What will I look like when I go to heaven? How can I know whether a friend or relative is in hell? Will we have real houses or sleep or know our spouse in the afterlife?
I am constantly asked these questions. It is usually prompted by a blog post someone read or some youtube video they heard or, unfortunately, what a televangelist said late on night when they were lying on the couch in that place between waking and sleeping. I both love and struggle with these questions.
I deeply love them because they motivate people to think about faith, spirituality and scripture. The question indicates that the person asking is not acting as a passive receptor for teaching but wanting to engage in the process and is seeking wise council. Those are all things I love and celebrate!
My struggle with these and other questions is in the inadequacy of my response. The more I research and consider the text of the Bible on these subjects, the less confident I am about committing to specifics. There are clear, broad themes like the immortality of the soul, the glory of God, and the wonder of heaven. But most of these things exist in some state or dimension that is beyond the ones in which we live. That means that the words describing those things are necessarily symbolic and metaphorical. They are meant to convey deep truths rather than specifics because the reality of those places and states are something no human has ever or can ever experience in this life.
I generally respond by validating some of what the youtube video or televangelist said as being a possible interpretation, but end up trying to move the discussion to the deeper truths that are being conveyed. But when you want to know if you are going to have your own house or live in a castle with many rooms, that response is very unfulfilling.
This doesn’t mean these questions have no answers or are not worthy of study, but when wanting to know what the Bible says about some thing or another, there are times we come up short. There are other sources for answers when the Bible is silent, but as far as the Bible is concerned, it is like the statement made to the author Lois Tverberg by a rabbi. He said that speculating on what God has not revealed is like pressing on your eyelids with your fingers. The light that you think you see comes only from your imagination.
We do not need to force the Bible to say something it doesn’t. Rather, we just use the wealth of information available in other sources to try and answer our question. It only means that those explanations cannot be made as if God said them, but as a best guess based on Scripture and everything else.