Will We Remember Our Life in Heaven? Even the Trauma?

At the heart of these questions lies the concept of memory and what happens to our memory in heaven.

Could we really call it heaven if we experience memories of trauma or grief over loved ones who do not reside with us? Since God does not delight in the death even of the wicked (Ezek 18:23; 33:11) and desires all to be saved (2 Pet 3:9), would we not be right to lament the suffering of our loved ones—even in heaven? 

 

Imagine entering into heaven. Joy fills your soul. But you see some object that triggers a traumatic memory from your life. What happens to that joy now? Or say you had lived a life without trauma, yet your loved one did not share your faith. Can you rightly enjoy heaven when your spouse, child, or loved one perdures in eternal perdition? 

Could we really call it heaven if we experience memories of trauma or grief over loved ones who do not reside with us? Since God does not delight in the death even of the wicked (Ezek 18:23; 33:11) and desires all to be saved (2 Pet 3:9), would we not be right to lament the suffering of our loved ones—even in heaven? 

At the heart of these questions lies the concept of memory and what happens to our memory in heaven. 

Memory

When we consider memory in heaven, we have about three options to consider. First, we could say that we have full recollection of memory at all times but the experience of goodness contrasts so sharply our trauma in life that good simply would not be good without the experience of the bad. Further, we could say that we will know God’s justice so completely that we will agree and glory in his judgment of sinners. 

Yet a number of problems face this view (although it still could be true). First, goodness requires no evil to be good. God alone is good, and his life in that goodness requires no privation of that goodness to be good. God also created the world as good and declared it very good (Gen 1:31). He did so before evil entered into the world. So his creation was very good, and in this way creation experienced goodness.

So the nature of God and his enjoyment of his good nature and the primordial declaration of creation being “very good” apart from evil belie the assertion that goodness requires evil to be experienced as good. Further, the experience of joy ever increasing in the infinity of God does not require any evil experience to enjoy. That misunderstands God’s inner-life of goodness that the three enjoyed for all time. And that same joy believers gain in Christ without the need for suffering to enjoy it. 

Second, God has already shared his justice with us—he punishes sin but laments even the wicked who die. So we will share in his justice, but justice differs from grief. We may agree that a sibling should go to jail for a crime but grieve that he or she does in fact go to jail. So even if we align with God’s justice at the end (which I believe we will), we would still have grief—or at least it would seem so. 

Another view would be that we forget our trauma and loved ones in perdition so that we no longer have to experience the grief of pain or loss. In its best expression, Miroslav Volf argues that we will first reconcile and deal with our grief and sin before forgetting or no longer bringing to remembrance our past grievances. 

Even if we go this route, we will still remember our loved ones in perdition. And the above kind of forgetting does not seem to explain how we can deal with the traumatic memory of grief—even after reconciliation.  

But if we forget all negative memories and so even loved ones who reside in perdition, then we would lose our identity. As one author explains: “the memory of evil can be healed, and even redeemed; the real absence from our lives of those we love and who love us in turn, and who therefore make us who we are, cannot; even in reconciling ourselves to it, something of ourselves would be irrevocably lost.” 

So even if we deal with past grievances and so stop remembering the past, we still cannot shed the relationships that have so shaped our identities. To lose memory of our mother, for example, would require losing memory of ourselves. And who would we be then? 

Read More