Not a Pointless Evil

Throughout the Bible and church history, we see that God uses suffering to prepare and equip His servants for usefulness in His holy work. 2 Cor. 4:8-9 is the norm, not the exception, for those who would serve the Suffering Servant. Suffering is never a pointless evil, but a necessary tool the Lord uses to refine, mature, and prepare us for fruitful service in His kingdom.

As I’ve been reading through the biography of Hudson Taylor, I’ve been struck with how much this dear servant suffered in order to see the gospel advanced in China. The cumulative effect of physical danger, the death of his beloved wife and several children, horrific slander, perennially poor health, and constant pressures would have crushed many. And yet, he not only pressed on, but did so with joy.

What enabled this dear brother to endure? Much could be said, but consider Taylor’s counsel to one of his fellow-workers who was enduring a season of special trial:

Counsel for Suffering Saints
“The one thing we need is to know God better. Not in ourselves, nor in our prospects, not in heaven itself are we to rejoice, but in the Lord. If we know Him, then we rejoice in what He gives not because we like it, but because it is His gift, His ordering. Oh, to know Him! Well might Paul, who had caught a glimpse of His glory, count “all things” as dung and dross compared with the most precious knowledge! This makes the weak strong, the poor rich, the empty full; this makes suffering happiness, and turns tears into diamonds like the sunshine turns dew into pearls. This makes us fearless, invincible.

If we know God, then when full of joy we can thank our Heavenly Father, the Giver of all; when we feel no joy we can thank Him for that, for it is our Father’s ordering. When we are with those we love, we can thank Him; when we yearn for those we love, we can thank Him. The hunger that helps us to feel our need, the thirst that helps us to drink, we can thank Him for; for what are food or drink without appetite, or Christ to a self-contented, circumstance-oriented soul? Oh to know Him! How good, how great, how glorious—our God and Father, our God and Savior, our God and Sanctifier—to know Him!

Pray on and labor on. Don’t be afraid of the toil; don’t be afraid of the cross: they will pay well.”

Conclusion
Knowing and resting in God; that’s the key. Dear reader, look not to your circumstances for stability or satisfaction. Rather, lean on the love of the Father who works all things for the good of His children. Regardless of the trials we might be experiencing right now, let us, like Taylor, pray on and labor on that we might know Him more.

M. Colbert

Reflecting No Light

A team of scientists at Surrey NanoSystems has the distinction of having created the blackest black known to man. It is darker than soot, darker than coal, darker than night. Once an object has been coated in their patented Vantablack, it stops reflecting light so that all visible depth and texture are lost, and the object takes on the appearance of a void. Vantablack sets a world record by absorbing 99.96 percent of visible light.

I’ve met Christians who are kind of like that, who seem unable or unwilling to reflect the least divine light. They weep Jeremiah’s tears but never dance David’s dance, they recite Job’s lament but never join in Miriam’s praise. They prefer to cast shadows than to spread light. Yet this world is already plenty dark and has little need of even more gloom. Sorrow and despair it already has in abundance. So too bitterness, wrath, anger, and clamor. There is lots of sadness, but little cheer; plenty to weaken people’s knees, but little to strengthen them again; plenty to cause their hands to droop, but little to lift them up once more. The great need of our fellow Christians is not darkness, but light—light to cut through the gloom, light to brighten their eyes, light to illumine the way we all must go.

There are few who receive as much encouragement as discouragement, as much to raise them up as to beat them down. They need light! To them we can speak words of comfort, words of strength, words of assurance. We can remind them of the most important truths—that while they were still sinners, Christ died for them. We can assure them that God is at work in them by telling them of where his evidences of grace have been made manifest in their lives. We can comfort them with the rock-solid assurance that Christ will return and call us all to himself. In these ways and so many others we can brighten their hearts.

There are few who are more aware of the sin they’ve put to death than of the sin that remains, of how far they’ve come than of how far they still have to go. They need light! These can be reminded that God’s love for them does not waver by their degree of sanctification, but is fixed and constant because they have been fully redeemed by the work of Christ. They can be told once again that the work of putting sin to death and coming alive to righteousness is one that will reach its completion only at the grave. They can be reassured that it is their growth in grace that prompts them to greater grief even over lesser sins. We can brighten their path as they continue on the journey to heaven.

There are few who go through life without experiencing some terrible pains and some deep sorrows. They need light! They need to be reminded that they are following in the footsteps of a Savior who was himself severely afflicted, a man of sorrows well acquainted with grief, yet one who did it all for the joy that was set before him. They need to hear again that God has promised to work all things for good, so that there are not two classes of providence—some good and some bad—but only those that are working toward some great and beautiful end. They need to be told that our afflictions, though so heavy here and now, will soon be proven light when they give way to an eternal weight of glory. We can bring divine brightness to their darkest days.

Jesus is the light of the world and the light that was in him has been given to us so that we are now the very sons of light. We have the light so we might be the light. We are the light to the sons of darkness who cannot see the way to salvation, but also to our fellow sons of light who know the way but whose hearts have grown heavy, whose feet have become weary, who have been waylaid on their journey.

And so each of us ought to ask: Who needs me to reflect God’s light today? Who needs me to speak courage to their fear, gladness to their sorrow, encouragement to their despondency? Who needs me to bring a glimmer of divine light to their deep darkness? At the final accounting we will all marvel at how much good was done by a simple visit, a simple card, a simple word of encouragement. Each of us will be surprised and delighted to hear, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

T. Challies

People Are Out There Surviving

Not long ago a reader shared a profound comment in reply to a post on my Facebook page. This is one of the most powerful stories we’ve received from readers of the Heaven book:

We—very suddenly and unexpectedly—lost our 16-year-old son on 10/6. He was the fourth of our five children. I have struggled mightily with the “whys”, and life very much feels akin to a marathon swim in an ocean of pain. I do believe that God knows what is best. It just hurts mightily.

Though night is inherently so, the first night without him seemed the darkest of my life. It literally felt as though my own heart might cease to beat. As I lay there begging God for a sliver of comfort, I remembered a tiny booklet on Heaven that a co-worker had given me years before. At the time, I was a little confused because it seemed an odd Christmas gift for someone who had not lost anyone. I read it, and I was delighted at the description of eternity that was unlike anything I had heard in my 40ish years of churchgoing. I put it on my shelf after reading it. That first night without our son, I grabbed it as though it were a life preserver and I were going under. Truthfully, I was. The promises and hope in that tiny book helped me breathe until the morning when my other family members rose.

