He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. [John 3:18-19 (MSG)]
We tend to forget that we are only temporary residents here on earth—renters as you will. We’re simply viewing the trailer to a wonderful movie or sampling a taste of a gourmet meal. Even the most devout Christian, however, tends to like life here and, unless ill and wracked in pain, isn’t overly anxious to depart and move on to the main attraction or entrée portion. Nevertheless, our faith keeps us from fearing the unknown or wanting to prolong the inevitable. As beautiful as life is here, we know that what awaits us on the other side is far better than we could possibly envision.
One friend, however, told me she doesn’t want to die because she doesn’t want to go anywhere the people she loves won’t be. Like many of us, she has children who are not believers. I have another friend who is distressed that her husband, a good man who professes not to believe, will not be spending eternity with her. Unfortunately, no one gets into heaven because they are related to Christians; each person has to come to God on his or her own. Moreover, we’re told that the entry ticket through the pearly gates isn’t earned by being a good person or doing good works; it is given to us when we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we wonder how God can allow a good person to go to hell we should also wonder how He can allow a bad person (someone like you or me) into heaven!
We’re not talking about individuals too young to understand Biblical truths or make a decision about accepting Jesus nor about people who’ve never heard the Word. These are people of an age where they are accountable for their decisions; they’ve heard the message and have deliberately chosen to ignore it. I know my friends are not the only ones with this concern about their loved ones. The only thing any of us can do is pray, share, and witness with our words and lives—the rest is up to them. It’s a painful reality that not everyone will choose Jesus.
Nevertheless, we wonder how we could be happy in heaven without our loved ones. We know that God is perfect and everything about him is perfection—His judgment, His plan of salvation, and His dwelling place. Yet, how could heaven be perfect if the people we love aren’t there? Unfortunately, Scripture doesn’t give us the answer. There are however, a few things I do know. I know it’s impossible for any of us to know what someone else truly believes. We are neither judge nor jury; only God knows what is in their hearts and only He will determine their final destination. Second, the Good Shepherd does not want to lose any sheep and we can be sure that He will have offered our loved ones every opportunity to come into the fold. Finally, our God is compassionate. He describes himself as “The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” [Exodus 34:6] I believe a compassionate and loving God would never condemn his faithful children to an eternity of mourning in His heavenly home. I don’t know how He’ll manage it but I trust His word—He will console us and make us understand. Perhaps we should also remember that the best thing about heaven is not being reunited with loved ones; it is being in the presence of Jesus.
It is not darkness you are going to, for God is Light. It is not lonely, for Christ is with you. It is not unknown country, for Christ is there. [Charles Kingsley]