Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord.
The death of loved ones is a universal experience; all human beings experience this. Sadly, for most of us this happens many times during our own lifespan. The Bible clearly states that ‘…it is appointed unto man once to die…’ [Hebrews 9:27] and that ‘to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…’ [Ecclesiastes 3:1].
Interestingly the Bible also comforts us with these reassuring words from Psalm 116 [v. 15] that, ‘precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints ’. I understand this to mean that when we die, the physical part of our being returns to the ground [dust to dust and ashes to ashes] but the core being of those of us who are ‘sanctified’ through faith in God and His Son our Saviour [=saints] are reunited with God in heaven when we physically die. Our spirits are eternal; they have the capacity to eternally praise and worship God and to enjoy the fellowship of all the ‘saints’ in God’s presence. This is what is so precious to God in the death of His saints.
The question which so many bereft people ask relates to what dearly beloved family members and friends are able to do while awaiting heavenly reunion of loved ones still ‘in the body’ here on earth. It is a great question worthy of careful thought. For this I turn to Got Questions Ministries [www.GotQuestions.org].
May each of us find comfort in the explanation provided to the question, ‘Can people in heaven look down and see us?’. Here is Got Questions Ministries’ answer in its entirety [used with permission].
Question: “Can people in heaven look down and see us?”
Answer: Some see in Hebrews 12:1 the idea that people in heaven might be able to look down and see us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses …” The “witnesses” are the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11, and the fact that we are “surrounded” by them leads some commentators to understand those heroes (and possibly other people) are looking down on us from heaven.
The idea that people are looking down from heaven to see what we’re doing is common in popular culture. But, as much as we might like the notion that we’re being watched by our departed loved ones, that’s not what Hebrews 12:1 is teaching. Building on Hebrews 11, the author begins drawing up some practical lessons (that’s why chapter 12 begins with “Therefore”). The “witnesses” are the people whom God commends for their faith in chapter 11, and there is a large crowd of them in heaven. The question is, in what way are they “witnesses”?
The proper interpretation of Hebrews 12:1 is that the men and women forming the “great cloud of witnesses” are witness to the value of living life by faith. Their Old Testament stories give testimony to the blessings of choosing faith over fear. To paraphrase the start of Hebrews 12:1, “Since we have so many tried-and-true examples of proven faith …” So, it’s not that people are in heaven watching us (as if our lives on earth are so interesting or they have nothing better to do!), but that those who have gone before us have set a lasting example for us. The record of their lives bears witness to faith and God and truth.
Hebrews 12:1 continues, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Because of the faith and endurance of believers who went before us, we are inspired to stay the course in our own race of faith. We follow the examples of Abraham and Moses and Rahab and Gideon and etc.
Some people point to the rich man’s mention of his brothers in Luke 16:28 as proof that departed souls (in Hades, at least) can see events on earth. However, the passage never says that the rich man could see his brothers; he knew he had brothers, and he knew they were unbelievers. Also, some people use Revelation 6:10 as a proof text: the tribulation martyrs call for God to avenge their deaths. Again, this passage says nothing about the martyrs seeing people on earth; it simply says that they knew they deserved justice and desired the Lord to take action.
The Bible doesn’t specifically say that people in heaven cannot look down on us, so we can’t be dogmatic. However, it is unlikely that they can. People in heaven are likely preoccupied with other things such as worshiping God and enjoying the glories of heaven.
Whether or not people in heaven can look down and see us, we are not running our race for them. We are not hoping for their approval or listening for their applause. Hebrews 12:2 keeps our focus where it belongs: “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Jesus is our blessed hope, no other (Titus 2:13).
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Lest anyone conclude there is no communication between heaven and earth, let us be clear that God is indeed able to ‘look down and see’ the affairs of humanity and must be very saddened, if not angered by the conduct of fallen humanity originally created perfectly in the image and likeness of Creator of Life, God Himself. The prophet Jeremiah records a clear message from God to the false prophets of his day saying [Jeremiah 23:23/24],
“Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.”
A few verses from the Psalms also attest this Truth. I encourage you to read these texts within the context they are placed for further clarity.
God looked down from heaven on the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.
The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth—
“The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
God created humanity for fellowship/communion with Him; this is an eternal promise, but until we are reunited with loved ones in heaven, our focus, as with those in His presence, must be ever trusting God’s promises as clearly recorded upon the pages of Scripture. Our time will come when we will enjoy His eternal blessings with our loved ones already in His glorious presence.
Praise be to God for His reassuring promises, His love and grace to each of us both now and forever.
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