Not long ago, I heard again the promise that Heaven is going to be a place without mourning, without tears. And for the first time, that idea gave me pause.
Because it goes against the very idea of Hell.
Yes, you read that right. The idea of a Heaven without mourning is an idea that I find contrary to the idea of Hell. And I'm not really sure what to do with that.
Most of us know at least a few unbelievers. Many of us are related, even closely related, to unbelievers. We have spent countless hours worried over them, praying for their hearts to change, longing for their salvation, but the truth is that some of these people we love dearly will never come to God. They just won't. Most of us find this quite troubling.
Now, if we hold to the idea that those who do not believe in Christ will be condemned to Hell, this means for them not only an eternal separation from God, but an eternal separation from us. And our eternal separation from them. This leaves us in the sticky situation of trying to imagine Heaven as both a place with no mourning and a place without some of the very persons who have meant so much to our earthly existence.
It's a problem not easily resolved.
We could say that when we get to Heaven, we won't remember this life at all, that we'll be so wrapped up in our new, restored life that whatever happened here won't even be a vapor in our faintest memories. But that's not really a Godly perspective. What could we possibly say about a God who gives us eighty-ish years of completely meaningless existence before bringing us to Heaven to live with Him? It's fatalist. It's defeating. It's holding out the idea that this life doesn't matter at all, that it's inconsequential. That's not the kind of life I want to live, and I don't think it's the kind of life God has for me.
Maybe we could say that those of our closest loved ones who don't enter Heaven with us were never that important in the first place, that they weren't as big a part of our lives as we thought they were. Or that they weren't supposed to be such a big part of our lives. Or that their influence on our lives wasn't for our benefit. This, too, is a difficult position to hold. For some of us, that means saying that our mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, neighbors and best friends were not actually a blessing on our lives, but were poison to it somehow. It means that those closest to us were never supposed to mean anything. I don't think that's a Godly perspective, either. God doesn't create us to spend our lives in relationship with persons who don't eternally matter.
Maybe we could say that once we become our full and truest selves and are surrounded by others who are their true and fullest selves and are in the presence of the fullest and truest God, that we simply won't feel the incompleteness of not having our loved ones near. Love will complete us, and there will be no room left for mourning. But this just raises both of the previous problems - a life that was meaningless and empty and people that never ultimately meant anything. This is no good, either.
None of this means, however, that we can just go full bore in the other direction and declare that Hell is not real. We can't just conclude that God will save everyone. That would mean that everything God has told us about...well, everything...is a lie. Jesus' death on the Cross was not necessary, since God's just going to save everyone anyway. Our faithfulness isn't necessary. Our baptism isn't necessary. Church isn't necessary. Righteousness, grace, and mercy aren't necessary. Even justice is an illusion. You cannot hold that God just saves everyone and still have any realistic view of God. It just doesn't work.
So I guess as I throw this question around, I'm ultimately drawn back to an idea that struck me quite awhile ago about the promise of Revelation and maybe how this Heaven thing works. You can read that idea in a piece I wrote entitled "Go to Hell," which sounds a lot more sinister than it is. Hint: it's all about that "new name" God's going to give you one day and how that might just be the answer to this whole mess.
Just some things I'm thinking about this morning.