. Put enough books in a building, and you have a library. Imagine great rows of books, hundreds of thousands, millions of them. Imagine oak desks and ladders reaching to great shelves heavy with books. (If you like the sound of that, you may spend a lot of time in such a library or serve the King by helping others find the right books.) Will you be one who writes new books? Perhaps.
I want to be part of a group that explores the vast reaches of the new cosmos. When my fellow explorers and I return home to Earth, the capital planet, and enter the gates of the capital city, we’ll gather for food and drinks, and catch up on our stories. I’ll listen to your stories; maybe you’ll listen to mine. Perhaps I’ll write about great planets of star systems far away. I’ll tell how my explorations deepened my love for Jesus. And you’ll play or sing for me the music of praise you composed while I was gone. I’ll marvel at its beauty, and I’ll see Jesus in it and in you. Maybe I’ll write a book about the Omega galaxy, while you’ll write one about the music of the heart. We’ll exchange manuscripts, stimulate new insights, and draw each other closer to God.
“If you’re not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.” It wasn’t Mark Twain who said that. It was Martin Luther.
Where did humor originate? Not with people, angels, or Satan. God created all good things, including good humor. If God didn’t have a sense of humor, we as his image-bearers wouldn’t. That he has a sense of humor is evident in his creation. Consider aardvarks and baboons. Take a good look at a giraffe. You have to smile, don’t you?
When laughter is prompted by what’s appropriate, God always takes pleasure in it. I think Christ will laugh with us, and his wit and fun-loving nature will be our greatest source of endless laughter.
There’s nothing like the laughter of dear friends. The Bible often portrays us around the dinner table in God’s coming Kingdom. What sound do you hear when friends gather to eat and talk? The sound of laughter. My wife, Nanci, loves football. She opens our home to family and friends for Monday night football. If you came to our house, you’d hear cheers and groans, but the dominant sound in the room, week after week, is laughter. God made us to laugh and to love to laugh. It’s therapeutic. The new universe will ring with laughter.
Am I just speculating about laughter? No. I can point to Scripture passages worth memorizing. For example, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21). You will laugh.
When will we be satisfied? In Heaven. When will we laugh? In Heaven. Can we be certain of that? Yes. Jesus tells us precisely when this promise will be fulfilled: “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6:23).
Just as Jesus promises satisfaction as a reward in Heaven, he also promises laughter as a reward. Anticipating the laughter to come, Jesus says we should “leap for joy” now. Can you imagine someone leaping with joy in utter silence, without laughter? Take any group of rejoicing people, and what do you hear? Laughter. There may be hugging, backslapping, playful wrestling, singing, and storytelling. But always there is laughter. It is God’s gift to humanity, a gift that will be raised to new levels after our bodily resurrection.
The reward of those who mourn now will be laughter later. Passages such as Luke 6 gave the early Christians strength to endure persecution in “an understanding of heaven as the compensation for lost earthly privileges.”xx In early Christian Greek tradition, Easter Monday was a “day of joy and laughter,” called Bright Monday.xxi Only the followers of Christ can laugh in the face of persecution and death because they know that their present trouble isn’t all there is. They know that someday all will be right and joyful.
By God’s grace, we can laugh on Earth now, even under death’s shadow. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you weep, soon things on Earth will take a better turn, and then you’ll laugh.” Things won’t always take a better turn on Earth. Sickness, loss, grief, and death will find us. Just as our reward will come in Heaven, laughter (itself one of our rewards) will come in Heaven, compensating for our present sorrow. God won’t only wipe away all our tears, he’ll fill our hearts with joy and our mouths with laughter.
The fact that we could wonder whether there’s laughter in Heaven shows how skewed our perspective is. C. S. Lewis said, “But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likeliest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.”xxii
Even those who are poor, diseased, or grieving may experience therapeutic laughter. People at memorial services often laugh, even in the face of death. And if we can laugh hard now—in a world full of poverty, disease, and disasters—then surely we will laugh more in Heaven.
The only laughter that won’t have a place in Heaven is the sort that late-night comedians often engage in—laughter that mocks troubled people, makes light of human suffering, or glorifies immorality. Jesus makes a sobering comment in Luke 6:25. He addresses not only Heaven but also Hell, saying, “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” When will those who laugh now mourn and weep? In the afterlife. All those who have not surrendered their lives to God, who have exploited and ignored the needy, who laugh at and ridicule the unfortunate, and who flout God’s standards of purity will have all eternity to mourn and weep. They will never laugh again.
One of Satan’s great lies is that God—and goodness—is joyless and humorless, while Satan—and evil—brings pleasure and satisfaction. In fact, it’s Satan who is humorless. Sin didn’t bring him joy; it forever stripped him of joy. In contrast, envision Jesus with his disciples. If you cannot picture him teasing them and laughing with them, you need to reevaluate your understanding of the Incarnation. We need a biblical theology of humor that prepares us for an eternity of celebration and spontaneous laughter.
C. S. Lewis depicts the laughter in Heaven when his characters attend the great reunion on the New Narnia: “And there was greeting and kissing and handshaking and old jokes revived (you’ve no idea how good an old joke sounds after you take it out again after a rest of five or six hundred years).”xxiii
Who is the most intelligent, creative, witty, and joyful human being in the universe? Jesus Christ. Whose laughter will be loudest and most contagious on the New Earth? Jesus Christ’s.
When we face difficulty and discouragement in this world, we must keep our eyes on the source of our joy. Remember, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21, emphasis added).
For more information on the subject of Heaven, see Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven.
iWalton J. Brown, Home at Last (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1983), 73.
iiWayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), endnote on 1162.
iiiGerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans. and ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-76), 1:692.
ivDave Hunt, Whatever Happened to Heaven? (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1988), 238.
vColleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), 307.
viKittel et al., Theological Dictionary, 1:703.
viiJonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Perry Miller, vol. 13, The Miscellanies, ed. Thomas A. Schafer (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994), 483.
viiiIbid., 275; I’m indebted to Andrew McClellan for several citations from his seminary paper “Jonathan Edwards’s View of Heaven,” August 15, 2003.
ixWilliam Shakespeare, Hamlet, act 3, scene 1, line 87.
xJonathan Edwards, quoted in John Gerstner, Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 24.
xiiJonathan Edwards, “The End for which God Created the World,” quoted in John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1998), 37.
xvJ. Boudreau, The Happiness of Heaven (Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books, 1984), 120-22.
xviPhilip Melanchthon, quoted in W. Robertson Nicoll, Reunion in Eternity (New York: George H. Doran, 1919), 117-18.
xviiC. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 216.
WHAT WILL OUR DAILY LIVES BE LIKE?
xviiiC. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Macmillan, 1946), 80.
xixArthur O. Roberts, Exploring Heaven (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), 63-64.
xxColleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), 47.
xxiJohn Gilmore, Probing Heaven (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 252.
xxiiC. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1963), 92-93.
xxiiiC. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Collier Books, 1956), 179.