Within a week of saying our earthly goodbye to our child, I looked you up online and ordered the full copy of Heaven. It has saved my life. I ordered the 50 Days version for our other four children, another copy of the big book for my parents, and 100 of the mini-books. In telling much of our testimony, people have asked for the mini books. I gave and mailed out several at Christmas.

I also teach at my son’s school, a Christian school, and I teach his class. I could NEVER have returned to work to face his empty desk—and listen to the life he left behind being lived without him—without your book. I put together a Christmas gift for each of his 40 classmates. Most of them had been his friend since pre-school, and they are hurting, too. In the gifts, I included a mini-book for each of them, and they found tremendous comfort as well in reading about the real eternity that God has planned for His children. No clouds and harps!!

I still have questions about being separated from my child, but I can say with full certainty that some lives have been changed already. I vow to never again take my sights off of eternity, and I vow to, however painful, walk this road as faithfully as possible so that more lives will join us in that incredible place. Psalm 119:89- “Forever, Oh, God, thy word is settled in Heaven.” My tears may rain down here until I am reunited with my child, but I do trust that my anguish already is being settled.

Here are some responses to her comment from other readers. Each is a story in and of itself:

We lost our youngest son eight years ago and are continually reading Randy’s books. Heaven was the first one we read, too. …We needed Heaven to feel more real and solid (less ethereal) after our very real, solid boy moved there.

After my dad died, I read the version for children (Heaven for Kids) every evening to my boys. Such a sweet time together to journey through the grief and help them better deal with their mama’s frequent tears.

When our son left us at such a young age of 13, I wanted to read all that I could get my hands on about the biblical Heaven! So many amazing details gleaned from God’s Word! What a hope we have in Christ Jesus! Without this eternal hope that our Lord gives, I would have been a heap of dust scattered in the wind! My heart yearns for that day for my faith to be made sight!

…I too lost a son suddenly in 2017. I too had to dig into biblical truths to combat the darkness that wanted to take over. Heaven was a book that helped me keep the eternal perspective and knowing where my son was.

Jesus came to deliver us from the fear of death, “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

In light of the coming resurrection of the dead, the apostle Paul asks, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

We should not romanticize death. But those who know Jesus should realize that death is a gateway to never-ending joy.

Grasping what the Bible teaches about Heaven will shift our center of gravity and radically alter our perspective on life. It will give us hope, a word that the apostle Paul uses six times in Romans 8:20-25, where he explains that all creation longs for our resurrection and the world’s coming redemption.

Don’t place your hope in favorable life circumstances—they cannot and will not last. Instead, place your hope in Jesus Christ and his promises. One day He will return, and those who have placed their faith in Him will be resurrected to life on the New Earth. They will behold God’s face and joyfully serve Him forever.

R. Alcorn

You Don’t Have to Change the World

I’m 62 and have been a vocational pastor for 39 years. I serve in a smallish church of very diverse believers, and commit around 55 hours per week to active ministry. I’ve got my hands and head full, and don’t know that I can handle much more.

So yesterday’s billboard wasn’t helpful. It urged college students with one part encouragement and one part moral imperative to “Be the spark that changes the world!”

I’m 40 years out of college, and the spark has yet to happen. Despite all “I’ve done,” the world remains the same as always, only worse. There’s no ignited the world line in my résumé. Yet isn’t that what pastors (and other Christians) are supposed to do? Don’t real leaders envision, implement, and bring about big picture, systemic, generational change? Perhaps some do. But I haven’t.

While some are supposedly changing the world, I’ve been reinforcing the faith of the pew-6 brother who’s battling porn, the pew-10 sister who’s terrified of COVID, the pew-9 widow who has three young children, the pew-16 guy whose wife left him, and the pew-29 teen whose faith has hit the skids. I’ve kept busy trying to help my flock survive in the world and thrive in Jesus.

So where does that leave me—and millions of other Christians and pastors like me—who feel like failures in a “be the spark” world?

Defining Our Calling
I’m a simple guy with an uncomplicated calling. Get saved. Love the triune God. Be sanctified. Love my wife, children, and neighbors. Treat people with respect and justice. Live a God-centered and gospel-saturated life. Help others do the same.

I am not implying I’m the one who saves people. I’m way too Reformed for that. Blessedly, salvation is all of God (Rev. 7:10). But I do need to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12–13). And I need to be the kind of pastor who helps others be and stay saved (1 Tim. 4:6–16). I am very much called to serve the salvation and sanctification of the people in my pews.

Matthew 28:19–20, Acts 6:4, and 1 Timothy 4:11–16 are defining for me. Love people. Tell them about Jesus. Baptize them and add to the church. Preach, teach, write, counsel, comfort, encourage, affirm, correct, be an example. Saturate it all with prayer. Repeat all these steps for several dozen hours per week, and for 39 straight years. Plow forward without looking back (Luke 9:62). Run well and finish strong (1 Cor. 9:24–27; 2 Tim. 4:7, 8). And do this all with joy (Heb. 13:17). That’s my calling. And with a few tweaks, I’d say it is the calling virtually every believer has, from the megachurch pastor to the mom with kids.

Learning from Biography
But it’s hard work getting and keeping people saved. Helping them mortify their relationship with sin, and deepen their relationship with Jesus, is labor-intensive. While the world is pursuing mighty causes, I’m sweating it, trying to help my little flock survive and thrive.

Not that I don’t care about the big picture. It’s just that the big picture is actually a composite of seven billion little pictures; seven billion precious individuals who cannot be neglected for the sake of any “world-changing” cause. If I unwisely adopt the glamorous concept of leadership, I can head out to change the world, while leaving behind many souls—including my own—in the process.

If I unwisely adopt the glamorous concept of leadership, I can head out to change the world, while leaving behind many souls—including my own—in the process.

I’ve learned this from biographies. Though it isn’t the case in every instance, many who do allegedly great things are great failures where it matters most: on the home front, and in their personal character and conduct. Their public cause is a greater priority than their private character—to the harm of family, friends, and neighbors. They change the world while losing souls.

Here’s my takeaway: it’s more important to be a good and faithful man who helps others be good and faithful than it is to revolutionize the world.

Sorry to Disappoint
I am sorry to disappoint those—both to my right and my left—who will want more from me. Some will interpret my simple ambition as otherworldly escapism. But while I certainly care about causes on both sides, it’s all I can do to move people from where they are to where they need to be. From despair to hope; greed to contentment; bitterness to forgiveness; lust to purity; laziness to hard work; doubt to faith; ignorance to truth; rage to love; isolation to hospitality; fear of God’s wrath to blessed assurance; earth to heaven. My hands are full as I try to help people run, walk, stumble, or crawl across life’s finish line into glory.

