Tuesday, February 10, 2009

God will wipe away every tear


“Hmm... This doesn't address the objection if it goes like this: How could we be happy in heaven knowing that our loved ones are experiencing hell?__Is that not part of the objection that you've been encountering?”

What our lost loved ones would experience in hell is divine justice. I don’t think that, of itself, is a reason for consternation.

Now, there’s a pop tradition which equates hell with a torture chamber. If that’s what’s bothering them, I think the source of the problem is their preconception of hell—which owes more to watching one too many slasher films than what you can responsibly exegete from Scripture.

Put another way, we have to distinguish between two different objections:

i) I can’t be happy in heaven knowing what they’re missing out on.

ii) I can’t be happy in heaven because I miss them so much.

Your formulation is closer to (i). My post is addressing (ii).

I think that (i) without (ii) doesn’t have as much emotional purchase.

If the objection takes the form of: “I’m pained by how much pain they’re in,” then I think that loses a lot of its traction if we discount the pop tradition of hell as a torture chamber.

We also need to distinguish between how the afterlife looks to us from the perspective of this life—which, at present, is our only point of reference—and how it will look when we get there.

To go back to the illustration in my original post, when I’m 16, and my brother is 14, he and I may be so tight that I can’t imagine life without him.

Yet, 20 years down the line, when I’m married, with my own growing family, days may pass when I don’t even think about my brother. I’ve put him out of my mind, not deliberately, but due to intervening circumstances. The physical distance between us. The fact that my wife and kids consume most of my time and attention.

People can change how they feel about each. Drastically. Romantic love is a case in point. A guy may be madly in love with a woman (or vice versa), but feel completely different about her five years later.

At the time, she occupies his every waking thought. But now he’s “gotten over her.” He may still have fond memories of what they had together, but he no longer feels that insatiable need to spend every minute of the day in her company. He’s moved on to other things and other people. He’s found a new love in his life.

This can also hold true among blood relatives. Brothers who used to love each other may come to hate each other. Brothers who used to hate each other may come to love each other.

The attitude of a parent towards a child can also change. How would you feel to be the proud parents of Ted Bundy?

So even if you use this life as a frame of reference, it’s quite conceivable that we might feel very differently about someone in the world to come. I think we tend to resist this possibility, not because it’s inconceivable, but for two other reasons:

i) It’s not that we can’t imagine it, but we don’t want to, or we don’t think we ought to feel that way. We don’t want to let go. And we don’t feel that we should.

And there’s some truth to that. In this life, there are some people we should never give up on.

But, of course, that’s one of the differences between this life and the afterlife. We don’t have all the same duties in this life and the next.

ii) The other thing is that, for many people, family is the bedrock of their emotional security. That’s the one thing they can always count on. Or so they hope. When all else fails, they have family to fall back on, for love and support.

Therefore, the idea that some of these relationships are temporary is very unsettling. It strikes us where we feel most vulnerable.

But, of course, heaven is stable in a way that life in a fallen world is not.

iii) I’d add that (ii) is somewhat idealized. Many people did not come from stable homes. That’s something they long for. Something they miss. But they miss it because they never had it, and not because they lost it.

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