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Heavenly Joy with Loved Ones in Hell?

Q. So how will heaven be joyful if we are able to remember life on earth, those who we loved who are now in hell? (J.J.)

A. Good question, J.J., and a difficult one. I struggle with it, too, with nearly all of my immediate family embracing a hostile form of atheism. In addition to that, whenever a popular Christian in the media brags about their loved ones coming to a saving acceptance of Christ because of their own ministry or prayer life, it just "pours salt on the wound". Sometimes I wish that Christians would try to be more sensitive to others who are mourning over unbelieving family members.

True Family&Identity

Having said that, I sometimes wonder why we mourn so desperately for family members to join us in heaven when the Bible clearly teaches that all Christians are family? "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household," (Eph. 2:19). In fact, Jesus himself calls us brothers and says we are God's children (Heb. 1:11-13). While we may not feel like it now, we will all be part of God's family in heaven. I don't think our Lord would refer to us as a family if we were not going to feel like one, too.

The definition of a family is a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household. God is our Father, the Messiah is our Lord and brother and we are His brethren and God's children. At some point in the future we will all be inhabiting the sparkling city of New Jerusalem described in Revelation 21-22. It will be our home. So we will fit the primary definition of a family.

The secondary meaning of a family is that it consists of all the descendants of a common ancestor. Surprisingly, we will fit that definition, too, since we will be resurrected in a supernatural but physical body like our brother Yeshua's resurrected body (1 John 3:2).

Abilities to Think Clearly

If I were thinking more clearly, I might also mourn for all those unbelievers who exist throughout our country and the world. I wouldn't just grieve over the loss of my own biological family members who belong to my DNA lineage. (By the way, don't forget that all of us are descended from Adam and Eve and are related in that sense. We already share DNA lineage).

At any rate, none of us can think clearly right now. Neuro surgeons tell us that in a resting state we only use a small portion of our brains. Christian psychologist, Caroline Leaf, also points out that we have around 3 million years of memory storage-space in our brains. We're not using all of it. So why is it there? Although our brains perform complex functions we're certainly not using all of our brain capacity at any given time.

I think we can conclude that brain function and capacity will be enhanced after we are glorified in our new, resurrected bodies. Scripture plainly reveals that when Jesus appears to us we will be like Him (1 John 3:2). While we don't know exactly what that will entail, we do know that we will be better off than we are now. In that state I might be able to do things that are difficult today. Consequently, I will probably be able to reason better and bring more logic to this issue.

Psychological Warfare

Finally, we can't overestimate the extent that sin has infected every part of man including our psychological nature and emotions as well. Because of sin we're breaking down physically and mentally. We're "sin positive". It's called entropy or the rate of decay occurring in all things throughout our universe. In fact, concerning our emotions and intentions the prophet Jeremiah says,

The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9). If that isn't scary enough Jeremiah continues, I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds (Jer. 17:10).

When I was younger I thought that Jeremiah and the Lord were just being poetical in these passages. Surely, mankind couldn't be that bad. But, as I've matured I've come to understand that there is nothing good about me apart from God. When I am honest with myself I know that my motives stink. I know that I don't always wish people well. I'm full of resentments and hatreds and I can't seem to do much of anything that could be called truly good. It's a constant battle!

The psalmist entreats God, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10).

In contrast, it's interesting that unbelievers often claim, "I'm not so bad. I don't deserve hell and I'm good enough for heaven." But, an older, experienced Christian admits, "I can't think, feel or do much of anything right. Whatever good that comes from me is really coming from the Lord, not from my own feeble attempts to do good. I need the Savior who died for my sins to qualify me to live in a new sinless earth and heavens."

It seems the closer we draw to God the more clearly we see ourselves as we truly are. Even the apostle Paul cried out, For I know that nothing good dwells in me. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:18-24).

It's a miracle that God provided a way for all of mankind to come clean and join Him in a new family fit for a new universe. Why wouldn't anyone want that? Yet, I think the sad truth is that many don't want it. They are turned off by a God who demands accountability. They want nothing to do with Jesus Christ and they have become content to live a life under the rulership of the evil one (1 John 5:19).

New Heart, Spirit and Psychology

Significantly, God promises to give believers a "new" heart and a "new" spirit once we are changed into the image of Christ (Ezekiel 11:18-21; 36:26). Everything else He will "make new" from the old. But our psychological nature and intentions are brand new. The apostle Paul emphasizes again and again that we will be completely changed (1 Cor. 15:51-55). Be sure to read those Scriptures for yourself. They suggest that our perspective and understanding will change as well. The sadness and grief you and I feel over our lost loved ones will turn into rejoicing over the companionship and fellowship with our Lord and one another. Count on it!

Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6). We have to trust our Lord that we will become part of a future family who will be assigned positions of responsibility in His coming Kingdom. One thing we can know for sure is that "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain" because those "first things have passed away and He has made all things new" (Rev. 21:4-5). I strongly suspect that we will feel such overwhelming joy, newfound purpose and a keen sense of belonging to one another in His presence, that everything else will pale in comparison. The apostle Paul wrote,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Ro. 8:18).

I trust that Paul means what he says and that our emotional state at that time will be uplifted as well. We will truly feel like a family, united in every way possible.


Alcorn, Randy. 2004. Heaven. Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale.

Dillow, Joseph. 2012. Final destiny: The future reign of the servant kings. Monument, CO: Paniym Group, Inc.

Leaf, Caroline. 2007. Who switched off my brain? Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

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