Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thoughts on the Eternal State

We recently had an interesting discussion at our men’s meeting on the extent of knowledge and memories we will have of past suffering and evil while in heaven and whether we will be aware of the suffering in Hell while in the eternal state.  I dealt with this briefly on a Wednesday night as we were looking at Malachi 4:3, And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.  I also brought in Isa. 66:22-24, "For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain.  From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.  "And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."
I read one preacher who saw this as referring to the possibility that Hell will be in full view of all who are in Heaven during eternity.  Basically his point was that since the judgment of Hell is the fullest manifestation of God glorifying himself in his righteous judgment of sinners it would make sense that it is ever before us and not forgotten so that that part of his glory is ever before us.  Clearly there is some speculation here but the above verses might open up the possibility.  But this actually led us to a related topic which is whether we will be able to remember past suffering and the evil that existed in the fallen world while we are Heaven or will all such “bad” memories be erased. 
One of our men had a conversation with another saint who was talking about God wiping away our tears when we get to Heaven.  This man believed that this would be done basically by removing all bad memories of sin and suffering because such memories and thoughts would cause tears and sadness, etc.  I don’t want to be dogmatic in this discussion since we are told very little of the eternal state and so there is some speculation in all such discussions but I tend to see it a little differently.  First of all, as our earlier verses suggest, in our sinless state of glorification we will be able to look at and think about things in a completely different way than we do now.  So then we will be able to deal with the judgment of sinners and the memories of the past without all the baggage of sentiment and sinful thought patterns that cloud our thinking now.  One of our elders illustrated this well by referring to how we will interact with our wives in Heaven.  It is impossible now for us to imagine how we will be able to see our wives in glory and see and deal with them as we would with any other saint and not think of them as our wives.  Yet we know that we shall be able to do this.
I think this holds true when dealing with our ability to contemplate evil and the suffering of even those we love who are in Hell.  With minds that are free of sin we will be able to consider such things only in light of the glory of God and be able to praise God in them and not get depressed or sad in considering them.  So even if Hell was in full view while in Heaven, in our glorified state it can only give us another reason to glorify the Lord.  I think we have to admit this to some extent as we consider the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  While the OT saints weren’t in the final glorified state, they were still in a situation in  which there was a gulf between them and those suffering and they were able to see and speak back and forth.  And this was done while they were in what is referred to as Paradise.  So it was not distracting them from the full enjoyment of being in Abraham’s bosom. 
One more reason why I believe we will be able to think about evil and suffering in the eternal state is that it will make sense of the world as we experience it now.  If our memories of this life and therefore human history in general are erased then it would seem to marginalize the whole creation and everything that God is doing now in his redemptive plan.  Are we really to think that earth and human history and the cross of Christ will be forgotten or should we not believe that we will be able to look back on all this and see the perfection of God’s plan being fully carried out both in overall history and in our own lives and experience?  History becomes a way to praise God.  We will be able to think about all these things, even the evil things like the holocaust, and it will not ruin our experience and cause us to cry and be sad but we will be able to use it to further and more perfectly worship the Triune God.
And I don’t think it helps to think that only the bad things will be forgotten.  This would seem to give us an imperfect memory that would be full of holes and cause this life to make little sense.  All of God’s works are glorious, even the ones in which he judges sinners and causes his children to suffer under trials.  I tend to believe that in Heaven we will be able to look back and fully appreciate why things happened to us as they did.  Of course, regardless, however things are in Heaven, none of us will have any complaints!
I know this subject is not a definite science so any other thoughts are welcomed.  It has certainly led to some good discussion with the church folk.

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