How can heaven be perfect if my loved ones aren’t there?

Q. I keep worrying that I committed the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because one time I was mad and said that I didn’t want to go to heaven if my family wasn’t there. I didn’t really mean it. Of course I want salvation and to go to heaven. Is this the unpardonable sin? Also how do I reconcile the fact that heaven is supposed to be perfect if my loved ones who aren’t saved won’t be there?

Thank you for your thoughtful questions. Regarding your first one, I would invite you to read this post:

Have I committed the unpardonable sin?

The bottom line in that post is basically that if you are concerned that you have committed the unpardonable sin, you haven’t, because you are still under conviction of sin and thus under the recognizable influence of the Holy Spirit. That means you are not beyond salvation. If you actually had committed the unpardonable sin, you would be indifferent to the Spirit’s influence, and so you wouldn’t be concerned about whether you had committed it.

Regarding your second question, I would say first, on the authority of the word of God, that God is “not willing for anyone to perish, but wants everyone to come to repentance.” So if anyone is not in heaven, that will not be because God did not want them there. Rather, it will be because God gave them a choice and is respecting their choice.

I firmly believe that God will not keep anyone out of heaven simply because they didn’t get the chance to make a choice, or because they didn’t understand the kind of choice they needed to make. Please see this post for some further thoughts about that:

Will there be anyone in hell who doesn’t want to be there?

But in that post I also describe the kind of attitude a person might take that would lead them to consciously and deliberately choose their own way rather than God’s way, even if that meant not being in heaven (since heaven, by definition, is the place where God’s will is done joyfully and without resistance).

In other words, there actually are people who will want to be in hell if that means they can maintain self-determination rather than obeying God.  They will take the same attitude as Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”  To give another example, in James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the main character, Stephen Dedalus, after explaining that he has “lost the faith,” continues:

“I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning.  … I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake, and perhaps as long as eternity too.”

William Ernest Henley wrote similarly at the end of his poem Invictus, using biblical imagery to show that he was referring to a choice of hell as a way of maintaining self-determination:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

So there are some people who will chose self-determination above God’s gracious offer of salvation, because they want to run their own lives, no matter where that leads. (These are all examples from literature, but they capture an attitude that can be found in life as well.) And because God has given human beings genuine freedom to choose for or against him—which is the only basis on which we can truly love him—God will respect those choices.

But I hope and pray that those people do not include your family members. I hope that instead your concern for them—which certainly reflects God’s concern for them—will lead you to pray for them and demonstrate your faith to them in loving ways, and that those influences, among others, will one day lead them to choose to love and serve God as you have.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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