They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:16-17
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. Revelation 21:3-4
Since I was young I remember hearing that when God wipes all tears from our eyes, He wipes our memory of loved ones on earth who have made the choice not to be with us in Heaven. I think this may have come from the evangelical background of the type of church I was raised in, because it was always accompanied with the thought that we could not bear under the guilt of what part we may have played in their decision, making the idea of being in Heaven without them an unbearable one. Like so many other traditions of men it makes for a good story, but is it biblically correct?
To my knowledge there is nowhere in scripture that says He wipes out our memories, only that He wipes away all our tears. Wiping away our tears implies He takes away our sorrow. From the two verses above that are specific to wiping away tears, the source of our sorrows looks to be three-fold – injustice, mourning, and pain. Of injustice because the accuser we know as satan has his way with believers for a time (we know this from verses such as Daniel 11:33 or Revelation 13:7), and as a result many have suffered greatly. Of pain due to the suffering we have endured. And of mourning perhaps because death has separated us from a loved one. Some where along the line, the idea that God wipes out our memories must have come from pondering over how He will heal the grief caused by the separation.
How will He wipe away our tears if we remember everything? My favorite definition of grief is love that has no place to go. All the love we want to pour out on someone is prevented by the separation, causing grief, so I can easily see how someone might get the impression the only way possible to prevent the grief is to erase the memory. But is that really the most loving thing He can do, to completely wipe out memories of people we loved? Seems to me that cheats us of our experience. Obviously He did not take us to Heaven the moment of our salvation, so we know He has plans for us here and now, and we know from Mark 12:29-31 that involves loving Him and loving others. What becomes the purpose of learning and experiencing love here and now if He plans to wipe out the memory of that love later?
Oh but Lisa, what if the grief isn’t caused by love? What if all those preachers were right and it is caused instead by a guilt we cannot bear the burden of, knowing we could have done more to impact their choice? We want them in Heaven with us. We regret they did not accept God’s sacrifice on their behalf. We feel we are to blame. The accuser slithers in to whisper his lies while using scripture to “prove” it, and that hurts. Sermons that support this often note that it’s all the more reason for us to tell of God’s love to others as much and as often as possible, engage in long term prayer, and partner with God as He works to bring our loved ones to a place of salvation. Yes, we should, but I’m not certain guilt should be a motivation for that. And if guilt is the reason He wipes out our memories, it seems that carries the implication we do not fully agree with the judgment that our loved one is not with us.
We forget God wanted them with us and with Him more than we did, and that He is the one who not only made it possible – for them and us – but also gave all of us every opportunity to embrace life rather than death.
Who is satan to accuse us anyway? Oh yeah, he’s the one who failed God, rebelled against Him, refused to bow down to Him, and tramples all over His children. Yeah, I can see where he has a lot of room to talk… NOT!
This got me to wonder, if there wasn’t anything in scripture that explicitly says He erases our memory, is there anything in scripture that would indicate those in Heaven still have a memory?
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Revelation 6:9-10
I found this verse interesting for a couple of reasons. First, they are asking for God to bring judgement, so obviously they are in full alignment with His judgements. Second, their question of how long implies they remember what was done to them, and grieve that injustice is still taking place.
Is it right then for us to hold ourselves accountable that there could be those we loved who are not with us – and that is why He would have to wipe out our memories? No, that is not right. That implies we either cannot forgive God or that we cannot forgive ourselves, and the very idea that we are in heaven confirms this is not the case (no one in Heaven will harbor unforgiveness of any kind). So it all boils down to the condemnation we feel this side of Heaven.
Condemnation feeds on those who hold themselves to an unattainable standard, and struggle to forgive themselves. It is at some point in our journeys a struggle all of us face. Truth be known, there is no room for a believer to think that we somehow have more authority than God in a given situation – not to forgive ourselves when He already has forgiven us.
The good news is that we know once we are in Heaven, the accuser will no longer be able to torment and condemn us in this way. We will no longer be distracted by everything that holds us back and wants to point to our failures. We will know fully as we are known, and have a clear understanding of the depths He went through for all of us – including those not with us. Our sympathies will align with God rather than with them, and the heartbreak will be because we will clearly see their repeated refusal to embrace all that is good, all that is love, all that is life, light, truth, forgiveness, all that gives meaning and purpose – in other words, their repeated refusal to embrace all that is God.
Even though I may not yet fully understand it, I believe the moment we are face to face with Him, the moment our hearts are touched by the pure love of who He is, there is where we embrace eternity. There is where our tears will be wiped away.