It’s more important to be a good and faithful man who helps others be good and faithful than it is to revolutionize the world.

“Change the world” billboard vocabulary is momentarily inspiring. But it’s ultimately disheartening, for global change rarely happens. It is better to know that on the day of accounting, we will answer for ourselves, our family, our church, and our neighbors.

I’m not advocating for ministry mediocrity or indifference, but for faithful, biblically guided ambition. I care about this very broken world, and wish I could do more to heal its many wounds. But I know my limitations. I know that I, at least, have to commit my finite vision and vigor to getting people saved and sanctified in my world, not to igniting the world. I’ve made peace with that. And I hope all who serve faithfully in the everydayness of individual lives can, too.

T. Shorey

What Is Happening to Our Christian Colleges

I have been a faculty member of three Christian universities (one was called a “college” when I taught there) in succession over the past almost forty years. I have held tenured positions at two of them and now have held a named chair at one for several years. I have spoken at numerous American Christian colleges and universities and have a wide circles of acquaintances who taught or teach at them. For five years in the 1990s I served as chief editor of a scholarly journal supported by fifty Christian colleges and universities. Here I am talking out of that broad and deep experience. I am not talking about Bible colleges or institutes or merely “church related” colleges or universities.

Anecdote: In about 1998 I was asked to be the guest presenter at a meeting of the presidents of the (then) thirteen member schools of the Christian College Consortium—all very well known and highly respected evangelical Christian liberal arts colleges. After my presentation, the presidents fell into disagreement with each other about the nature and future and vision of their colleges. These are colleges that are very similar; their differences are regional and denominational. (Some have no specific denominational affiliation but “lean” toward some evangelical Protestant tradition. All require students, faculty, and staff to be evangelical Protestant Christians—as each defines that for itself.)

So what is the purpose of a Christian college or university? There are several informal purposes—purposes that have evolved on a very informal level such as providing a space where Christian students can find Christian spouses. None of the Christian colleges or universities I know actually say that, but they all know that is one reason some parents send their late adolescent sons and daughters to them.

Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.

More formally, the stated purpose of most Christian colleges and universities is to provide an academic environment where the Christian worldview and Christians ethics are supported and integrated with the various disciplines and areas of study. The term used was “integration of faith and learning.” I don’t hear that particular phrase used as much as during the 1980s and 1990s, but I believe that still is the main purpose of a Christian college or university.

What dose that mean—“integration of faith and learning?” I wrote an essay about that in my book Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing Reality through the Biblical Story (Zondervan). And, in fact, that whole book is my attempt to provide administrators and faculty members of Christian colleges and universities with an account of the “faith” side of integration of faith and learning. The “faith” side is the basic biblical and Christian “story” of reality that is theocentric rather than anthropocentric. It is an alternative to secular humanism, naturalism, atheism, New Age paganism, esoteric occultism, non-Christian religions and philosophies—all of which are studied at good Christian colleges and universities but from the perspective of belief in the biblical-Christian “story” of reality (metanarrative).

A problem I have observed is this: The larger a Christian college or university becomes, the harder it is to maintain and pursue its main purpose. The problem is not the students; the problem is among the faculty. Faculty members sneak in who are not devoted to integration of faith and learning, who are only vaguely Christian—cognitively. That is, they may be very nice people, academically qualified, products of evangelical Christian homes and churches, but they have left the biblical-Christian life and worldview behind and no longer really believe in it. Or they do believe in it with half of their mind but have adopted absolutely contrary elements of life and worldviews absolutely contrary to the biblical-Christian one. Then they get tenure and there’s no stopping them from teaching things that are false—from a biblical-Christian perspective.

A problem “higher” than that one is that many regents or trustees of truly Christian colleges and universities are not themselves educated in basic Christian philosophy or theology. So they hire administrators who are not deeply familiar with basic Christian philosophy or theology. Then begins the “slip sliding away” of the Christian college or university from its original purpose into becoming only a vaguely church-related school where all kinds of things are taught that are not consistent with a fundamentally biblical-Christian life and world perspective.

In case you wonder what a fundamentally biblical-Christian life and world perspective is I suggest you read John Stott, Harry Blamires, C. S. Lewis or Arthur Holmes or my Essentials of Christian Thought.

The only protection from this slip sliding away is vigilance on the part of Christian college/university administrators. A Christian college or university must provide new faculty members and even adjunct instructors with strong orientation that informs them of what the biblical-Christian life and world perspective includes. That is why I wrote Essentials of Christian Thought—with the hope that Christian college and university administrators would use it to orientate faculty into the basic Christian life and world perspective. But there are other books that do the same.

When I joined the faculties of “my” three Christian universities (one of which was called a college then), I was required to participate in two-to-three day orientations for new faculty that included workshops on the meaning and implications of the biblical-Christian life and world perspective and about faith-learning integration. I have taught some of those workshops to new faculty members at some Christian colleges and universities.

However, what I have noticed during the last two decades is a very noticeable slippage in this area of orientation and vigilance. Many faculty members at Christian (not merely church-related) colleges and universities earned their graduate degrees at secular universities (some of which used to be Christian but are no longer). Many of them bring their theories, contrary to the biblical-Christian life and world perspective, into their classrooms. Many of them see it as part of their “job” to distance students from their Christian faith—cognitively if not spiritually. I could give numerous examples, but I am not interested in pointing an accusing finger at anyone in particular.

So where do I lay the blame for this slippage, this slip sliding away? Solidly at the feet of some Christian college and university administrators who are either ignorant of the biblical-Christian life and world perspective or who don’t really care about faith-learning integration or who are too cowardly to confront faculty members who are teaching theories (often under the guise of “facts”) that are absolutely contrary to the biblical-Christian life and world perspective.

And I blame Christian college and university regents and trustees who fail to install administrators who will promote integration of faith and learning.

Without integration of faith and learning throughout the college or university, across all disciplines, a Christian college or university really has no purpose other than to allegedly provide a space where Christian students can meet and marry other Christian students, but even that will not last very long. Once the main purpose slip slides away, the college or university becomes a pale reflection of a secular college or university, merely “church related” or “vaguely Christian.”

