We live in an age and place (21st century western civilization) where equality is near the top of the list of principles that we hold dear. Because equality is so important to us, many of us just assume that equality must be equally important to God. If it’s important to God, then surely Heaven is a place where everyone is equal, right?
Not exactly. As with any question, we need to be careful in defining our terms. Equality can mean a lot of different things, so let’s take a look at equality in Heaven. As usual, our guide is Randy Alcorn and his book Heaven. Alcorn writes:
All people are equal in worth, but they differ in gifting and performance. God is the creator of diversity, and diversity means “inequality” of gifting (1 Corinthians 12: 14-20). Because God promises to reward people differently according to their differing levels of faithfulness in this life, we should not expect equality of possessions and positions in Heaven.
Let’s stop there. The Bible is clear that believers will receive different rewards in Heaven based upon their faithfulness and service to God while on earth. So, we know that everyone will not be equal in rewards. Alcorn continues:
If everyone were equal in Heaven in all respects, it would mean we’d have no role models, no heroes, no one to look up to, no thrill of hearing wise words from someone we deeply admire. I’m not equal to Hudson Taylor, Susanna Wesley, George Mueller, or C. S. Lewis. I want to follow their examples, but I don’t need to be their equals. There’s no reason to believe we’ll all be equally tall or strong or that we’ll have the same gifts, talents, or intellectual capacities.
Would you really want Heaven to be a place where everyone had the same talents and gifts as everyone else?
If we all had the same gifts, they wouldn’t be special. If you can do some things better than I can, and I than you, then we’ll have something to offer each other. We live in a culture that worships equality, but we err when we reduce equality to sameness. It’s illogical to assume everyone in Heaven will be able to compose a concerto with equal skill or be able to throw a ball as far as everyone else.
In a perfect world, Adam was bigger and stronger than Eve, and Eve had beauty, sensitivities, and abilities Adam didn’t. In other words, diversity— not conformity— characterizes a perfect world.
Alcorn poses the question: how can we all be happy in Heaven if some people have greater talents and rewards than others? He provides an answer from theologian Jonathan Edwards:
The saints are like so many vessels of different sizes cast into a sea of happiness where every vessel is full: this is eternal life, for a man ever to have his capacity filled. But after all ’tis left to God’s sovereign pleasure, ’tis his prerogative to determine the largeness of the vessel.
A pint jar and a quart jar can both be full, but the larger jar contains more. Likewise, in Heaven all of us will be full of joy, but some may have a larger capacity for joy, having been stretched through their dependence on God in this life. John Bunyan said it well: “He who is most in the bosom of God, and who so acts for him here, he is the man who will be best able to enjoy most of God in the kingdom of heaven.”