How can believers enjoy Heaven knowing that people are in hell?


Dr. John Hoole – March 22, 2015



A person e-mailed a question to a Christian website: “If I am a Christian, and my parents or other loved ones are not, and they die lost, how can I be happy in heaven, knowing that my family members are suffering in hell?”


This is a question that has challenged the mind of every reflective child of God.  There is no specific treatment of this issue in the Scriptures, but there are passages containing bits of information which, when viewed together, can supply a significantly substantial answer to the perceived problem.


In addressing this matter of concern, one must not resort to “solutions” that are contrary to the plain Bible revelation.  For example, “universalism” – i.e., the theory that all people will be eventually saved, is not in harmony with the Scriptures (Matthew 7:13-14).


I also acknowledge that there are many things about the eternal order of things that are beyond our ability to fully comprehend presently.


Over the last several weeks, we have investigated what the Bible says in answering a number of questions.


1.  Will we know and recognize each other in Heaven?


2.  In Heaven, will we remember our lives on earth?

3.  Are saints in Heaven aware of what is happening on earth?


After examining the Scripture, I don’t think there is any doubt that the answer to all three of these questions is ”Yes!”  Let’s quickly review the answer to these three questions:


1.  Will we know and recognize each other in Heaven.  Paul wrote to some of his converts about how they would be his joy in heaven.  How could that happen unless he recognized them when they arrive there.  Also, we discussed how that Heaven will be a place of reunion.  But, if our earthly memory was erased when we enter heaven, there would be no reunions, because we wouldn’t remember who our friends and family were.


2.  In heaven, we will remember our lives on earth.  How would we ever be able to praise God in heaven, if we did not remember that while on earth, He saved us from sin.  We could not remember that Christ died for us if our memory of our life on earth has been wiped clean.  The fact that each of us will give an account of our lives at the judgment seat of Christ, requires that we remember the lives we lived on earth.


3.  And, yes, people in heaven do see what is happening on earth.  The martyred saints of Revelation 6 knew what was happening on earth.  They knew that Jesus had not yet avenged their terrible deaths, and wanted to know when He would.  Moses and Elijah knew what was going on in the life of Jesus when they joined Him on the Mount of Transfiguration.


Despite such clear scriptural evidence that we have seen in these last few lessons, some still insist that people in heaven remain unaware of what is happening on earth.  One of the strongest objection is that if the redeemed in heaven know what happens on earth,  how can they be very happy knowing how far from God those on earth have strayed?  Or, sometimes the question is worded:  How can those in heaven be joyful, if they know people are in hell, especially so if they know one of their own family is there?  Today, we are going to take a closer look at this issue.


Unlike the earlier lessons, I approach this one with more caution.  While I believe without a doubt that those in heaven will be aware of what is happening on earth and without a doubt, I know that those in heaven will be filled with overpowering joy, I don’t come to you today with knowledge of exactly how God does that.


Heaven is described as being such a wonderful place.  There is no more crying, no more sin, no more hurt.  We will live in the presence of Christ for all eternity.  We will never again be hungry, and we will never be thirsty .  Also, we will never again be in darkness – for the light of God and the Lamb will produce the light we need.


Psalm 16:11  (NKJV) tells us:


11     ……In Your (God’s) presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


                   Heaven is a place of complete and fulfilled joy.


And yet, we in heaven will be aware that some of those we knew did not make it.  But, if I read the Bible correctly, that knowledge of hell will not lessen the utmost joy we have in Heaven.  There will be absolutely no sadness in Heaven, for “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17).


Let’s investigate what the Bible has to say relative to this sometimes worrisome issue.  How will we in heaven not be saddened when we know loved ones are in hell?


1.      We have to remember that heaven is still heaven for God and He knows exactly what is happening on earth.


Some might object, saying, “He’s God and we’re not, so that’s not a valid argument.”  But does God’s divinity negate this argument?  Didn’t the Father experience sadness.  Isn’t it possible to bring grief to the Holy Spirit today.  But some may still object because, God is fully divine.


How about the angels?


2.      The glory and greatness of heaven is still heaven for the angels even though they are also aware of those in the Lake of Fire


In Revelation 14, we are told that anyone taking the mark of the beast is forever lost.  And in verse 10, we read:  “He [the person with the mark of the beast] will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb (NIV).


Heaven is still heaven for the angels, who also know what is happening on earth.  They also witness the torment in the Lake of Fire.  But this does not minimize or lessen their joy in heaven.


3.      The rich man and Lazarus


In Luke 16, we find Lazarus at the side of Abraham, and from there, in Paradise, both Abraham and Lazarus can see the rich man’s agonies in hell (Hades).  But this awareness of hell does not in any way seem to cause Paradise cease to be Paradise for Abraham and Lazarus.  Abraham says Lazarus experience bad things on earth, but in Paradise, he is comforted and experiencing only good.


If people in Paradise could see into hell without ruining Paradise, surely nothing they could see on earth could ruin it.  Hell cannot trump or negate heaven.  Neither can earth.


4.      Those in hell see heaven


The Bible tells us that in hell there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.  There are 6 verses in the New Testament where “gnashing of teeth” is mentioned.




There is probably more than one reason they will be weeping and gnashing their teeth in hell.  One is mentioned in Luke 13:28  (NKJV).


28     There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. 


This verse tells us those in hell will be able to see those in heaven.  Specifically mentioned are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets.


But seeing into heaven does not keep hell from being hell.  This is a picture of people who are overwhelmed with regret because they see how foolish they were not to accept what Christ offered.  Certainly, if hell is still hell, even though they that are there are able to see those in heaven, then heaven will still be heaven even though those there will be able to see into hell.


