Fr. Endres A Question of Faith: Eye has not seen: Heaven an unending experience of God
Q: I have been told that heaven will be a place of complete joy with no pain, anxiety or sense of loss. Knowing that all of my family and friends might not attain heaven, how will I (presuming I am in heaven) not feel a sense of loss knowing that they are not with me, God, and the angels and saints?
A: We do not know exactly what heaven will be like. It is beyond the realm of human experience. Yet God’s revelation through Scripture provides some clues. We know for certain that in heaven we will be in the presence of God. We will “see him as he is,” face to face (see 1 John 3:2). We will experience God’s ultimate self-communication to us – what has been called the “beatific vision,” a union so profound that it will be less like gazing upon God and more like being joined to Him.
While we cannot yet grasp what this will be like, we must trust that this unending experience of God will be enough for us. It is easy to think that if and when we enter into eternal life we will bring with us our memories, emotions, and desires, but these will be transformed as our very selves will be renewed in the presence of God. What had been important to us while on earth, will no longer be significant.
We have some hint of this transformation through the Scriptures. When Christ was raised he possessed a “glorified body,” recognizable, yet distinct from his earthly body (see Philippians 3:21). We can assume that heaven might likewise bear some resemblance to, but will be different from earth. Similarly, we ourselves will be transformed, and not just our bodies. We will enter into a state of complete fulfillment without any pain, sorrow, or unfulfilled desires.
This transformation will impact how we relate to and experience others. We know from the Scriptures that our relationships with be transformed in heaven. As Jesus says, “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). As marriage will pass away, seemingly concerns about other bonds with humanity (either fulfilled or unfulfilled) will be subordinated to our experience of God’s love. It is difficult for us to imagine how our experience of God’s love and justice could take priority over the closest of human relations, yet this is because we are so limited in our grasp of the divine.
God’s love and justice which are perfect, all-embracing, and irrevocable will likely mean eternal union for some of our family and friends and eternal separation for others. Since God does not force his will on anyone, but invites all to share in his divine life, it will be of others’ own free choice whether or not they enter into the life of heaven. We trust in God’s justice – ultimately an expression of his mercy and goodness – and recognize that if we are concerned now about the eventual salvation of loved ones, it is our task here on earth to pray for them and commend them to God’s mercy.
There are many unknowns about the life to come. In the midst of our earthly experience, we have difficulty grasping what it will be like and to trust that God alone will suffice, that He alone will complete our happiness and joy. However, we can be comforted by the words of Scripture: “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard … what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:4).