April writes in to ask: “Dear Pastor John, when a Christian dies and goes to heaven in spirit, do they see their loves ones who are still on earth? I hear it said sometimes that ‘they are looking down on us’ or ‘watching out for us.’ Is this true or is this just another happy funeral thought?”
I want to say that the comforts that the word of God gives to those of us who have lost Christian loved ones are so massive and so glorious, it is a shame that anyone would resort to speculation to find comfort. That is what I want to say. It is speculation to wonder how much the saints in heaven know about the events on earth. We don’t know. And it is a sign of ill spiritual health when someone feels the need to know in order to be happy. There is no evidence that the saints in heaven serve the saints on earth. The Roman Catholic Church is going beyond the Bible when they cultivate the practice of praying to the saints for help or for intercession. “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
All for Joy
“God will give the saints whatever measure of knowledge they need for the greatest experience of happiness in him.”
So what I say to people who ask me about their loved ones in heaven is this. Since the Bible is clear that being there is better than being here, and being at God’s right hand is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11), we can say for sure that God will give the saints whatever measure of knowledge they need for the greatest experience of happiness in God. That is the way I answer. If they need to know something here for their fullest experience of joy in God, they will know it. He won’t withhold what is needed for their happiness in him. If they need to be ignorant of something for the fullest experience of joy in God, he will keep them ignorant. In other words, we need to trust what we are told in the Bible about the happiness of the saints in heaven. It is glorious. It is supreme. God loves them and he is providing for them everything they need.
But the main thing to emphasize is that all speculation about such things for the sake of strengthening our souls, is a spiritual detour off the main highway of God’s blessing and comfort and strength and hope. The highway is what he has revealed in the Bible and it is glorious beyond words.
Hope for the Hurting
Here are a few tastes to end with:
Philippians 1:21–23, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.”
2 Corinthians 5:6–8, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” They are at home, relaxed. They are at home and Paul is saying it is far preferable.
Luke 20:38, “He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” So they are alive and they are living to him and he is their God.
1 Corinthians 15:54–58 says: “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast. . . .” This is what you need to say to these people who are all worked up about whether they are seeing us. You be steadfast. You be immovable. You always abound “in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” When you get there, you won’t regret anything you have invested in the Lord.
Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
So my response is: If these solid, biblical promises don’t give strength and joy and solid hope to the grieving, there is a deeper problem that needs addressing, and that problem will not be solved by speculating about the saints in heaven.