What happens when we die?

Straight Talk

The Question:

My dad died almost three years ago but I still miss him so much and can’t seem to get past it. He accepted the Lord only a few days before he died so I know he is in heaven but I keep wondering things like: does he know what is happening down here on earth? Did he watch our family over Christmas and does he still care about our lives? What happens after we die; what is going on with those who have gone on?

– S. from Bay Village, Oh.

The Answer
Part 1: What are the roots of the question?
Part 2: What is heaven like?
Part 3: The mystery of life after death
Part 4: Is there much to do in heaven?

What are the real roots of the question? (Part 1)

Before I begin to answer this from a theological or biblical perspective, I have a question for you. Why are you asking? Have you delved down into the root of what you actually want to know? I suspect that you are not really looking for a “theological” answer. If so, you probably wondered such things long before your father died.

Let me hazard a guess and say that your question probably comes out of an emotional reservoir revolving around how you are handling your loss. Perhaps you are looking for some comforting thoughts that will take the sting away. For instance, if you could feel that your dad’s spirit was close by as you celebrated Christmas, there would be a little easing of the pain of separation. Am I hitting home?

God deeply cares about our griefs and sorrow. So much so that Isaiah in the Old Testament prophesied this of Jesus who was to come; “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (53:3-4) Remember too that when Jesus was on earth and came to the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus he wept and “groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” (John 11:33) There is nothing that we feel concerning the loss of our loved ones that the Lord does not understand and share with us.

More to the point, Jesus cares about YOUR loss of your dad and about YOUR continued grief and YOUR need to be comforted at a level not yet achieved. Grief is such a personal thing; people handle it in all different ways and resolve it in all different time frames. Psalm 30:5 says; “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” That tells me that grief is for a season of time – not meant to be permanent. Take hope, a time of healing awaits you.

What is heaven like? (Part 2)

For as much mystery as there is about death and the afterlife there are a number of things that we do know from scripture. These things may help us as we grieve the loss of family and friends and may help us approach our own inevitable death.

First of all, our time on earth is the shortest part of our existence. We are designed for eternity and after our body dies, our spirit will live on eternally. If we have accepted Jesus Christ’s atoning gift for our sins we will go on to heaven and live in God’s presence for eternity. If not, we will live eternally separate from God in the place called hell. (For our purposes now we are only discussing those who have accepted Jesus as Savior and who will make heaven their permanent home. See How to meet Jesus for more information if you have never received Christ)

It might also be good to know that you only have to die once. The scripture tells us; “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.” (Hebrews 9:27) The idea of living many lives called reincarnation is neither biblical nor necessary. Since we are not saved on the basis of any of our works but only through faith in Jesus Christ (See Ephesians 2:8), we do not have to spend many lifetimes working at becoming good enough to achieve heaven.

One of the great things about heaven is all the things that cease when we get there. Our life here on earth is a battle. We are in a war against our own flesh and against the devil who continuously tries to rob us and lie to us. When we are past the grave our struggles cease. Our flesh no longer bothers us and the devil has no access to us. Pain, sickness, tears, doubt – death itself, cannot touch us anymore.

Heaven will also be filled with surprises that we cannot yet imagine. 1 Corinthians 2:9 tells us; “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Once a person has entered into heaven, they would never desire to return to the earth. As we miss those who have gone before us, we also want them to stay put.

The mystery of life after death (Part 3)

Anybody who claims to have all the answers about what happens in heaven and how things go after the spirit leaves the body is kidding you. There is SO much that we simply don’t know. We might make some educated guesses but unless we have scriptural back up those items remain “guesses”. I think it is okay to hold some personal opinions where the Bible is silent or unclear as long as we don’t cling too dearly to them.

How much do the people in heaven know about what is happening on earth? Hebrews 12:1 tells us; “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” That passage indicates to me that there is a connection between the heavenly citizens and us. However, are they watching every minute? Do they take interest in their previous earthly family? Maybe – we just don’t know.

Jesus told us that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.”In heaven we are free from human family relationships but that doesn’t mean we won’t know our father, spouse or child. Very possibly we will be greeted in heaven by all those we knew on earth.

I for one want to meet my family ancestors who walked faithfully with the Lord so I can thank them for my godly heritage. Remember that when King David’s infant son through Bathsheba died, David said; “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:25) Clearly, David felt he would see his son again and I think that’s a good bet.

Is there much to do in heaven? (Part 4)

I don’t think we will be floating on clouds at all. Doesn’t that sound boring? That thought would make you wonder what all the fuss of heaven is about. We are always being told by scientists that we use only 5% or maybe 10% of our brain power during our lifetime. We have so much more inside of us. I imagine heaven is a place where our full potential will be realized in ways we can’t possibly imagine now.

That means we will have things to do, explore, learn, enjoy. Then also, the Bible talks about the “rewards” we will enjoy. Here are a few hints about what is to come.

“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matt. 16:27)

“For you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.” (2 Peter 10:34)

“And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations-.” (Rev. 2:26)

“Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”(1 Corinthian 3:8)

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthian 5:10)

Those passages should be enough to whet our whistle and cause us to long for the day when we can join the others who have gone before us. We should also rejoice over those who have already made it to heaven, even as we have personal sadness and grief for the ones we were so close to and still miss.