“If I am a Christian, and my parents or other loved ones are not, and they die lost, how can I be happy in heaven, knowing that my family members are suffering in hell?”
This is a question that has challenged the mind of every reflective child of God. There is no specific treatment of the issue in the Scriptures, but there are passages containing bits of information which, when viewed in concert, can supply a significantly substantial answer to the perceived problem.
Erroneous Attempts to Deal with the Problem
In addressing this matter of concern, one must not resort to “solutions” that are contrary to plain Bible revelation. For example, “universalism,” i.e., the theory that all people will be saved, is not in harmony with the Scriptures (Mt. 7:13-14).
Nor is it feasible to suggest that one will have no remembrance of earthly associations (see Lk. 16:27-28). It should not be argued that there will not be recognition in heaven, for that clearly is not the case (Mt. 8:11; Lk. 23:43). The possible answer to our query must be sought elsewhere.
It should be acknowledged that there are many things about the eternal order of things that are beyond our ability to comprehend presently. This is why the Bible writers were moved to employ “anthropomorphic”, “anthropomorphism” &> [human form] phrases in conveying eternal verities. For example, in the “flame” of the Hadean realm, the rich man wanted water to cool his “tongue” (Lk. 16:24), when, as a matter of fact, his literal tongue was rotting in the ground.
Similarly, one of the precious declarations of the book of Revelation is that in the heavenly order of things, God “shall wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:4). The symbolism, characteristic of the book as a whole, is apparent, and yet the design of the precious promise is perfectly clear.
But what is the cause of those “tears”? Likely the reference is to the tears that we’ve shed on earth due to sufferings, persecutions, broken hearts over loved ones, etc. The point seems to be this —all of the horrible consequences of evil will be eradicated. Sin, and its attendant sorrows, will vanish. Somehow, God will assuage the hearts of his people, and their former episodes of sadness will be eclipsed by celestial joy.
There are several points that can be made to help bring this problem into sharper focus.
If it were the case that sorrow over lost loved ones destroys the bliss of heaven, then there would be no “heaven” for the redeemed, because all of the Lord’s people have had family members, whether local or extended, who have died outside the sphere of salvation (cf. Mt. 10:34-39). One must conclude, therefore, that the perceived problem will be remedied by HIM who does all things right (Gen. 18:25).
God is a being of supreme love; love is intrinsic to his very nature (1 Jn. 4:8). The depth of his love for humanity is evidenced in the very gift of his Son (Jn. 3:16). Man’s sense of love cannot begin to rival that of the supremely compassionate Father.
If, then, it is the case that God himself is happy (see “blessed” 1 Tim. 1:11) — even though the objects of his love rebel against him and end up in hell — surely, it is equally certain that mere mortals, with a lesser capacity for love, can be happy in the eternal sphere of existence.
Is it not a reality that right now, as we live upon this earth, we are aware of the fact that some people, for whom we have entertained considerable affection, have died in a state of disobedience? In spite of that, can we not affirm that the God-fearing life is a happy, wonderful existence? Paul could (Phil. 4:4)! If such is the case with reference to the affairs of earth, will it not be even more so in the eternal order of things?
But perhaps the most telling consideration of all is this. Can we not admit that our current perception of sin falls far short of that which is complete? Sin has not only affected us physically, it has dulled our perception of absolute holiness. Unquestionably we do not comprehend the magnitude of evil.
Note the language, in one of Jesus’ parables, regarding the wicked.
“But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me” (Lk. 19:27, ESV).
Some folks are shocked at such a descriptive — even repelled by it. Then consider the following text:
“If any man worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead, or upon his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed [undiluted] in the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night” (Rev. 14:9-11).
Some have considered this passage so out of harmony with their own perception of divine justice, they have rejected altogether the concept of an eternal, conscious punishment in hell —in spite of the plain Bible teaching on the subject.
Here is a burning question for deep meditation. Is it not possible that once we have escaped the frailties and limitations of the flesh, that we will have a much clearer awareness of the heinousness of sin?
And might we not see those who have rejected serving the Lord in an entirely different light from that entertained on earth—even though we were connected to them closely in the flesh?
An exposure to the presence of the Holy God may take care of numerous matters that are viewed as “problematic” from our current, incomplete vantage point!
We do not believe, therefore, that the thoughtful question posed above is insurmountable. We must think through the possibilities, and, in the final analysis, trust the Creator to take care of the problems.