Sadness in Heaven over Unsaved Loved Ones

Will there be Sadness in Heaven over Unsaved Loved Ones? Part 3

In this series, I answer a reader who asked whether there will be sadness in heaven for parents of unsaved children. In Part 1, I listed several unsatisfying approaches to the question. Part 2 explains the first of three considerations involving this question: that blood relationships to both saved and unsaved children will change in heaven. This post examines two more considerations, both ways the judgment will affect sadness in heaven.

2) Revelation will Lessen Sadness in Heaven

Two of my girlfriends who thought they had married nearly perfect, godly men recently discovered their husbands had been involved in long-term affairs. Both women were shocked to find out that the men they were certain they knew intimately were actually living double lives: there was the “faithful Christian” life they portrayed in front of family and church friends, and then there was the worldly life they lived among others and in their thoughts.

Both men called hiding their sin from others “compartmentalizing”; the Bible calls it “walking in darkness” (John 3:20-21). The wives had loved a façade, not who that person really was.

Sometimes We Love a Facade

We cannot know with certainty what another person is like here on earth. But at the judgment, God will expose people’s hidden sins and motives (Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Matthew 10:26). When we see the true nature of people who continued in evil and refused to repent, that nature may shock us, but it will also enlighten us as to why they don’t belong in the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes we will learn we loved a façade and the person we thought we loved never existed.

The “Remains” of the Unsaved will Differ

The question remains: The saved resurrect to glorified bodies, but what of the unsaved? Jesus speaks of “both soul and body” being destroyed in hell (Matthew 10:28), but the type of body isn’t clear. C. S. Lewis argues in The Problem of Pain that it will be less than the earthly body:

What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is “remains”. To be a complete man means to have the passions obedient to the will and the will offered to God: to have been a man—to be an ex-man or ”damned ghost”—would presumably mean to consist of a will utterly centred in its self and passions utterly uncontrolled by the will.” (1953: 113-114)

He illuminates his meaning further in the novel, The Great Divorce. If Lewis is right, then seeing ex-humans with uncontrolled wills will do much to help us understand why they are lost (though without necessarily stopping sorrow over the loss of what might have been—more on this momentarily).

3) Joy and Sadness can Co-exist

Sadness in Heaven over Unsaved Loved Ones

Detail of martyred Bartholomew in “Last Judgement” by Michelangelo (Web Gallery of Art, public domain, Wikimedia)

Philosopher and ethicist Adam C. Pelser argues in Paradise Understood that the saved will at times feel sadness and somberness over the lost, but that will not diminish joy. He says emotions result from evaluating something as good or bad, so emotions such as sadness and somberness are valuable because they help us “perceive, know, and appreciatively understand” badness and they enable us to fully appreciate goodness. For example, contemplating the Crucifixion on Good Friday causes sadness and somberness, but also increases “a deep, appreciative understanding of the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ” and therefore increases the joy of celebrating Easter (2017: 130-131).

Joy and Sadness in Scripture Together

Pelser argues:

Indeed, Scripture attests that it is possible to experience a deep and abiding joy even amidst the most severe trials and tribulations of this life (cf. James 1:2). If a joy that is “inexpressible and filled with glory” is possible in this life (1 Peter 1:8), still so full of pain and suffering, how much more will a deep and abiding joy be possible in heaven where those who are saved will live forever free from the many and varied trials and tribulations of this life? Just as Christian joy need not be diminished by sad and somber reflection on the crucifixion of Christ in this life, the stable, enduring state of perfect heavenly joy will not be diminished by moments of sadness and somberness toward negative realities, especially when one views and understands those negative realities in the light of God’s perfect goodness. (2017: 131)

If Pelser is correct, then sadness can co-exist with joy even in this life.

Joy and Sadness on Earth Together

One of our foster children at 14 ran away to connect with her birth mom and gain freedom to live with boys, forget school, and enjoy drugs. We were heartbroken, while at the same time relieved to have the violence and turmoil she brought finally gone. We knew the separation was good for our family, yet cried over her choices because we loved her dearly.

But here’s the thing. Even though her choices and pain still saddens us, we no longer shed tears. In fact, somber reflection about her co-exists with a joyous knowledge of God’s grace to us and others.

Joy and Sadness in Heaven Together

Now, between our deaths and the creation of the new heavens and earth there will be time—perhaps substantial time. The judgment of billions of people follows the general resurrection. My husband Clay in his book, Why Does God Allow Evil?, points out that it would take 133,090 years to judge for ten minutes all seven billion alive today (2017: 155). That’s a long time and doesn’t include the judgments of those who have lived before.

My point is that there will be time to consider and adjust to losses of loved ones. The tears that God wipes away may include tears over lost loved ones.

Who knows? When God wipes away the tears, we may talk to him about all the attempts we and he made to draw those loved ones in, and we will be satisfied that all that could be done was. Somber reflection will co-exist with a joyous knowledge of God’s grace to us.

And when the day of Christ reveals loved ones whom we have poured our lives into are saved, we “may be proud that [we] did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Philippians 2:16). We shall join with angels in taking great joy over them (Luke 15:10).

Sadness in heaven over unsaved loved ones? Part 3: 2 Ways the Judgment will Affect Sadness Click To Tweet Sorrow in heaven over lost loved ones? Surprising answer of @AdamCPelser! Click To Tweet
In This Series “Will there be Sorrow in Heaven over Unsaved Children?”:
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