A member of our circle notes God’s declaration in Isaiah 65:17 that the “former things” will not be remembered in the new heavens and new earth. “Does that include people and relationships,” he asks, “and questions we now have?”
* * *
We need not reach that conclusion, it seems to me, since the preceding verse assures us that the “former things” which are forgotten are the “former troubles” which God’s faithful people had experienced at the hand of the godless and profane (Isa. 65:16). Life in the “new heavens and new earth,” in this vision, includes families, old people and new babies being born, houses, vineyards and work (v. 21-23). Excluded are weeping, crying, premature death and frustrating labor (v. 19-23) — in short, “evil” and “harm” of all sorts (v. 25). This is not literal, of course, for Jesus indicates that relationships after the Resurrection will somehow transcend marriage as we know it, and those raised to eternal life will not die at age 100 or ever at all (Mk. 12:25; 1 Cor. 15:50-55).
In the Bible, “heavens and earth” stands for a universe, a frame of reference for human life (Gen. 1:1). “New” heavens and “new” earth speak of a renewed universe, a fresh frame of reference. Some scholars believe that the “new heavens and new earth” foretold by Isaiah describe the spiritual blessings we now have in Christ — a frame of reference in which we already enjoy a “new creation” in which “old things” have passed away (2 Cor. 5:17). But we also await “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet. 3:13), a universe our present blessed state does not include. John describes that eternal frame of reference in Revelation chapters 21-22 in ultimate but also symbolic terms. Then, Paul tells us, we will know fully as we are fully known (1 Cor. 13:12). If we store up treasures in heaven by good deeds now, I cannot imagine that we will lose all consciousness of that connection when it is time to inherit and enjoy those “true riches” (Matt. 6:20-21; Lk. 16:11; 1 Tim. 6:18-19).
Similarly, Paul tells us we need not hopelessly grieve the deaths of loved ones, as if we will not see them again, but to comfort each other in expectation of Jesus’ return and the resurrection of those who have “fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:13-18). To me, that means I can look forward to reunion with my father, who died in Christ at age 57, and my nephew Eric, killed at age 15, and my father-in-law and my grandparents and countless friends and Christian sisters and brothers who now rest in Jesus’ care. And, surely, in meeting Noah and Abraham and Ruth and Peter and Mary, we will remember their stories we learned from Scripture — and enjoy asking them about the details. I like to think that, in the Resurrection, we will remember everything that contributes to infinite bliss, and we will forget everything that detracts from pure joy with God and with those who love him.