Heaven. This is not the first conversation I have had with my son about this. Humans are often curious about the afterlife. This particular conversation happened before bedtime.
Oaks: “Are there streets of gold in Heaven?”
Me: “Probably not. I think it is meant to be a symbol.”
Oaks: “What do you mean?”
Me: “Well—when you think of gold—what comes into your brain?”
Oaks: “Gold bars. Gold teeth.”
Me: “Okay (chucking). Not what I meant. I mean—what does gold represent?”
Oaks: “Oh. I don’t know. Money. Rich people. Celebrities. Rappers.”
Me: “That is better. So gold in Heaven might represent beauty or purity or maybe spiritual riches.”
Oaks: “But are there roads in Heaven?”
Me: “I wrote a book about this. The Bible doesn’t say much about Heaven, in its current form. The Bible does say a good amount about the new Earth. A future Earth. A renewed Earth.”
Oaks: “What about reunions?”
Me: “What about them?”
Oaks: “Will I recognize you?”
Oaks: “So—I will remember what happened on Earth?”
Me: “I think so. But other smart people would disagree with me”
Oaks: “But we can’t remember the people that don’t make it to Heaven, right? Like the people that go to Hell. I mean—-remembering them would make me sad. And I can’t be sad in Heaven. Right?”
Me: “It is true you can’t be sad in Heaven. But that doesn’t mean you won’t remember them. Let me try and explain.”
Oaks asked two questions about Heaven. I want to elaborate on the first inquiry. The streets of gold. Now to be clear, there could be streets of gold in Heaven presently or possibly on the new Earth. But the main point is that apocalyptic books in the Old and New Testament tend to use symbolic language, so we must be careful to read these verses through the lens of wooden literalism. Do we receive a crown in Heaven? Maybe. Though I find the reception of a literal, physical crown (or wreath) to be unnecessary. Jesus is far greater than any crown. But doesn’t the Bible say the elders laid their crowns at the feet of Jesus’ throne? It does. But again, if my crown is my reward for faithfulness, why do I not get to keep it? Furthermore, is my crown bigger than someone else’s crown? I mean—my crown must be bigger or more beautiful than the thief on the cross? Right? He had literally no time to even build his spiritual inheritance. He was nailed to the cross and then died.
The bottom line is this: God is amazing. He accommodates language to us so that we can understand spiritual truth. A street of gold? My mind can grasp that. If anything, a street of gold represents that Heaven is glorious, beyond imagination, a place of endless pleasures. A symbol is always lesser in value than the reality. The reality is God. The reality is His presence. The reality is eternal joy. A street of gold is just a foretaste. Just an earthly mental appetizer.
Regarding the idea of reunions and memories, we must journey into the land of pure speculation. Scripture is mostly silent. Here is the little we know. Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would soon be with Him in Paradise. The assumption is that the thief would not only have a reunion with Jesus but also remember Jesus. In other words, he would recognize Jesus. Now how could the thief recognize Jesus if all of his memories were wiped clean before his entrance in Paradise? You might say—well, God could implant that singular memory into his immaterial brain. Yes, He could. To go one step further, I guess it is possible to apply that to every other reunion in Heaven. Just the recognition of their identity, but none of the memories. But if that is true, then won’t every reunion be the same? If all I can do is recognize my wife, but there are no memories attached to her, she is nothing more to me than another soulish human hanging out in Paradise. Reunions are not this way on Earth. If I go to my 20 year high school reunion, I will be much more excited to see my teammates from basketball than that kid who bullied me. Are we really to believe that no memories travel with us to Heaven? I know—I know. What about all the bad memories? The pain? The suffering? The abuse? There is no way those memories can book a ticket to heaven. There is no place for them. They are not invited. I would agree—but our minds in Heaven are not the same minds we have on Earth. What if in Heaven we don’t see pain, but are given new lenses that only see the beauty of God’s providence or the righteous glow of His justice. Am I right? Who knows? But the possibility that I cannot remember all the sweet memories of my wife or my children seems to rob me of the promised joys of Heaven. I won’t remember their birth? Their first steps? Their conversion or their baptism? Heaven does not empty us into the sea of divine consciousness, removing our personalities. Rather we are more human on the new Earth than we were on the old one. It has to be. The new Earth is the renewed Garden of Eden.
Good questions, Son. Until next time.