When I say things like this, many critics point to “revivals” among students to prove that a particular Christian college or university is still holding fast to its original purpose and spiritual moorings. I’m not convinced by that. I look at the faculty and administration and what is being taught about, for example, the purpose of human life on earth. Is it to glorify God and enjoy him forever or is it something else? Often it is something else—such as getting a good job and becoming a good, productive citizen of the USA or just being a good person with lots of knowledge. Any college or university can do that. A Christian college or university’s main purpose is to graduate students who will see all of reality as created by God for his glory and for humanity’s good.

R. Olson

Why the Law Does Not Work

Legalism does not work, never has, and never will. Legalism is the pursuit of good works, obedience to God’s law and the ethical commands of the Bible (and beyond), abstracted from faith in Christ, in order to be acceptable before God. The legalist approaches the Bible as a law-centered document rather than a Christ-centered one. Legalism attempts to domesticate the law of God and exacerbates sin rather than killing it because it feeds the flesh.

Legalism always produces two groups: (1) Those who know they do not measure up to God’s standards (2) Those who pretend that they measure up to God’s standards. I have often asked people, “What are your personal standards for what a person should say and do? Have you, in every instance, lived up to your own standards?” The answer is always no. If we haven’t lived up to our own standards then you can know that you have not lived up to God’s standards.

The Sermon on the Mount turns on Matthew 5:20: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus’s assertion would have been startling to his hearers. Who could enter the kingdom of heaven then? The hearers would have been wondering how can anyone have better righteousness than those experts in the law and leaders who were known to have the best righteousness? At the end of the next section (Matt 5:21-48), Jesus clarifies, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).

In Matthew 5:21–48 of the Sermon on the Mount, there are six sections addressing various topics that serve as examples of the better righteousness: (1) murder (5:21–26); (2) adultery (5:27–30); (3) divorce (5:31–32); (4) oaths (5:33–37); (5) vengeance (5:38–42); and (6) love of enemies (5:43–48). Each of these begins “You have heard that it was said” (vv. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43), and then “But I say to you …” (vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44).

Jesus’s teaching in this section is often described as antitheses but that is a poor description of what Jesus is teaching. After all, Jesus had already clarified, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17).

A close reading of this section reveals Jesus’ 3-fold structure in addressing these topics and the primary takeaway for his disciples:

According to the Legalist
“You have heard that it was said” – Jesus refers to a particular OT law and exposes the way a legalist would wrongly interpret and apply the command.

According to Jesus
“But I say to you” – Jesus explains the way the law is rightly to be understood and applied in light of deeper kingdom dynamics because, in him, the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

Kingdom Plan for Disciples
“If,” “so,” or “then” – Jesus also, with one exception, provides examples of how one could take steps that would demonstrate the obedience of faith—the better righteousness.

Some wrongly pit your OT against the NT, asserting that the OT is law-focused dealing with religious externals and in contrast, the NT teaches an internal heart religion. Even a cursory reading of the OT makes clear that true righteousness always involved internal faith and a transformed heart.

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart (Deut 6:5-7).

Rend your hearts and not your garments (Joel 2:13).

The legalist abstracts the biblical command from the canonical gospel narrative. Thus, according to the legalist, if you have not murdered, committed adultery, and have not given a deceptive oath, then you are righteous, and if you have then you are unrighteous. The legalist also concludes, since they are righteous, they have a right to give a certificate of divorce, administer vengeance, and hate their enemies. The focus is on self. End of the story. The citizen of the kingdom of heaven hears the commands of God as embedded in the biblical gospel narrative. This is why the beatitudes do not make sense to the legalist but they do make sense to kingdom citizens. The Bible is not law-centered (another way of saying man-centered), but rather the Scripture is Christ-centered and gospel-focused.

Consider below and contrast the pattern of thinking of the legalist and the kingdom citizen. They can read the same laws and come to opposite conclusions because they have opposing starting points. The fundamental issue with Jesus’ six examples in Matthew 5:21-48 is that they are not abstractions, they exhibit the way kingdom ethics work. The examples should be considered as a part of the same gospel cloth and not as independent abstract commands.

The pathway of legalistic thinking is:

  1. Me.
  2. The law.
  3. Their righteousness.
  4. How much their righteousness will please God and others.

The pattern of the kingdom citizen’s thinking is:

  1. God in Christ.
  2. Christ’s righteousness and law-keeping for me.
  3. Others.
  4. How can I serve God in Christ and others by rendering the obedience of faith?

With the first way of thinking, a legalistic approach to applying the “You have heard it said” commands makes sense and the “But I say to you” does not make sense. The kingdom citizen reverses the focus, trusts in Christ’s righteousness, and walks in line with the gospel.

D. Prince

Gene Editing Coming Your Way

In recent years, talk of gene editing has become extremely popular. Gene editing technologies like CRISPR promise not only to eradicate disease and disability, but also to provide human enhancement and designer babies. But this powerful technology comes with a host of major ethical issues that need to be carefully considered and addressed.

You may wonder what ethics has to do with gene editing – after all, doesn’t eradicating disease and disability sound like a no brainer? It’s true that we can and have used technology to alleviate suffering in the world, and that is a good thing. But sometimes our well-intentioned actions can have devastating unforeseen consequences.

The next time someone says, “gene editing can help us wipe out disease and will improve life for everyone,” here are 3 things to remember:

Number 1: Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

When we hear about the exciting advances in technology and genetics, it’s easy to believe the promise that it will make our lives better or healthier. But, as countless stories in science fiction have taught us, simply pursuing innovation for innovation’s sake can have dangerous consequences. That’s why it’s important to ask not only “can we” do something, but “should we” do something. As technology continues to advance, the question of “should we” will get more and more weighty.

For example, a group of researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London used CRISPR technology to edit 18 human embryos. But when they finished, they found that around half the embryos ended up with what they called “major unintended edits.” These “major unintended edits” are more harmful than they sound. They can actually lead to birth defects or life-threatening medical problems like cancer. And, those issues could permanently enter the gene pool and affect future generations.

Sometimes, our finite minds don’t always foresee the potential dangers or ramifications of these innovations on human life. This is why it’s dangerous to separate science from philosophy and ethics. These decisions shouldn’t just be left up to scientists or experts who may be preoccupied with scientific advancement without a larger, ethical perspective and boundaries.

Number 2: Treating human life as disposable doesn’t make our society more humane.

Humans aren’t simply problems to be fixed or objects to be experimented on. Those 18 “edited” embryos are actual human lives that have been permanently altered in the pursuit of innovation and science. Many embryos will simply be discarded or destroyed because their usefulness has expired. But defining the value of a human life by their utility is not advancing society in a desirable or worthy direction.

