Soulbook: Heaven and the Soul
Heaven is my favorite subject. There are several questions about what Heaven will be like. What is the nature of Heaven? What will our nature be in Heaven? Will we remember our physical lives? How will eternal life be different? I, for one, can’t wait to find out the answers to these questions in person! There are some clues in Scripture as to what Heaven will be like and what our souls will be like there after we shed our flesh. The most exciting part is that we can have a small window into Heaven through Scripture and through examining our nature and God’s nature as spiritual beings.
First, let’s look at the nature or attributes of Heaven. This understanding is probably most easily defined by understanding more about the nature of God. He is the eternal “I Am”, (Exodus 6:3; cf. Genesis 21:33; Psalm 90:2). God goes on and on into infinity, therefore His abode would, necessarily, do the same. Heaven is an endless realm; one of infinite possibilities. To talk about Heaven in terms of time and space probably misses the point and the nature of God and Heaven itself. Another attribute of God that gives us a look into Heaven has to do with the fact that God is spirit and not flesh, (John 4:24; Luke 24:39; Matthew 16:17). Heaven must also be a spiritual and non-physical reality. For God and us as spiritual souls to exist in a physical reality after death is not logically coherent. While our souls do occupy our bodies in this physical reality, the endless nature of our souls still exists, while the physical nature does not persist. However, in Heaven our nature will be eternal and, therefore, will have no need of the temporary nature it has now.
God is also infinitely wise/omniscient, (Romans 11:33-36). Through this wisdom and omniscience, God knows everything, everywhere, at all times. We can expect Heaven to be a reality in which all knowledge will be opened to us. Consider it like the most amazing, infinitely interesting library ever! The internet will have nothing on Heaven. Our souls will open the book of Heaven and see and understand everything. God is infinitely benevolent/omnibenevolent, (1 John 4:8; Ephesians 2:4; James 1:17). The love God shows us (the love that never fails) will continue in Heaven eternally. That love will permeate us and we will live in it forever. That kind of love and the fullness of it is unlike anything we could ever understand here, where it becomes obscured by the physical reality in which we exist.
Finally, God is infinitely powerful/omnipotent, (Job 42:2). God’s amazing and infinite power manifests itself in Heaven. The lights in Heaven will never go out. There will always be hot water and we will never lose our connection to the Net of information in Heaven. God is the supreme source of power and Heaven will, therefore, contain that power. It is where God resides, (Acts 7:48-49): “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: “’Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be?” It is a spiritual realm, unlike the physical realm we inhabit here. We cannot sense and have never seen Heaven: John 3:13 “No one has ever gone into Heaven, except the one who came from Heaven–the Son of Man.” This indicates that Heaven is in a place we, as humans, cannot reach. We must be something more than human. The soul must inhabit such a reality.
Then, what will our nature be like in Heaven? This is most easily defined by understanding more about the nature of Jesus after His resurrection. Jesus ascended to Heaven before His apostles’ eyes in a resurrected bodily form, so we should be able to glean some information about how we will be after death, as well. First, Jesus’ body is transportable to Heaven: Mark 16:19 “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into Heaven and He sat at the right hand of God.” Jesus left here in a glorified body. His body that was in the tomb for three days was somehow brought to life in a form that was compatible with the spiritual realm. He could also change His appearance and/or be invisible, (Luke 24:15-16, 31 John 20:14-16). Jesus could go through walls, look like a different person, and obscure Himself at times. Jesus was raised from the dead in a form completely unfathomable to us, and we will be raised also. He could appear suddenly and transport Himself quickly from one place to another, (Luke 24:36-37 John 20:19). Jesus had power in His resurrected form that allowed Him to move faster than any substance we can understand. Imagine going faster than light! Jesus could do this at will! Jesus could be touched. He had the ability to take physical form, (Luke 24:39-40). Jesus could eat! (Luke 24:41-43 John 20:26-28 John 21:12) So, even in His glorified body, Jesus had physical properties consistent with our own, if He so desired. Jesus could also communicate on a higher plane, (Luke 24:45). Jesus could open the minds of people to understand things they had been blind to previously. His eternal power and nature in this raised form also afforded Him a raised mind. The primary point of all of these attributes of the resurrected Jesus is that He is powerful in this form. This is a precursor to the power we will inherit at our own resurrection!
