Question of the Week: Consciousness of Hell in Heaven?

Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On July 22, 2018, The Mentionables recieved this question from JD:

In my small group last Sunday a fellow believer shared his belief about heaven and it seemed odd, so I am asking the group for clarification.

Will believers know hell exists and/or that a loved one is being tormented there?  My friend stated that he did not know if his father was saved prior to his death and that if his father did not believe and was condemned to hell, that my friend in heaven would never have known his father existed. He used a verse/passage of Scripture but I do not remember what it was.

Here are the answers from the team.

This is the answer from Marc Lambert. For the answer from Randall Hroziencik, scroll below.

This question has come up at the regular Q&A events I host at my church, including the a very recent one. You can go to my website to see what the whole panel had to say on this issue. I am sure it will likely echo what gets said here by The Mentionables.

The short answer is, “Yes.” We will be aware of the existence of Hell and those of our loved ones who went there.

Why do I say that?

First, I know of no place in Scripture that indicates otherwise. Some may point to some verses in Isaiah (65:16 & 17) which talk of past things not being remembered. However, I think the better understanding of this looking at the context is that in light of the joy to come, the former troubles will not matter.

Second, while we should always be cautious not to read too much into a parable, Jesus gives us a glimpse into the afterlife in Luke 16 with the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. Now, we should not take this parable as literal representation of the afterlife, but it does seem to indicate awareness of one eternal destination with regards to the other. The rich man and Lazarus both die, one is with Abraham, the other in ‘the bad place’ separated by a great chasm, and there is certainly awareness of the other represented. Again, while I do not think we should take this as a literal representation of what the afterlife will be life, clearly there is memory of their earthly lives.

The hard part about this is the idea that knowing a loved one is in Hell will somehow diminish the joy or beauty of Heaven. You’ll be so sorrowful that they are not there. However, I do not think this will be the case.

First, in 1 Corinthians 13:12 Paul reminds us that, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” I think that in Heaven our understanding of love and sin and justice will be full. We presently grasp at these things through the lens of our limited, fallen perspective. In Heaven we will understand fully and that knowledge will give us a perspective we may not have here.

Second, we do not tend to allow the hardships our loved ones experience by their own doing to prevent our own living, and even enjoying of life, here on Earth. You may miss a loved one who is in prison, but you understand that they made their choices and your life goes on. Then there is also the fact that many people here on Earth have loved ones who have died unsaved, and our ability to carry on and even enjoy the blessings in this life is not overwhelmed by grief over their final destination.  

If we, in our fallen state and limited knowledge, can accept or deal with the reality of unsaved loved ones from our vantage point here on Earth, how much more shall we be able to live in Heaven with the same experience.


This is the answer of Randall Hroziencik

In order to not remember someone from our earthly days while in Heaven, God
would have to erase at least part of our earthly memory. However, I believe that in Heaven we
will know more than we ever will here on Earth:

9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is
in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I
reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I
know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known
(1 Corinthians 13:9-12).

Although I do not believe that we will ever possess absolute knowledge – God alone is
omniscient – in Heaven we will understand things far more extensively than we do now, here on
Earth. In order for that to happen, I believe that we need to be fully aware of who we were on
Earth, and remember all those who we interacted with in our earthly lives – and how they
impacted our lives, both good and bad. So, yes, I believe that in Heaven we will know that there are some who did not make it into the presence of God, and by their absence we will know who they are. This includes parents, siblings, and the closest of friends.
Although Isaiah 65:17 might lead some to believe that we will forget those who did not make it
into Heaven – “the former things will not be remembered or come to mind” – we will be
overcome with joy in the presence of the Lord, to the point that we will not be focused on those who are missing. I also believe that in Heaven we will be mindful of the fact that those who are not in God’s presence have willingly chosen their eternal location. I believe that no one will be separated from God who should not be.
A few other points should be made on this topic. First, the torment that unbelievers will endure
in Hell may not be the “Dante’s Inferno” type of torment that we think it will be, as in the image
of the Devil poking someone continuously with a pitchfork. I believe that unbelievers will vary
in the severity of their punishment, as based upon Revelation 20:12, but for many the ultimate
punishment will be knowing that they are separated from the Holy God, when they could have
easily avoided that.
Secondly, don’t automatically assume that a loved one who dies is in Hell. We can never say for
sure how it worked out. While I agree that it doesn’t look good for Adolph Hitler or Christopher
Hitchens, the truth of the matter is I can’t say for sure what happened in the last moments of their lives. As a young child I almost drowned while swimming with a friend. Although I was
assured that I was underwater for only seconds, I was confident that I was being lied to: It
seemed like a very, very long time. During that brief-but-seemingly long time, I saw my life
flash before my eyes, as if I was watching a video of my life up to that point. (I was young, so it wasn’t exactly a super-long movie, but I was sure it wasn’t just a few seconds.) Because of that
experience, I’m convinced that at the interface between life and death the phenomenon of time
dilation occurs. So who knows what really happens in those last minutes of death; there could be a lot of “spiritual time,” as opposed to our familiar “earthly time,” in which to come to terms
with God. The young earth creationist Arthur Francis Green once said, regarding Friedrich
Nietzsche, “I hope I will meet him in Heaven someday, because he will have been healed and
repaired.” Now that’s the Christian spirit, as opposed to assuming that Nietzsche was beyond the scope of God’s ability to heal. Ultimately, for me, God is just – and no one will be separated
from God who should not be. I hope this helps, even if in some small way.
Shalom in Christ,
Randy Hroziencik