The sincere desire to eradicate genetic diseases is understandable, and the longing to heal reflects God’s image in us. Ethically sound and medically safe treatments that don’t dehumanize other human beings should be pursued.

But we must proceed with an ethical framework, and an awareness of the human temptation to “become like God” with our own ideas about what is good and evil. Which leads to our third point.

Number 3: Gene editing can’t deliver on its promise of control.

In the ethics of biotechnology, there’s a fine line between healing and enhancement. Healing is fixing something that’s broken. Enhancement is trying to improve something that isn’t broken. It can be tempting to want to just “upgrade” healthy people or give our children a leg up in the world through various biotechnical enhancements.

But this desire to “enhance” humanity misinterprets what it means to be human and exposes the urge to have complete control over our lives. We like to think that we have everything under control, that we can protect ourselves from any kind of pain, and decide what is moral on our own.

But technology and human “enhancement” can’t deliver on its promise to meet those deep desires for control. As we discussed earlier, this search for control often descends into a chaos of unintended consequences. As long as we keep looking to technology to solve our need for control or security or hope, we’ll find ourselves disappointed. What we’re missing can’t be provided by technology. In reality, our craving for purpose, security, and the freedom to create and invent without hurting others is best met when we love our Creator, and love our neighbor more than we love ourselves.

So the next time you’re talking about technology and someone says “gene editing will help us wipe out disease and help create better lives for all,” remember these 3 things:

Number 1: Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

Number 2: Treating human life as disposable doesn’t make our society more humane.

Number 3: Gene editing can’t deliver on its promise of control.

C. Colson

What Does God Look Like?

The one true and living God of the Bible does not, strictly speaking, “look like” anything. First of all, even if our finite, physical eyes could perceive His true divine nature, there is nothing in all of creation to which we might compare God and say that He “looks like this” or “resembles that.” Further, God’s nature is not material. He is not an object made out of matter and energy off of which light might bounce or refract for us to actually see Him. Therefore, we can not think of the eternal nature and being of God in physical terms of looks or appearances. God’s attributes are “seen” through His actions. We behold creation and observe His providential work and know He is there, as Paul writes:

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse,” (Romans 1:20).

Yet we do not literally see God’s own being. Our eyes provide sufficient proof to know God is there through seeing what He has made and what He has done, but God Himself doesn’t “look like” anything.

The invisible, incomparable Spirit
The prophet Isaiah makes clear that there is no one and nothing to which we might compare God:

“To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?” (Isaiah 40:18).

If somehow we mere men could actually behold Him as He truly is, we would have no words to describe what we saw! There would be no analogy, no “like”. We would be unable to answer anyone who asked us what we had seen. Yet, the Bible also makes it clear that we ought not to think of God in physical terms, as the kind of being that “looks like” something. As Jesus Himself said:

“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,” (John 4:24).

Jesus likewise explains that a spirit cannot be examined with the senses and does not have flesh or bone, (Luke 24:39). Indeed, God is frequently described as “invisible,” (Colossians 1:15, Romans 1:20, 1 Timothy 1:17). God’s very nature cannot be seen by physical eyes.

He doesn’t “look like” anything
The New Testament writers go out of the way to make clear that men have never literally seen God, particularly the person of the Father. John writes in one of his letters:

“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us,” (1 John 4:12).

Paul goes even further, explaining that we not only haven’t seen Him but can’t see Him, speaking of God the Father:

“who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen,” (1 Timothy 6:16).

Jesus claimed the exclusive status of having seen the Father, and even then was referring to having seen Him as God the Son in heaven before the incarnation, not to having seen Him with physical human eyes:

“Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father,” (John 6:46).

Jesus can tell us and show us who the Father is, but we cannot see the Father ourselves. Thus, again, the triune God of Scripture, in His divine heavenly nature, is not the sort of being that can “look like” something. He has no literal “appearance” in our finite, human sense.

Unseen yet seen?
Yet, while fully acknowledging and declaring this, the Bible also speaks of times where God has appeared to men in forms that could be seen. How are we to understand this? The New Testament writers make clear that this is the work of God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. As John explains:

“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him,” (John 1:18).

Paul affirms of Jesus that:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” (Colossians 1:15).

The author of Hebrews likewise states of Christ:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:3).

So, when men have seen God, what they saw was a manifestation of the Son. No one has, in any sense, seen the Father. People have, in a certain sense, seen the Son. Yet, even here, we ought not misunderstand such manifestations. The Holy Spirit appeared as a dove (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32) and later as tongues of fire (Acts 2:2-4), but we would be wrong to argue about whether the Holy Spirit really looks like a bird or a flame. He doesn’t, in His divine nature, literally look like either. Such visible manifestations were meant to tell us something, not to provide us with a picture by which we should visualize God as such physical things. In the same way, the Son appeared to men in the Old Testament, but we ought not think of such manifestations as the literal, physical “shape” or “form” of the divine nature of God.

Is the body of Jesus what God looks like?
The incarnation of the Son as a man at the coming of Christ is a special case worthy of careful consideration. Here, God did not merely manifest His presence in some temporary visible symbol. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, (John 1:14). He added to Himself the very form and nature of a man, (Philippians 2:5-7). This was no temporary appearance. God took on a human nature. The eternal Son lived, died, rose, ascended, is enthroned in heaven, and will one day return as a man. Thus, in a very real and true sense, God now has a physical form that men have seen and that all believers one day will see. When we dwell forever with God, we will see Him and know Him in the bodily form of Jesus Christ.

Yet, this does not contradict what we have already said. The Son of God took on a second nature, a human nature in addition to His eternal divine nature. We can see that human nature. We can rightly say, “that is what the Son of God looks like.” Even so, we should not confuse the natures. What we can see is Jesus’ humanity. The men 2,000 years ago who saw Jesus truly saw the Son of God, but they did not see the nature of God. The person they beheld was indeed God. But what their eyes perceived was His human flesh, not His divine nature. They saw a man who was, in fact, God, but they could see Him only as man and not as God.

Thus, we must be careful not to let our minds become confused here. Jesus is God. But, even if we knew exactly what Jesus’ human body looked like, we would be clumsy at best to simplistically say “that is what God looks like.” We ought not picture the person of the Father as looking like a first-century Jewish carpenter. We ought not picture the Holy Spirit as a body with a form much like ours. We ought not think of the Triune God as a human-shaped being. Rather, we ought to recognize that God is a transcendent and incomparable Spirit who cannot be fully represented by any physical image, yet who has condescended to redeem us by taking on a human nature in addition to His invisible divine nature. That human nature can be seen, and is the man Jesus. In Him, the fullness of God dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9).

