This familiar statement became very absolute and painful on December 10th, 1997. Over 17 years earlier I had looked Jeanine Kay Hutchings in the eyes and promised those words, “Until death do us part”. And in a span of time much shorter than our exchange of vows before our friends, family, and our Lord, our marriage was over.
In the spring of 1999, once again I looked a beautiful woman in the eyes and promised once more I would be her’s “Until death do us part”. And with friends, family, and the Lord as our audience Carol Samsill Robinson became my wife, until death says it’s over.
Largely, out of these experiences of having a spouse die, Carol and I, (at her insistence), eventually became grief group facilitators, a ministry we shared for 16 years. We hosted and co-hosted 13 week Grief Share groups in the spring and again in the fall. Both Carol and I have lost our parents, other relatives, and scores of dear friends and acquaintances. I have never been far from grief my whole life. I can remember the sadness when my grandpa died when I was only 5 years old. And I preached my first funeral before I was 30.
Everyone who lives very long will have someone they love who dies. And of course, they themselves will die too. As common as death and dying is, it is surprising how little many people know about death and what happens after. If I have heard one I’m sure I have heard a thousand widows talk about being reunited with their deceased husband in heaven. I recently heard a woman say of her parents after her mom died, “They are walking hand in hand looking at the flowers”. Apparently many people believe heaven is just a continuation of life on earth without any problems. That is partially true, there will be no problems, but that’s about all the truth in that idea.
The only source of truth about what we can expect after physical death is found in the Bible. There are many passages that address this subject. A few are my favorites.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 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.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:3-5 ESV
The key phrases in the passage above is “the former things have passed away”, and “Behold, I am making all things new”. Death is gone, grief is gone, mourning in gone, crying is gone, pain is gone. Those things are no more. God will remake earth and it’s inhabitants.
Another passage I love is what Paul said, first in Philippians 1:23,
I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Paul makes it abundantly clear that life with Christ is “far better” than life here on earth as it is now. Paul again tried to press upon his readers how much better life after death will be by saying this in 1 Corinthians 2:9.
9 But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
We know very little about what life with God will be like according to this. No one has seen it, no one has heard it, no one has even imagined what God has prepared for his people.
Not only will death and it’s consequences be gone, (“passed away”), sin, the cause of death, will be gone too. Even the memory of evil, of sin, and even of death will be gone forever.
No mom is in the presence of Jesus wringing her hands and worrying about a son or daughter. And I doubt people in heaven are watching little league games and cheering on their great grandsons. No, this life will be gone, completely gone.
There are so many misconceptions because we are so “earth bound”. What we do and have done here on earth is the only context we know so we continue to hang onto it . There are some myths, some half truths, and some misgivings that can easily be cleared up.
There are three theological words we need to become familiar with.
- Justification. Justification is the act of God declaring a sinner “not guilty” upon the ground of the finished work and worth of Jesus Christ alone. When we are set free from the penalty of the law (death) we have been “justified”. We have been reconciled or “set right” with God.
- Sanctification. Once a sinner has become a child of God by “justification” “sanctification” begins. Sanctification is the process of God working in you and on you to make you more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit in us starts to conform us to the image of Christ. It is a process in which all of us stumble and fall and get carried along by the Lord, but eventually God will complete this work.
- Glorification. Glorification is when we are raised from the dead in a body like the body of Jesus, or we will be changed when Jesus comes “in the twinkling of an eye”. Glorified people have been justified, and fully sanctified. They will not only have a body like that of Jesus but their lives will be perfected.
People in heaven are no longer partial to certain people. They love everyone perfectly equal, just as Christ does. There is no hint of any personality flaw that riddles humans on earth. A glorified people loves like God loves and their number one priority will be to glorify our great God and Savior Jesus Christ .
Your husband on earth will not be your husband in heaven. And, your wife on earth will not be your wife in heaven. Marriage is only for life on earth and no longer. Jesus made this perfectly clear when he answered the Jewish antagonists when they questioned him about a women who had been married to 7 men. “Who will be her husband in heaven?” Jesus answered,
“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Matthew 22:30 ESV
You see, in heaven you will love everyone with the same quality and quantity of love that God does. You will not love your former spouse any more than you will love your neighbor. Love will be perfected. It is extremely difficult for us to imagine loving that way, to that degree but it will happen.
It is my sincere belief that no familial relationships will extend into the eternal community of the saints of God. I loved my godly mother, she was the best woman I have ever known. But, she isn’t my mother now. I speak of her in the past tense, she is no longer my mother. Earthly relationships are only for the life of the people involved.
We will know others. But, I believe we will know everyone. There are no human limitations in the life with God in his eternal, glorious, presence.
Eternal life with the one who loved us enough to die for us will be so loving, so euphoric, so full of joy and gladness that even the memory of living here would be a downer. Living the life of God is an eternal day with Jesus as the light, only joy, peace, and glory for ever. This is not the end of our story, it is the beginning of it.