Look at how we will be. Our bodies will be incorruptible, (1 Corinthians 15:50-54): “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’.” Our new bodies/houses/dwellings will “not be made by hands”, but by God in a spiritual way that will be eternal, (1 Corinthians 5:1-8).
But, what will our new bodies be like? There’s an indication that we will be raised from Earth and go to Heaven, indicating a reconstitution of some fashion. “For the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord,” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). These bodies will be spiritual, (1 Corinthians 15:44). This may seem like a contradiction, considering what we’ve already discussed, but consider the fact that we will be “like the angels”, (Matthew 22:30, Luke 20:36).
What are angels like? They are transportable to Heaven: Rev 20:1, Rev 18:1, Matt 28:2. Just as Jesus and His resurrected body were physical in some sense, but could go to a spiritual place, so are the angels. They can change their appearance. In Luke 24:4, the angel gleamed like lightning. Joshua 5:13 says the angel appeared like a man in armor with a sword. And Gen 19:5 says they looked like ordinary men. Angels, just like Jesus, could change how they looked for different purposes. In Luke, the angel appeared glorious; in Joshua, as a military leader; and in Genesis, the angels looked just like you or me.
They could appear suddenly and transport themselves quickly, (Acts 7:30, Luke 22:43). The obvious power here gives them an advantage of being able to accomplish God’s work or deliver God’s messages in an almost omnipresent way. The extremely fast movement for these spiritual beings was nothing to them because they don’t have to abide by the rules of physics like we do. They only time angels appear to obey these rules of nature are when they are trying to fulfill a purpose or blend in somehow. For instance, they could be touched and take physical form. They could eat! (Genesis 19:3) Just as Jesus could commune with His apostles and eat food, angels can do the same. While they do not need Earthly sustenance, the purpose of eating for social or symbolic purposes still might require taking in food.
Angels could also communicate on a higher plane. In Daniel 10:10-15, Gabriel hears Daniel’s need far off and speeds to him at his earliest convenience. Again, the ability to communicate from a distance or even know the inner workings of someone’s mind would be a valuable trait for one of God’s angels. The power to understand people at this level would allow angels to tell people exactly what they needed to hear, guide them in a certain activity, or even lead them into battle.
As you have probably noticed, all of the attributes possessed by Jesus in His resurrected form are exactly the same as the powers of the angels. Angels are very powerful servants of God who can come and go at will. They can look like whoever or whatever suits their purposes, and can move faster than sight, possibly even seeming to be in two places at once. Angels are spiritual beings that can use the power God gives them to do all these things, even taking physical form. Thus, there is no contradiction in the Soul as our spiritual body and our ability to use the power God has instilled in our Souls to have the same properties as Jesus and the angels. The nature of our spiritual bodies will be almost opposite of our physical bodies, in that in our physical bodies we are recognized as physical and must put on the spiritual; whereas, when our Souls take on the spiritual
body, it will be able to manifest itself in physical form if so desired. Now, apply the fact that we will be like Jesus and the angels in the resurrection. Amazing!
Now that we have explored the nature of our existence in Heaven from a physical and spiritual perspective, let’s look at whether or not we will actually remember our Earthly existence after we leave this world. For many people, this is a topic of much debate and concern. Not much direct Scriptural information is given, but there is some insight that helps us to understand how we might perceive our new, eternal lives.
First, let’s look at II Corinthians 5:16-19: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” Some would say this passage supports how we might not recognize each other. However, it refers to an earthly recognition, not Heavenly.