Conclusion
God is spirit and thus cannot be truly seen with fleshly eyes. His invisible attributes can be seen indirectly by observing the things He has created. Prophets have sometimes seen highly symbolic visions that represent God (Daniel 7:9, Ezekiel 1:26-28), Revelation 4:3, etc.). In the person of the Son, He has also manifested Himself in various visible ways. Yet, none of these things involve us directly seeing the actual divine nature of the triune God. God doesn’t “look like” anything.

L. Wayne

What Are My Deceased Loved Ones Doing Right Now?

A reader wrote, “I just finished the book Heaven. Knowing Jesus, I found it inspiring and well documented. I was disappointed there wasn’t more mentioned about the immediate Heaven, the one right after we leave this earth. I just lost a loved one and would like more information and clarity about what she is experiencing. I have read three books on Heaven, read a lot about the New Earth, but little about what happens when I die.”

While my book Heaven centers on the New Earth, the eternal Heaven, a few chapters deal with the present Heaven. When a Christian dies he enters what theologians call the “intermediate state,” a transitional period between life on Earth and the future resurrection to life on the New Earth. Usually when we talk about “Heaven,” we mean the place that Christians go when they die. When we tell our children “Grandma’s now in Heaven,” we’re referring to what I prefer to call the present Heaven (the word intermediate sometimes confuses people).

Books on Heaven often fail to distinguish between the intermediate and eternal states, using the one word—Heaven—as all-inclusive. But this is an important distinction. The present Heaven is a temporary lodging, a waiting place (a delightful one!) until the return of Christ and our bodily resurrection. The eternal Heaven, the New Earth, is our true home, the place where we will live forever with our Lord and each other. The great redemptive promises of God will find their ultimate fulfillment on the New Earth, not in the present Heaven. God’s children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth.

Though the present Heaven is not our final destination, it’s a wonderful place, and it’s understandable that those who have had loved ones die in Christ wonder what life is like for them there. Based on the Bible’s teaching, we know several things: the present Heaven is a real (and possibly physical) place. Those who love Jesus and trust Him for their salvation will be with Him there, together with all who have died in Christ. We will be awake and cognizant. And because we will be with Jesus, it is “better by far” than our present existence.

The Present Heaven Is a Real Place
Heaven is normally invisible to those living on Earth. For those who have trouble accepting the reality of an unseen realm, consider the perspective of researchers who embrace string theory. Scientists at Yale, Princeton, and Stanford, among others, have postulated that there are ten unobservable dimensions and likely an infinite number of imperceptible universes. If this is what some scientists believe, why should anyone feel self-conscious about believing in one unobservable dimension, a realm containing angels and Heaven and Hell?

The Bible teaches that sometimes humans are allowed to see into Heaven. When Stephen was being stoned because of his faith in Christ, he gazed into Heaven: “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and ­Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55-56). Scripture tells us not that Stephen dreamed this, but that he actually saw it.

Wayne Grudem points out that Stephen “did not see mere symbols of a state of existence. It was rather that his eyes were opened to see a spiritual dimension of reality which God has hidden from us in this present age, a dimension which none the less ­really does exist in our space/time universe, and within which ­Jesus now lives in his physical resurrected body, waiting even now for a time when he will return to earth.”

I agree with Grudem that the present Heaven is a space/time universe. He may be right that it’s part of our own universe, or it may be in a different universe. It could be a universe next door that’s normally hidden but sometimes opened. In any case, I don’t think God gave Stephen a vision in order to make Heaven appear physical. Rather, He allowed Stephen to see a present Heaven that was (and is) physical.

The prophet Elisha asked God to give his servant, Gehazi, a glimpse of the invisible realm. He prayed, “‘O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). Acts 7 and 2 Kings 6 are narrative accounts, historical in nature, not apocalyptic or parabolic literature. The text is clear that Stephen and Gehazi saw real things.

The Present Heaven May Be a Physical Place
If we look at Scripture, we’ll see considerable evidence that the present Heaven has physical properties. We’re told there are scrolls in Heaven, elders who have faces, martyrs who wear clothes, and even people with palm branches in their hands. There are musical instruments in the present Heaven, horses coming into and out of Heaven, and an eagle flying overhead in Heaven.

Many commentators dismiss the possibility that any of these passages in Revelation should be taken literally, on the grounds that the book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature, which is known for its figures of speech. But the book of Hebrews isn’t apocalyptic, it’s epistolary. Moses was told, in building the earthly Tabernacle, “Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain.” If that which was built after the pattern was physical, might it suggest the original was also physical? The book of Hebrews seems to say that we should see Earth as a derivative realm and Heaven as the source realm.

Unlike God and the angels, who are in essence spirits (John 4:24; Hebrews 1:14), human beings are by nature both spiritual and physical. God did not create Adam as a spirit and place it inside a body. Rather, He first created a body, then breathed into it a spirit. There was never a moment when a human being existed without a body. We are not essentially spirits who inhabit bodies; we are essentially as much physical as we are spiritual. We cannot be fully human without both a spirit and a body.

Given the consistent physical descriptions of the intermediate Heaven and those who dwell there, it seems possible—though this is certainly debatable—that between our earthly lives and our bodily resurrection God may grant us some temporary physical form that will allow us to function as human beings while in that unnatural state “between bodies” awaiting our bodily resurrection. If so, that would account for the repeated depictions of people now in Heaven occupying physical space, wearing clothes and crowns, carrying branches, and having body parts (for example, Lazarus’s finger in Luke 16:24).

A fundamental article of the Christian faith is that the resurrected Christ now dwells in Heaven. We are told that His resurrected body on Earth was physical and that this same, physical Jesus ascended to Heaven, from where He will one day return to Earth. It seems indisputable, then, to say that there is at least one physical body in the present Heaven. If Christ’s body in the intermediate Heaven has physical properties, it stands to reason that others in Heaven could have physical forms as well, even if only temporary ones.

To avoid misunderstanding, I need to emphasize a critical doctrinal point. According to Scripture, we do not receive resurrection bodies immediately after death. Resurrection does not happen one at a time. If we have intermediate forms in the intermediate Heaven, they will not be our true bodies, which we leave behind at death.

So if we are given material forms when we die (and I’m suggesting this possibility only because of the many Scriptures depicting physical forms in the present Heaven), they would be temporary vessels. Any understanding of people having physical forms immediately after death that would lead us to conclude that the future resurrection has already happened or is unnecessary is emphatically wrong!

