Originally published Saturday, 15 February 2014.
So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come.He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. (Hebrews 9:11-12, NLT)
In the tabernacle Moses built for the Spirit of God to dwell with His people, and subsequently the temple in Jerusalem constructed by Solomon as a permanent House of God, there was a room in which the high priest entered only one time per year to offer an animal sacrifice to atone the sins of the people and himself. This room was called the Most Holy Place. Upon the death of Jesus, the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place was ripped in two from top to bottom. This signified the redemption of man by Jesus Christ alone.
Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart (Matthew 27:50-51, NLT)
Today the only veil that remains is the present and the step into eternity separated by our final breath and our first encounter with God. For we are destined once to die and then the judgement. (Hebrews 9:27)
What about those beyond the veil of time? Can they see us who remain? Can they direct us, be proud of us, cheer us on? These are questions one either has, or attributes we assign in an effort to ease the sting of death we feel so very deeply.
Let's start with what we know.
In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells a story of a rich ruler who despised a poor man named Lazarus in his life. Both the ruler and the poor beggar, Lazarus, die. The ruler goes to hell and the beggar to heaven. The ruler is in anguish and cries out to Abraham and Lazarus whom he can see in heaven. Abraham alone responds to the ruler and tells him,
But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there. (Luke 16:25-26, NLT, emphasis mine)
From this account we can inductively assume a few points:
- a great chasm separates heaven and hell
- those in heaven and hell cannot cross over the chasm
- those in hell may be allowed to see the glory they forfeited by rejecting Christ/God in this life
- in this situation (perhaps allegorical as Jesus often taught in parables) Abraham was able to hear and respond to the cries of the rich ruler as he suffered in hell
Our next text describes Saul appealing to a medium to summon the deceased spirit of the prophet Samuel. This account in 1 Samuel 28 documents a woman of Endor summoning Samuel's spirit from the dead. When Samuel comes in spirit form, he asks Saul,
“Why have you disturbed me by calling me back?” (1 Samuel 28:15, NLT)
From this text and supporting scriptures we can inductively assume the following:
- It is possible during some situations to summon the spirits of the dead (other authors have purported this was a shock to even the witch of Endor as she was perhaps more likely prepared to see a demon than Samuel himself).
- In verse 15 we see that it is a disruption to summon those in the eternal presence of God from Heaven (Samuel was a devote follower of God who died looking forward to the Messiah).
- As a result of Saul consulting the medium and disobeying God in this way, he died (see 1 Chronicles 10:13-14).
- Consider Isaiah 18:19, "When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?"
- Also Deuteronomy 18:10, "Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft,"
- God makes it clear in His word that consulting mediums is wrong and against the will and commandments of our Holy Lord.
As I prepared to write on this topic both of the above accounts instantly came to mind. This topic of those who have gone on before us is a difficult one to tackle both because of the absence of explicit answers on this topic and because of the sensitivity of the subject to the grieving.
Now for my personal opinion based on all I know of the scriptures.
Personally, I do not believe that our loved ones in Heaven can see us who remain on earth for two reasons.
First because there will be no pain, death, or tears in Heaven (Revelation 21:4). If the Father allowed those in Heaven to witness even happy, celebratory moments on earth, some things within the context of such celebrations have the potential to cause grief.
Secondly, to be in the Lord's presence is to know fullness of joy. Those in heaven are too preoccupied with worship and the overwhelming weight of glory that they perhaps either by default or design do not dwell on all that they have left behind.
This is not to imply that we cannot say with great assurance comforting words such as, "Your mom would have been so proud if she could have seen you in this moment." We knew the deceased and their personalities well enough to predict reactions to the present.
In closing, God hears, sees, and knows outside the boundaries of time and space. The comforts of provision and joy that He affords us after the passing of a loved one are His grace revealed and His love proclaimed over you. Why wouldn't He use the works that the departed accomplished before their death to provide direction and comfort for you in the present? Our God is mighty and awesome and He surely desires to see our hearts at peace.
Seeking comfort from the only One who has grace enough for all our pain,