I really enjoy your article here on Sundays. I will ask you a question that I am afraid my minister would be very surprised at my asking him. I am a Christian and believe I will go to heaven, but I have often wondered what it will really be like. Will I really see my Mom, Dad and many close loved ones and friends? How will I recognize them? Will they look like they did upon passing or at another stage in life? Will we have the same loving relationships? I know you can't reply to all who ask such elementary questions, but I will continue to read your articles. Who knows, I might even see my question answered. God Bless! — From B
Your questions, dear B, are hardly elementary. They touch on the deepest mystery of the life of our soul after death in heaven, as it is called by Christians, Janna as it is called by Muslims and The World to Come (Heb: Olam Habah) as it is called by Jews. I cannot begin to tell you with any certainty the nature of this place, though I believe in it deeply. I also believe in the teachings of the three Abrahamic faiths that the most wicked among us have souls that are destined for hell. I do not know how souls are judged and sent to heaven or hell, but I believe that judgment has nothing to do with believing different things about God or even believing nothing about God. Entrance into a heaven established by a just God must be just. Entrance to God's closest domains must be related to the good we do in life.
Now as to what our soul might experience in heaven, I must again say that this is beyond my pay grade. The big question/mystery is whether souls preserve their individual natures in heaven. In what sense am I still me in heaven? The two main possibilities are the drop in the ocean or reincarnation. The drop-in-the-ocean possibility is that our souls return to God the way a drop of water that falls into the ocean returns to the sea. We are absorbed into the infinity of God and our individuality evaporates. It could be like that. After all, the distinctive part of our being, our being made in the image of God, is the same for all of us. Our quirky parts don't really matter much. A friend of mine named Richard just died, and he was definitely a drop-in-the-ocean guy. He was comforted at the possibility of reuniting with an infinite God and not at all interested in continuing as Richard. However, Richard meditated a lot and his drop-in-the-ocean nature may have come to him more from Buddhism than from Judaism, which teaches that our souls, like everything, are just illusions.
The other possibility for our souls is that Richard and Buddhism are wrong, and what we are in heaven is exactly and precisely what we are here on Earth, minus the wrinkles and fat. This is the belief of the three Abrahamic faiths, and it makes sense to me. The Christian belief that Jesus is in heaven supports the belief that we retain our identity on the other side of the grave. This is the belief that our souls are on a journey and this life is only a small part of that journey. Hinduism teaches that our souls are repackaged after death and sent back inside new bodies in a cycle of reincarnation that ends with a final release, called moksha.
After death it makes sense to me that our souls spend time reflecting on the quality of our decisions during our embodied lives. Mostly we need to know what we feared and how our fears prevented us from making good choices. Then I believe, in direct response to your deep and loving questions, we meet those we loved on Earth who came to heaven before us. I am sure they can find us and we can find them. Reunion with our loved ones seems to me the easiest belief about heaven. What I wonder about often is the fate of our angers and enmities. Do we still hate in heaven, the people we hated in life? Are we able to forgive in heaven those we could not forgive in life? I do not know, but I hope so. If we cannot grow our compassion after death, then what is heaven for?
What do you think heaven is like dear readers? If there is a bigger and better question I do not know it.
Whatever the truth of heaven turns out to be, Jesus' teaching seems universal enough for me, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10 and Luke 11:2)