So far, we have looked at four examples where God, angels and people are aware of what is happening on earth and in hell, and yet heaven remains heaven to them, and the joy of heaven was not diminished.  And we have looked at one additional example that seems to imply the same.


I believe those who have preceded us into heaven, are experiencing the full joy that heaven affords.  And they experience that joy, even though they are aware of what is happening on earth.  Heaven is still heaven to them.


Last week, someone in our class asked: “When we are in Heaven, will we remember only the good things of earth?  Some people argue that people in Heaven won’t know Hell exists.  But this would make Heaven’s joy dependent on ignorance, which is nowhere taught in Scripture.  Certainly, those in heaven are not frail beings, whose joy can be maintained only by sheer ignorance of what is going on elsewhere in the universe.  Our mental capacity and ability will be much greater in Heaven, not less.


The apostle John speaks of heaven’s glory.


Revelation 21:3-4 NKJV


3       And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

4       And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."


Revelation 22:5 NKJV


5       There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.


Most assuredly Heaven will be a beautiful place of joy in the presence of God.  But just as surely as we know that the redeemed will go to heaven, others will receive punishment for refusing to do the will of God.  Paul warns that Christ will return in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God.  These will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).  How will the saved be full of joy knowing this?




Matthew 25:21


21     His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share the joy of your Master!'


We are invited into Heaven where we will share the joy of our Master.  Our joy is to be the same as our Master.


If it were the case that sorrow over lost loved ones destroys the bliss of Heaven, then there would be sadness in “heaven” for the redeemed, because all of the Lord’s people have had family members whether local or extended, who have died outside the sphere of salvation.  One must conclude, therefore, that the perceived problem will be remedied by Him who does all things right (Genesis 18:25).


If it is the case that God Himself is happy and joyful, even though the objects of his love rebel against him and end up in hell, surely, it is equally certain that mere mortals, with a lesser capacity for love, can be happy in the eternal sphere of existence.


In Heaven, we will see with a new and far better perspective.  We will fully concur with God’s judgment on the wicked.  The martyrs in Heaven call on God to judge evil people on Earth (Revelation 6:9-11).  When God brings judgment to the wicked city of Babylon, the people are told to “Rejoice over her, O heaven!  Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets!  God has judged her for the way she treated you”  (Revelation 18:20).


Hell may be seen to provide a dark backdrop to God’s shining glory and unfathomable grace.  Johnathan Edwards (1703-1758) made this case, saying, “When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it.”  He adds: “They shall see the dreadful miseries of the damned, and consider that they deserved the same misery, and that it was sovereign grace, and nothing else, which made them so much to differ from the damned.”


We will never question God’s justice, wondering how he could send good people to Hell.  Rather, we will be overwhelmed with His grace and joy, marveling  how He made is possible for bad people like us to go to Heaven.  We will no longer have any illusion that fallen people are good without Christ.


Everyone deserves hell.  No one deserves Heaven.  Jesus went to the cross to offer salvation to all (1 John 2:2).  God doesn’t desire any to perish (1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9).  Yet, we know many will perish in their unbelief (Matthew 7:13).  We will embrace God’s holiness and justice.  We will praise him for his goodness and grace.  God will be our source of joy.  Hell will not interfere with  God’s greatness or our joy of Him.


I don’t know exactly how we can have fullness of joy in heaven while being aware of those in hell.  But the Bible tells us that will be the case.  Heaven will be heaven even though we know many did not make it.  Somehow, some way, when we arrive in Heaven, God will have removed the crying and the pain.  It will be gone forever.


Romans 8:29 tells us that today we are being conformed to the image of our Savior.  When we arrive in heaven Christ’s image in us will be complete.  1 John 3:2 says “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”


So there are going to be some major changes that occur in us when we arrive in glory.  In heaven, we will no longer have a sinful nature, and, therefore, our whole frame of reference will change in heaven.


We will see things more clearly from God’s point of view.  When we say that we can’t imagine fully enjoying heaven if a loved one is in hell, or seeing things on earth, we are speaking from our present human frame of reference.  But in heaven we will have a perfected spirit with an ability to see things clearly from a divine perspective.


Perhaps the most telling consideration of all is this:  Can we not admit that our current perception of sin falls far short of that which is complete?  Sin has not only affected us physically, it has dulled our perception of absolute holiness.  Unquestionably, we do not comprehend the magnitude of evil as it is to God.  For the first time in our existence, we will see sin in the light of his holiness, and will understand the extent of what it means for the lost to be those who willfully chose not to follow Christ. Once we have escaped the frailties and limitations of the flesh, we will have a much clearer awareness of the heinousness of sin.


In heaven we will know about hell and that people we loved are there but we will also be in the presence of the holy God, and we will know that those who rejected Him do not deserve to be in His presence.


We will understand both His undiminished justice and his underserved mercy.  And in recognizing them, we will spend eternity thanking Him for our salvation, and we will understand at least in some measure His righteous, eternal punishment of the lost.  Our joy and happiness will not be based on our failure to know what is happening on earth or hell.  Rather, it will be based on our being with Christ and seeing everything with new eyes.  The joys of heaven are not rooted in ignorance.  They are rooted in perspective.


However God works it out, He promises there will not be sorrow or crying in heaven.  Our focus in heaven won’t be on our loss, but on our gain.  Of this we may be absolutely certain: Hell will have no power over Heaven.  None in hell’s misery will ever veto any of Heaven’s joys.


God wants nothing more than to save everyone.  This is why He has sent His prophets, His Word, His angels, and even His Only Begotten Son.  Isn’t that amazing?  God so badly wanted that no one go to hell, that He sent Jesus Christ to be beaten, mocked, and killed on a cross so that we may have life eternal.  Are you going to heaven?  Have you turned to Christ?  Jesus is the only way you can be saved from your sins.