Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [John 3:18-19 (ESV)]
As Christ’s followers, we look forward to our heavenly home. On the other hand, we also cherish life here and now and, unless severely incapacitated or wracked in pain, we aren’t in a rush to depart. Nevertheless, our faith in what lies ahead keeps us from wanting to prolong the inevitable or fearing the unknown. As beautiful as life is on earth, we know that what awaits us is far better than anything we could envision. As the Apostle Paul told the Philippians, “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” [1:20-21] Whether living or dead, it’s all good for a believer!
While Christians should have no qualms about death, one Christian friend is approaching her departure date with misgivings. It’s not because of fear; as a follower of Christ, she knows she holds a ticket on the train to Heaven. Her reluctance is because many of her loved ones are unbelievers whose train won’t be bound for glory. Imagining she will eternally mourn their absence in the hereafter, she can’t picture any joy in heaven without them.
Entrance through the pearly gates isn’t earned by good works because even our most righteous deeds fall short of God’s glory. Moreover, no one gets into heaven just because they were baptized as an infant, attended Sunday school, or can recite the Lord’s Prayer, the books of the Bible, and the Apostles’ Creed. Works, water, knowledge, and words mean nothing without the change of heart that comes with faith in Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is faith in Christ that saves us and, unlike traits such as brown eyes or curly hair, faith isn’t in people’s DNA; it’s in their hearts. While our example and message may influence our loved ones, ultimately, each person has to make a personal decision whether or not to believe in Jesus. As believers, all we can do is pray, share, and continue to witness with our words and lives—the rest is up to them.
Since our Good Shepherd does not want to lose any sheep, we can be sure that He will offer our loved ones every opportunity to come into the fold. Moreover, 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 people’s hearts and only He will determine their final destination. We may be pleasantly surprised on the other side of those pearly gates!
Nevertheless, it’s a painful reality that not everyone we love will choose Jesus. The good news is that some eventually do! Several years ago, a friend expressed distress that her unbelieving and skeptical husband was not destined for God’s kingdom. Without nagging or whining, she encouraged him to join her at church, read Scripture, and to freely seek answers to his many questions. Like St. Augustine’s mother Monica, my friend also prayed for him relentlessly. Not long ago, her husband professed his belief and was baptized!
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 with us? While Scripture doesn’t give us the answer, it does tell us that God is compassionate, merciful, and “filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” As such, He would never condemn his faithful children to an eternity of sorrow in His heavenly home. Wiping every tear from our eyes, He promises “there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.” [Revelation 21:4]
Let’s remember that being reunited with loved ones isn’t the best thing about Heaven. The best thing about Heaven is being in the presence of God and face to face with 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]