Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Will We Remember in Heaven?

I had an interesting conversation earlier this week, during the course of which I was asked a very difficult question. I cannot give it the full treatment, since that would take hundreds of pages. But it was interesting enough that I want to cover it briefly here.

What will we remember when we get to heaven? It’s not an easy question to answer, because we don’t have a lot to go on. It is vitally important, though, because our memories are a large part of what makes us who we are as individuals. Past experiences are hugely determinative of our thinking and behavior. To lose them would be to lose ourselves.

In spite of that, I have heard some people make an argument for the loss of all memory in heaven. It is based largely on Revelation 21:4. If there is to be no more crying or pain, and all the old trials of this life will have passed away, it makes a certain amount of sense to say we will not remember them anymore. After all, memory is the source of regret, and regret is a major cause of suffering in this life. Would eternal regret not be even worse?

However, I think we need memory in heaven, and it will not be so bad as our fears make it. I already discussed a lot of my reasoning in my last post, “Why Will There Be a Judgment Seat of Christ?” We are more than just our memories, certainly, but our memories are nevertheless important to knowing who we are. They are not synonymous with our identity, but they inform us of it.

Which is the point. I think we need memory because we need to know why Jesus did what He did for us. One of the great goods of redemption is knowing we have been redeemed. If we are to forget that in eternity, then we will have lost an important aspect of what causes us to offer gratitude and glory to Christ.

Another way to say it is to consider formation. What forms you right now? What makes you who you are? It should not be an easy question to answer, because a number of factors go into it. You are a human being with a soul, having the ability to choose. Yet you are also an object in the universe, being acted upon by the forces outside yourself. If you are a Christian, you are further a new creation being conformed to the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:16-18). Everything you learn, everything you think, everything you do, and everything that happens to you have helped make you who you are today, especially insofar as you remember those things.

That is why memory is so important right now, but I believe it will change. I think that in eternity, the saints will experience memory as informative rather than formative. Memory will still be there, but not with the same effect.

Right now, we see things from our own perspectives. In heaven, I believe we will see them through the perfect perspective of Jesus Christ. Through the lens of His glory, there will no longer be regret for any of the things we have done, or for any of the people we have known. In Him, we will be more truly ourselves than we have ever been here. Nothing will be forgotten, but what we recall will not affect us. It will only remind us of how great God is.

As I said, this could be discussed much further, and I am willing to do that if anyone would like. Memory and identity are very slippery things. I just happen to see these as the basics. Our memories will not cause us pain, but they will still be there to give us joy. To not at all remember who we were seems a terrible fate. To remember without regret is a wonderful blessing.

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