Sorrow in Heaven depicted in Last Judgement

Will there be Sorrow in Heaven over Unsaved Children? Part 1

A reader asks about sorrow in heaven over unsaved children:

If we who are in Heaven have memory of our life back on earth, how can there be no mourning from parents who may not see their children in Heaven? But if our children are not with us in Heaven that would be a painful reminder that seems to interfere with Revelation 21:4.

This is a great question, Steve. I assume your question is about adult children since most theologians think young children are saved, as Dr. Clay Jones argues in Why Does God Allow Evil?: “Although Christians differ about whether all children will be saved, many of them, including apologists such as Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and Greg Koukl, have argued that all who die before the age of accountability (see Deuteronomy 1:39) will be saved” (2017: 90).

Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” How can there be no more mourning or crying if Christian parents in heaven remember beloved unsaved adult children?

Let me begin with a story. One evening our foster daughters’ rebellion discouraged my husband and me greatly. We’d poured our lives into them, we’d done everything we knew to help them, we’d sacrificed for them, but they weren’t leaving destructive ways. So my husband went walking on the hill next to our house among the frames of partially constructed homes so he could pray. With tears in his eyes, he asked, “Lord, what if these girls never come to know you?” Immediately, the words came to mind: “Then you will know the fellowship of my suffering” (Philippians 3:10). At that, we understood better what it is like for God to love those who reject him. That helped immensely.

When we talk about sorrow in heaven over lost loved ones, it’s important to remember God’s heart. He desires all to be saved (Ezekiel 18:23; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Jesus grieved over the lost (Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:41). He told us, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). The Bible describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” which assures us that “as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (Isaiah 53:3; 2 Corinthians 1:5). He shares our sorrow over lost loved ones.

3 Common Approaches to Sorrow in Heaven Question that Don’t Work

Sorrow in Heaven depicted in Last Judgement

“Last Judgment” by Michelangelo (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Here are three common approaches to this problem.

Sorrow in Heaven Approach 1: Universalism

Some argue like this: Perfect joy in heaven cannot exist if loved ones reside in hell; the Bible says there will be perfect joy in heaven; therefore, everyone must go to heaven. But universalism contradicts Jesus’ teaching about eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46) and about salvation coming only through him (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

Sorrow in Heaven Approach 2: Memory Loss

This argument also contends that we cannot have perfect joy in heaven if loved ones are in hell, but resolves the problem by saying we won’t remember our earthly lives or even that we had children. But what would it mean for Jacob to be “gathered to his people” if he doesn’t know who “his people” are (Genesis 49:33)? Also, how can the deeds of the saved follow them (Revelation 14:13) if they don’t remember those deeds? To remember Corrie ten Boom’s faithfulness in the face of the Holocaust requires remembering the evil of the Holocaust, too.

Sorrow in Heaven Approach 3: Beatific Vision

The saved shall see God face-to-face and know him fully (1 Corinthians 13:4). We call this seeing and knowing the “beatific vision.” Particularly during the middle ages, many believed that in heaven the saved gaze and contemplate on God eternally. They’re so filled with joy that they’re unconcerned with anything else, including the lost. But Revelation 6:9-10 says “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God” cried out, “how long before you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?” Also, in Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man is in Hades, yet Abraham knows his history and talked to him over a chasm.

There you have three common approaches that don’t work. In Part 2 and Part 3, I’ll cover three considerations about sorrow in heaven that do work. Part 2 addresses just the issue of parents knowing adult children are in hell. Part 3 addresses any unsaved loved ones.

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  1. What if, similar to universalism, all are saved through Christ after death? The Bible doesn’t rule that out. What if ‘eternal’ doesn’t literally translate from the text (I don’t believe that it does)?

    I think you’ve answered the question already tho. Angels in heaven aren’t uncaring, yet still full of joy.

    • Hi, Mark. The idea that all are saved through Christ IS universalism, and I do think Jesus’ teaching on eternal punishment rules that out. The occupants of heaven don’t want unrepentant murderers and gossipers roaming the streets of heaven. I’m not sure what you mean by “eternal” not being translated correctly. Are you speaking of the phrase “eternal punishment” in Matthew 25:46? The Greek word “aionios” used there is the same word used to describe “eternal life” later in the same verse, as well as throughout the Bible. Blessings!

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