This is a question that is frequently asked by people when they think of their own death or are dealing with the death of a loved one. People wonder what heaven will be like. Will they remember anything about this life or the people they knew? Or will they recognize loved ones in heaven? Will loved ones and friends recognize them?
People through the centuries have wrestled with this question. As the biblical writers themselves admitted there is much they didn’t know, even those who lived with and followed Jesus. As Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, said in one of his letters, he didn’t see clearly about these things in this world, he only knew some of the truth. Not until he would be with the Lord would he know the full truth about these things (1 Corinthians 13:12). In other words, no one has the definitive truth on this question.
Most people seem to assume that we will not remember anything about this life once we leave this world. They base this on many different passages of scripture, often using Revelation 21:1-5. It states in this passage that “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the older order of things has passed away.”
First, this passage isn’t saying that we will have a memory lapse or that, as we sometimes see people who have gone through such a traumatic experience, that their brain literally blocks out the experience. Nor is this passage referring to someone suppressing or repressing negative feelings or emotions.
Rather, it is referring to the truth that the new order or the new world that God will eventually bring into reality will be so awesome and overwhelming that it will fill our minds and emotions with such awe and joy, that we won’t have much energy to spend on past negative pains or experiences.
Even in this life, we can relate to this concept. Most of us have had the experience of having just an awful day – one that totally drained us and left us feeling we could never forget it. One that seemed like at the time would keep us up at night forever and that we would never be able to let go of it. And then, either all of a sudden or over time, that terrible day faded away as we got on with our lives. And after a period of time, the sting of that day was gone. That day became a distant memory. That day had little impact on us anymore. Why? Because our mind had become filled with other day to day things, and many of which were much more pleasant.
In heaven, I’m imagining this experience will be even more dramatic – the thoughts and emotions we will be experiencing will flood our minds and hearts so much that even when we think of our time on this earth and the people we loved and lived with, it will be mostly, if not completely, positive thoughts.
I think the point here is this, while we may not forget our life on planet earth (because even though we become a “new” person in terms of attitudes and righteous and holy state with the Lord, we are still the same person God originally created), it will fail in comparison to the greatness of heaven because we will be in the full presence of the Lord.
Isn’t it true that even when a person in this life says, “I am a changed man,” or “I am a new woman,” they don’t forget who they once were or even the bad things they did. What they mean is, their “new” life is overwhelming to the point that this is what drives them and sets their priorities now, not the old attitudes or habits.
From what we know from scripture, even Jesus will still have the scars in his hands and feet from his time on earth. But He isn’t dwelling on that – rather He is empowered from His resurrection to be Lord over all. I think this principle will apply to us. While we may still carry scars and memories of both the good and bad from this life into eternity; what will direct out lives in eternity will be the holiness and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The redemption and restoration we experience in this life, because of Christ’s resurrection, will so empower us to live above and beyond any pain we felt in this life. And further, the good things we enjoyed, including loved ones, will be a part of our memory forever.
So, in conclusion, it seems for as much as we can know on this side of eternity, that we will remember our life on earth when we are in heaven. The good things will always be a source of joy; while the bad things that produced scars upon us, will have little impact in the light of the glory and presence of the Lord.