We’ll Be Together with Christ and Those Who Love Him
As painful as death is, and as right as it is to grieve it (Jesus did), we on this dying Earth can also rejoice for our loved ones who are in the presence of Christ. When they die, those covered by Christ’s blood are experiencing the joy of Christ’s presence in a place so wonderful that Christ called it Paradise.

As the apostle Paul tells us, though we naturally grieve at losing loved ones, we are not “to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Our parting is not the end of our relationship, only an interruption. We have not “lost” them, because we know where they are. And one day, we’re told, in a magnificent reunion, they and we “will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).

Peter tells us, “You will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). God is the main welcomer, no doubt. All eyes are on Jesus, the Cosmic Center, the Source of all Happiness. But wouldn’t it make sense for the secondary welcomers to be God’s people, those who touched our lives, and whose lives we touched? Wouldn’t that be a great greeting party?

Jesus said, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Angels probably rejoice too, but the ones living in the presence of angels Jesus refers to are likely God’s people, redeemed human beings, some of who knew and loved and prayed for the conversion of these sinners, and now are beholding the answers to their prayers. Wouldn’t such people be a natural part of the welcome committee when we enter Heaven?

I envision glorious reunions and amazing introductions, conversations and storytelling at banquets and on walks, jaws dropping and laughter long and hard, the laughter of Jesus being the most contagious.

When I enter Heaven, I look forward to being hugged by my dear mother, who I led to Christ when I was a new believer in high school. Then I picture Mom, that broad smile on her face, presenting me with my sixth grandchild. In 2013 my daughter Angie had a miscarriage. This was a very painful time for our family, but one more reason I am looking forward to Heaven. When this happens, I will look at Jesus, nodding my thanks to the One with the nail-scarred hands, and I will not let my grandchild or my mother go.

Those in the Present Heaven Are Awake and Alive
That we’ll receive “a rich welcome” necessitates that at death, we will be awake and conscious. Christ depicted Lazarus and the rich man as conscious in Heaven and Hell immediately after they died (Luke 16:22-31). Jesus told the dying thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The apostle Paul said that to die was to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), and to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). After their deaths, martyrs are pictured in Heaven, crying out to God to bring justice on Earth (Revelation 6:9-11).

These passages clearly teach that there is no such thing as “soul sleep,” or a long period of unconsciousness between life on Earth and life in Heaven. The phrase “fallen asleep” (in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and similar passages) is a euphemism for death, describing the body’s outward appearance. The spirit’s departure from the body ends our existence on Earth. The physical part of us “sleeps” until the resurrection, while the spiritual part of us relocates to a conscious existence in Heaven (Daniel 12:2-3; 2 Corinthians 5:8).

Every reference in Revelation to human beings talking and worshiping in Heaven prior to the resurrection of the dead demonstrates that our spiritual beings are conscious, not sleeping, after death. (Nearly everyone who believes in soul sleep believes that souls are disembodied at death; it’s not clear how disembodied beings could sleep, because sleeping involves a physical body.)

As awake and conscious beings, those in Heaven are free to ask God questions (Revelation 6:9-11), which means they have an audience with God. It also means they can and do learn. They wouldn’t be asking questions if they already knew the answers. In Heaven, people desire understanding and pursue it. There is also time in the present Heaven. People are aware of time’s passing and are eager for the coming day of the Lord’s judgment. God answers that the martyrs must “rest a little longer.” Waiting requires the passing of time. I see no reason to believe that the realities of this passage apply only to one group of martyrs and to no one else in Heaven. We should assume that what is true of them is also true of our loved ones already there, and it will be true of us when we die.

Life in Christ’s Presence Is Better by Far
Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.… I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:21, 23). Life in the Heaven we go to when we die, where we’ll dwell prior to our bodily resurrection, is “better by far” than living here on Earth under the Curse, away from the direct presence of God.

Paul spoke from experience. He had actually been taken into Heaven years before writing those words (2 Corinthians 12:1–6). He knew firsthand what awaited him in Paradise. He wasn’t speculating when he called it gain. To be in the very presence of Jesus, enjoying the wonders of His being, and to be with God’s people and no longer subject to sin and suffering? “Better by far” is an understatement!

King David wrote, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11, NKJV). In the presence of God, there’s nothing but joy. Those who live in the presence of Christ find great happiness in worshiping God and living as righteous beings in rich fellowship in a sinless environment. And because God is continuously at work on Earth, the saints watching from Heaven have a great deal to praise Him for, including God’s drawing people on Earth to Himself (Luke 15:7, 10).

Our loved ones now in Heaven live in a place where joy is the air they breathe, and nothing they see on earth can diminish their joy. Their joy doesn’t depend on ignorance, but perspective, drawn from the Christ in whose presence they live. If you’re following Jesus, no doubt your loved ones there are rejoicing over you. The great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12 is now up in the stands of Heaven and watching you on the same playing field they once ran on. They’re looking forward to hearing Jesus say “Well done” to you, and they may also commend you for your service of Jesus!

But those in the present Heaven are also looking forward to Christ’s return, their bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the fashioning of the New Earth from the ruins of the old. Only then and there, in the eternal Heaven, the home Jesus is preparing for us, will all evil and suffering and sorrow be washed away by the hand of God. Only then and there will we experience the fullness of joy intended by God and purchased for us by Christ, who we will forever praise!

R. Alcorn

Do People Remember This Life in Heaven?

In Heaven, we will recall some—likely most or all—of our lives on earth.

This is among the most controversial beliefs I’ve presented in my books, yet there’s clear scriptural evidence for it:

  1. The martyrs in Heaven clearly remember at least some of what happened on earth, including that they underwent great suffering (Rev. 6:9-11). They anticipate and look forward with strong emotion to God’s coming judgment.

This shows we are incorrect in assuming remembrance of unpleasant things on earth would automatically be impossible in Heaven. The change in our perspective will presumably negate any need for loss of memory.