Isaiah 65:17 tells us, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” Some interpret Isaiah 65:17 as saying that we will have no memory of our earthly lives in Heaven. However, one verse earlier, in Isaiah 65:16, the Bible says, “For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.” It is likely only our “past troubles” that will be forgotten – not all of our memories. Our memories will be cleansed, redeemed, healed, and restored – not erased. There is no reason why we could not possess many memories from our earthly lives. The memories that will be cleansed are the ones that involve sin, pain, and sadness. Revelation 21:4 declares, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Some point to the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) as proof that the dead remember their earthly lives. The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn the rich man’s brothers not to come to Hell. So, he remembered his relatives. He must have also remembered his own life of sin because he never asked to be released from Hell, nor did he ask why he was there, or claim there had been some kind of mistake. He remembered enough about his earthly life to know that he deserved Hell. But, this is no proof that those in Heaven remember their earthly lives. The rich man’s remembrance was part of his misery. If we have memories in Heaven, they will only be of things that will bring us joy.
But, the question remains: When we reach Heaven and realize that there are people we loved on Earth who are not present, won’t that bring us sadness? What does the Bible say about whether we will be able to recognize people in the afterlife? King Saul recognized Samuel when the witch of Endor summoned Samuel from the realm of the dead, (1 Samuel 28:8-17). When David’s infant son died, David declared, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me,” (2 Samuel 12:23). David assumed that he would be able to recognize his son in Heaven, despite the fact that he died as a baby. In Luke 16:19-31, Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man were all recognizable after death. At the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah were recognizable, (Matthew 17:3-4). In these examples, the Bible does seem to indicate that we will be recognizable after death. Also, many people recognized Jesus after His resurrection, (John 20:16, 20; 21:12; 1 Corinthians 15:4-7).
So, will the absence of loved ones contradict the tearlessness of Heaven? I don’t think so. Consider the following: When someone you love on Earth dies, do you already have a good idea of where they are going? Most would say “yes”. Therefore, we will have already dealt with and understood the reason for their absence in Heaven while we still live on Earth. The nature of Heaven and our own nature as purified Souls will set us so far apart from sin and the flesh that we can’t help but accept the righteous judgment of God, thereby alleviating our sorrow. When in Heaven, the burdens, sin, and sadness of every kind from Earth will no longer exist. Overall, the idea is that we will be changed in every way and our Heavenly lives will transcend our Earthly lives infinitely.
How will eternal life be different? What does “eternal” mean? Eternal is forever, never ending, infinite, timeless, spaceless. We cannot fully understand it since we live in time and space. Eternity is beyond our ability to comprehend. Some people think of forever and say, “I would get bored…” or “Forever is a loooong time!” but, what they fail to understand is that eternity is not measurable and is actually timeless. Time will not exist in Heaven. Space and matter will not exist, either. Heaven is a spiritual place and we will be spiritual Souls with new lives that exist in a state we cannot understand right now.
“And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from Heaven. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality,” (1 Corinthians 15:49, 53). We will be immortal and like Jesus. Consider I Corinthians 13:9-12: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” In Heaven, we will see everything completely. We will understand ourselves completely, just as God knows us completely. We will be in God’s presence at all “times”. Just look at passages in Revelation and you get the understanding that our new existence will completely center around God and His glory. Our Souls will be home! We’ll be back where we came from originally.
The primary thing to remember about Heaven is that it is ultimately a spiritual place. Our resurrected bodies may allow us to exhibit properties similar to Jesus and the angels, but ultimately, God is spirit and His reality or dwelling must necessarily be consistent with His properties. We are souls who will be able to manifest ourselves in physical form, if so desired. Can we eat in Heaven? Maybe so! The answer to this isn’t entirely a yes or a no, admittedly, but the fact that Jesus and the angels ate might indicate our ability to do that, and maybe be manifested physically if necessary or desired. We will have purified memories in Heaven. Our souls will be free of the physical and psychological pains of corporeal existence. How free that will be! We will be able to see past all of our Earthly suffering and see for eternity! Eternity will be timeless, spaceless, infinite, and amazing! My soul can’t wait!