“Heaven, once attained, will work backwards”

May 26, 2014

When we are in heaven, how will we retain our memories and not feel sorrow, guilt, and remorse for genuinely wicked things we do on this side of death and resurrection? After all, in final judgment, we’ll understand perfectly the ways in which we’ve harmed others. Unless God is able to heal and redeem our memories, how will we live with ourselves?

There’s no one who hasn’t done genuinely wicked things, is there? It’s not just me, right?

I’m in a small group at church that is reading and discussing C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce (a book I had not previously read). Yesterday, I read this passage from the book, spoken by heavenly citizen George MacDonald to the narrator. While we can’t explain how God redeems our past—as MacDonald says, we only have “some likeness” of eternity in our present state—the redeemed in heaven will surely experience their past something like this:

‘Son,’ he said, ‘ye cannot in your present state understand eternity: when Anodos looked through the door of the Timeless he brought no message back. But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on Earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.’[†]

And MacDonald is right: the process begins before death. Even now, I can see how my suffering—which I’ve mostly brought on myself—has shaped me for the better. If events had happened any other way, I would be someone else. And I mostly like who I am—and who I’m becoming.

While I can’t say I don’t feel guilt for the ways in which I’ve hurt others, I also can’t say that I’m not grateful in many cases for the ways in which others have hurt me—because look how God has transformed these experiences for my good!

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperOne, 1946), 69.

2 Responses to ““Heaven, once attained, will work backwards””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    This is a very interesting topic. I totally concur with the position that we don’t “forget” when we get to Heaven. Otherwise, how could we appreciate how much grace God has bestowed upon us? And how could we “recognize” the saints who are there if our interactive history were blotted from our minds? And how could we understand the rewards bestowed? And how could we understand various victories and acts of heroism without the juxtaposition of the sins they related to (such as commending Nathan for being willing to stand up to King David for the latter’s grievous sin–“And I reward Nathan for standing up to who knows whom for who knows what.”)?

    So, how can we have “no more tears” when in Heaven, considering all our faults and failures (having also committed “genuinely wicked things” myself)? I like the way scripture states it–God will “wipe away” all tears from our eyes. Thus, we may indeed have sorrow in the first instance, but God will show us what great good has come from even our failures in His divine economy. We will also see that we are not alone in having failed (“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”; “If a man says he has no sin, he is a liar.”), which I think will also give a level of comfort. However, I guess I am not so sure we will look upon things as though we have been “in Heaven” all along. But the sorrow and pain will be AS THOUGH “forgotten” when we see what we have ultimately become (as when the mother has given birth to that lovely baby). “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:22-23.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I think that “heaven all along” part refers to seeing everything in light of God’s economy. When in eternity we see “face to face,” it will be crystal clear how God used even our sin to accomplish good.

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