  1. When Babylon is brought down, an angel points to events happening 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” (Rev. 18:20). Since he specifically addresses them, the clear implication is that the saints in heaven are watching and listening to what is happening on earth.
  2. There is “the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting Hallelujah” and praising God for specific events of judgment that have just taken place on earth (Rev. 19:1-5). Again, the saints in heaven are clearly observing what is happening on earth.
  3. When heaven’s saints return with Christ to set up his millennial kingdom (Rev. 19:11-14), it seems strange to think they would have been ignorant of the culmination of human history taking place on earth. The picture of saints in heaven blissfully unaware of what is transpiring on earth, where God and his angels (and they themselves) are about to return for the ultimate battle in the history of the universe, after which Christ will be crowned king, contradicts clear indications in the context. But even apart from such indications, this notion of heavenly ignorance seems ludicrous.
  4. When brought back to earth from heaven (in a surprise move done by God when the witch of Endor and Saul wrongly called upon Samuel’s spirit to visit them), Samuel was aware of what Saul had been doing and what he’d failed to do on earth (1 Sam. 28:18). Unless he was specially “briefed” on this, it follows he must have been already aware of it.
  5. When called from heaven to the transfiguration on earth, Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus about his death which would soon happen in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). They seemed fully aware of the context they stepped into, of what was currently transpiring on earth. (And clearly, they would go back to heaven remembering what they’d discussed with their Creator and Savior.)
  6. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “run the race marked out for us,” creating the mental picture of the Greek competitions which were watched intently by throngs of engrossed fans, sitting high up in the ancient stadiums. The “great cloud of witnesses” he speaks of are clearly the saints who’ve gone before us, whose accomplishments (some of them recorded in the previous chapter) on the playing field are now past. The imagery seems to suggest those saints, the spiritual “athletes” of old, are now watching us and cheering us on from the stands of heaven. (The witnesses are said to “surround” us, not merely to have preceded us.)
  7. The unfolding drama of redemption, awaiting Christ’s return, is currently happening on earth. Earth is center court, center stage, awaiting the consummation of Christ’s return and the setting up of his kingdom. Logically, this seems a compelling reason to think those in heaven might see what is happening on earth. If in heaven we will be concerned with what God is concerned with, and his focus is on the spiritual battle on earth, why would we not witness his works there?
  8. Christ, in heaven, watches closely what transpires on earth, especially in the lives of God’s people (Rev. 2-3). If the Sovereign God’s attentions are on earth, why wouldn’t those of his heavenly subjects be? When a great war is transpiring, is anyone in the home country uninformed and unaware of it? When a great drama is taking place, do those who know the writer, producer, and cast—and have great interest in the outcome—refrain from watching?
  9. Angels saw Christ on earth (1 Tim. 3:16). There are clear indications angels know what is happening on earth (Luke 1:26; 1 Cor. 11:10). If angels, why not saints? Don’t the people of God in heaven have as much vested interest in the spiritual events happening on earth as angels do? Wouldn’t the body and bride of Christ in heaven be expected to be intensely interested about the rest of the body and bride of Christ now living on earth?
  10. Abraham and Lazarus saw the rich man’s agonies in hell (Luke 16:23-26). If it is possible, at least in some cases, to see hell from heaven, why would people be unable to see earth from heaven?
  11. Christ said, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who do not need to” (Luke 15:7). Similarly, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Who is doing this rejoicing in heaven, in the presence of angels? Doesn’t it logically include the saints in heaven, who would most appreciate the joy and wonder of human conversion? (If they rejoice over conversions happening on earth, then obviously they must be aware of what is happening on earth.)
  12. In Heaven, those who endured bad things on earth are comforted for them (Luke 16:25). The comfort implies memory of what happened. If there was no memory of the bad things, what would be the need for, purpose of, or nature of the comfort concerning them?
  13. We will give an account of our lives on earth, down to specific actions and words (2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 12:36). Given our improved minds and clear thinking, our memories should be more, not less acute as to our past lives on earth. Certainly, we must remember the things we will give an account of.
  14. The entire reality of eternal rewards points to specific acts of faithfulness done on earth that survive the believer’s judgment and are brought into Heaven with us (1 Cor. 3:14). We are told that in Heaven the Bride of Christ’s wedding dress stands for “the righteous acts of the saints” done on earth (Rev. 19:7-8). Our righteous deeds on earth will not be forgotten but will “follow” us to Heaven (Rev. 14:13). The ruling positions and treasures in Heaven granted to the faithful will perpetually remind Heaven’s inhabitants, including us, of our lives on earth, since that is what the rewards come in direct response to (Matt. 6:19-21; Matt.19:21; Luke 12:33; 1 Tim. 6:19; Luke 19:17,19; Rev. 2:26-28).
  15. God makes a record in Heaven of what is done by people on earth, both nonbelievers (Rev. 20:11-13) and believers (2 Cor. 5:10). We know that record outlasts life on earth in all cases, for the believer at least to the judgment seat of Christ, and for the unbeliever, right up to the Great White Throne, just preceding the New Heavens and New Earth. Whether it lasts beyond these points we don’t know, but for those now in Heaven these records of life on earth still exist.
  16. Malachi 3:16 says “a scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.” Typically, such documents were made by the King’s scribes (in Heaven’s case, perhaps angels), and periodically read in the King’s presence, to assure worthy actions done by his subjects were remembered, and had been properly rewarded (Esther 6:1-11). The purpose of such a scroll was to keep a permanent record so that the memory of acts done to the King’s glory would endure. We are told that such a scroll exists in Heaven. Do we envision the God of history destroying it, or in ages to come no one in Heaven making reference to it? It seems more likely that such records of the faithful works of God’s people on earth will not be destroyed or set aside, but may even be read and rejoiced over in Heaven before God, men, and angels.
  17. Memory is a basic element of personality. If it is truly us in Heaven, there must be some continuity of memory from earth to Heaven. We are not different people, but the same people marvelously relocated and transformed. Heaven cleanses our slate of sin and error, but does not erase it. The lessons we learned here about God’s love and grace and justice surely are not lost, but carry over to Heaven. They are built upon and greatly expanded, yes, but not eliminated. There seems every reason to believe that just as our earthly works done for Christ will survive this life and be brought into the next (1 Cor. 3:14), so will our Christ-centered experiences.

We tend to dismiss our lives on earth assuming that once in Heaven it will be as if they never happened. This is nowhere taught in Scripture. For some reason (wishful thinking may be part of it), we disassociate our lives on earth from the life to come. God, however, sees a direct connection between them. At death we are relocated, but this does not relegate our earthly lives to insignificance. On the contrary, they have eternal significance. They have been recorded in the sight of all Heaven, and serve as an ongoing reference point for eternal rewards.

Since none of us learns everything on earth that God would desire us to, rather than abandon the lessons he wanted to teach us, he might allow us once in Heaven to review our lives on earth and this time learn everything he intended. This is speculation, but that there will be ongoing remembrance in Heaven of some aspects of our lives on earth is not speculation. It’s a clear teaching of Scripture.

R. Alcorn

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