How can we enjoy Heaven if we are aware of all the evil that persists on earth? This is a good question, and Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, offers a biblical answer. Alcorn believes that believers who are in Heaven right now are aware of what’s going on down here on earth. He reasons that
God knows exactly what’s happening on Earth, yet it doesn’t diminish Heaven for him. Likewise, it’s Heaven for the angels, even though they also know what’s happening on Earth. In fact, angels in Heaven see the torment of Hell, but it doesn’t negate their joy in God’s presence (Revelation 14: 10).
Abraham and Lazarus saw the rich man’s agonies in Hell, but it didn’t cause Paradise to cease to be Paradise (Luke 16: 23-26). Surely then, nothing they could see on Earth could ruin Heaven for them. (Again, the parable does not suggest that people in Heaven normally gaze into Hell.) It’s also possible that even though joy would predominate in the present Heaven, there could be periodic sadness because there’s still so much evil and pain on Earth.
What can we learn from passages about Jesus in Heaven?
Christ grieved for people when he was on Earth (Matthew 23: 37-39; John 11: 33-36). Does he no longer grieve just because he’s in Heaven? Or does he still hurt for his people when they suffer? Acts 9: 4-5 gives a clear answer. Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When Saul asked who he was, he replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Doesn’t Christ’s identification with those being persecuted on Earth suggest he’s currently hurting for his people, even as he’s in Heaven? If Jesus, who is in Heaven, feels sorrow for his followers, might not others in Heaven grieve as well?
An objection that might be raised at this point is Rev 21:4, which says, ““He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” How do we deal with this verse?
Alcorn reminds us that there are two Heavens described in Scripture, the present Heaven where all who have departed reside right now, and the eternal Heaven, or the New Heaven and New Earth, which will not arrive until after Christ’s second coming. Rev 21:4 is clearly referring to the eternal Heaven, or the New Heaven and New Earth.
It’s one thing to no longer cry because there’s nothing left to cry about, which will be true on the New Earth. But it’s something else to no longer cry when there’s still suffering on Earth. Going into the presence of Christ surely does not make us less compassionate. . . .
Christ’s promise of no more tears or pain comes after the end of the old Earth, after the Great White Throne Judgment, after “the old order of things has passed away” and there’s no more suffering on Earth. The present Heaven and the eternal Heaven are not the same. We can be assured there will be no sorrow on the New Earth, our eternal home . But though the present Heaven is a far happier place than Earth under the Curse, Scripture doesn’t state there can be no sorrow there.
So how is it that those in the present Heaven can bear the burden of witnessing all of the evil and suffering still taking place on earth?
[P]eople in Heaven are not frail beings whose joy can only be preserved by shielding them from what’s really going on in the universe. Happiness in Heaven is not based on ignorance but on perspective . Those who live in the presence of Christ find great joy in worshiping God and living as righteous beings in rich fellowship in a sinless environment. And because God is continuously at work on Earth , the saints watching from Heaven have a great deal to praise him for, including God’s drawing people on Earth to himself (Luke 15: 7, 10).
But those in the present Heaven are also looking forward to Christ’s return, their bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the fashioning of the New Earth from the ruins of the old. Only then and there, in our eternal home, will all evil and suffering and sorrow be washed away by the hand of God. Only then and there will we experience the fullness of joy intended by God and purchased for us by Christ at an unfathomable cost.