Friday, February 25, 2011

No Tears in Heaven

Several years ago, a woman approached me during a church fellowship hour. She was visibly upset about something that a friend had said to her.

"What did she say?" I asked.

"We were talking about heaven," she explained. "I said how comforting it is to know that my parents were in heaven. I told my friend: 'They have no more sadness and no longer cry or grieve.' But she said, 'That isn't true!'

"Then she mentioned Revelation 21:3, where it says that God 'will wipe every tear from their eyes' and said, 'They'll still cry. But God will wipe away their tears.'"

"Pastor Mark," she said imploringly, "is that true?"

I told the woman bluntly, "Your friend is wrong."

We were outside of a Sunday School classroom. I said, "Let's go in here for a second." I pulled a Bible off a shelf and turned to Revelation 21:3 and invited her to read that verse and the next one.

They say:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
I explained to the woman that this passage is part of a vision that John received of the new heaven and the new earth that Jesus will establish after He's brought an end to this old heaven and old earth, which groans under the weight of our sin. All who have turned from sin (repented) and entrusted their lives to Jesus Christ (believed in Him) will be citizens of this new creation. There, God will live among His followers the way Jesus, God-in-the-Flesh, lived among the human race here on earth.

"You can see here that the tears God will dry are those from our lives in this old creation, with its sin and imperfections and tragedies," I told her.

The Bible doesn't sugarcoat how tough life in this world can be. But those who persist in turning from sin and trusting Jesus will enter the new creation, where God will wipe away those tears from the old creation.

"The promise is clear," I pointed out. "It says, 'Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.'"

The woman, visibly relieved, asked me why her friend would have said such what she did.

"She could simply be misinformed," I said. "But I've noticed that there are two extreme, unbiblical positions that Christians sometimes fall into when it comes to this business of suffering and pain.

"One group embraces a triumphant theology. A lot of the TV preachers seem to be in this category. They think that if you become a Christian, everything will come up roses in this life as well as the next. But Jesus says to Christians, for example, 'In this world you face persecution.' No sugar-coating there. Then he says, 'But take courage; I have conquered the world!' Jesus is going to give us a new world."

With a smile, the woman asked me, "I take it my friend is in the other group."

"She may be an exponent of what a buddy of mine used to call, 'wallow theology.' These folks take the Bible's theology of the cross, the belief that we must submit to crucifying our sins and that we must go through death with Jesus in order to rise with Jesus--which is what the Bible teaches--and take it in a wrong direction.

"They seem to believe that life is altogether bad and it always will be. Their idea of the resurrection, if they even believe in the resurrection, because a lot of wallowers don't believe in the resurrection, is that the new creation will just be more of what this life is like.

"Some wallowers also seem to think that the new creation will be a sort of eternal group therapy session in which we'll call up all the bad things we experienced in this life and cry over them."

By the way, Jesus does teach that one group of people will weep after the curtain has been drawn on the old heaven and the old earth. They're the people who have refused to repent in Jesus' Name or trust Him as their God, people who by this refusal have condemned themselves to hell. Jesus says that they will live in an "outer darkness," the twilight of death and aloneness that will be hell, where they will weep and gnash their teeth. "Gnashing of teeth" is a description of what people do when they regret their decisions. In hell, regrets will last for eternity. That's why there will be crying and unending grief there.

We can avoid the errors of triumphalists and the wallowers, by the way, when we:
  • Read the Scriptures for ourselves; 
  • Never interpret a single passage of Scripture in isolation from another, but pay attention to the witness of the whole Bible; and 
  • Pay heed to what Martin Luther called "the plain sense" of a passage apart from a framework that someone with their own agenda may want to impose on it.
I prayed that in our conversation, I eased this woman's mind. I hope too, that in presenting her story, you've been helped.

This old creation isn't perfect, though even here we can know the healing, help, and hope that only Jesus brings.

But the new creation Jesus has secured through His death and resurrection for all who follow Him, will be perfect. Our old tears will be dried. Death, mourning, crying, and pain will be in our rearview mirrors. And we will be with God forever!

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