Seeing a New Perspective
The question might be asked, “Wouldn’t seeing us from heaven bring people pain and suffering?” Possibly. But it’s also true that God's children will be transformed in heaven. They would not view pain and misery with imperfect eyes and minds, but rather from their new, perfected state (Hebrews 12:23).
Billy Graham once said that the saints in heaven “know that even in the midst of life’s heartaches and trials, God is still working behind the scenes.” They also know “Satan is a defeated foe,” Graham said.
God could choose to keep His children in heaven ignorant of earth’s suffering; but again, if He allows them to see and understand, it would be from His perspective, and they would not doubt God’s sovereignty, goodness, love or wisdom in His dealings with those who remain on earth.
What about the “Witnesses”?
Some Bible passages make Christians wonder if people can see from heaven. Hebrews 12:1 may suggest this. The writer of Hebrews seems to say God allows His children in heaven to be witnesses of the “race” earth’s Christians are still running. The key word is “witnesses.”
However, just a few verses prior, in Hebrews 11, the word “testimony” is used. The “therefore” in Hebrews 12:1 connects readers to Old Testament testimonies of faith in the previous chapter—those who have run their race and are now in heaven. From this perspective, the “witnesses” are more of a worthy and lasting example for believers—not people focused on watching others from heaven. Their example of faith encourages Christ-followers to stay the course in their own faith-race—running their race for Jesus, as the remainder of Hebrews 12:1 and Hebrews 12:2 make clear.
While leaving dogmatism behind, former pastor John Piper is still inclined to believe heavenly saints may very well be watching because of the picture drawn of a race in Hebrews 12. “It is as though the saints finish their marathon at their death,” Piper wrote. “Then they come around and stand on the side of the racetrack and watch us.” Further, it’s like the saints before us are cheering us on, saying, “Hang in there. Trust God. We made it; you can make it too.”
Other Supposed “Proof Texts” about Heaven
The story of the rich man and a beggar, Lazarus, in Luke 16:28 is seen by some as proof departed souls can see people and events on earth. In this story, both the rich man and Lazarus die. Lazarus is carried by angels to Abraham’s Bosom (“Abraham’s side”), and the rich man ended up in Hades. Tormented in Hades, the rich man saw Abraham and Lazarus and cried out for water in his agony.
Abraham spoke of a great uncrossable “chasm” between Hades and where Lazarus now dwelled—a fixed gulf making it impossible to grant the rich man’s plea for Lazarus to return to earth to warn his unbelieving family so they would not come to the “place of torment.” The rich man was aware of loved ones on earth, but nothing in this passage says he could actually see his unbelieving brothers or that Lazarus saw earth from Abraham’s side. Harvest Church pastor Greg Laurie says when people do come to believe in Jesus, it is “public knowledge in Heaven.” But Luke 16:28 is not a proof text for people who have passed into eternity seeing people on earth.
Another suggested proof text is Revelation 6:10. The tribulation martyrs call out to the Sovereign Lord to judge earth’s inhabitants and avenge their shed blood. The martyrs are not seeing anyone on earth; they simply knew they deserved justice from God and wanted Him to take action on their behalf.
1 Samuel 28:3-25 is also sometimes used as a proof text. In this rare circumstance, God allowed the dead prophet Samuel to communicate with King Saul through a forbidden medium. Samuel somehow appeared to the medium and communicated an accurate message from God about the king’s defeat (1 Samuel 28:15); but nothing in this unusual passage says Samuel saw the current conditions Saul was in.
Aware of Earth—to Some Extent
Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, wrote that if the martyrs in heaven know God hasn’t yet brought judgment on their persecutors (Revelation 6:9-10), “it seems evident that the inhabitants of the present heaven can see what’s happening on earth, at least to some extent.”
Further, regarding Revelation 18, Alcorn wrote, “When Babylon is brought down, an angel in Heaven refers to events happening on Earth and speaks of them to people living in Heaven. Clearly these inhabitants of Heaven are aware of what’s happening on Earth.” And then in Revelation 19:1-2, heaven’s inhabitants praise God for specific events of judgment taking place on earth. “Those on Earth may be ignorant of events in Heaven,” Alcorn said, “but those in Heaven are not ignorant of events on Earth, at least some of these events.”
In another instance, in Luke 9:30-31, Moses and Elijah appeared from heaven and began talking with Jesus. They seemed “fully aware of the drama they’d stepped into, of what was currently transpiring on Earth…,” Alcorn wrote.
Alcorn concludes: “In Heaven, Christ watches closely what transpires on Earth, especially in the lives of God’s people. If the sovereign God’s attention is on Earth, why wouldn’t the attention of His heavenly subjects be focused here as well?”
Earthly Longings, Fulfilled in Heaven
It’s hard to imagine people in heaven wanting to spend time looking backward to earth when their longing for heaven has finally been fulfilled.
In Philippians 1:21-23, Paul spoke of his desire to “depart and be with Christ,” for that would be “far better” than even ministry on earth! In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, he wrote of his desire to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
That is a picture of God’s people in heaven—in a far better place—at home and with Christ. The “former things” have passed away for them (Revelation 21:4). They have a new purpose of serving and glorifying God in all things. Their focus is heaven until it is time to dwell on the new earth (Revelation 21:1; Isaiah 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13).
A Warning about Seeking Saints
Christians on earth should be cautious in thinking too much about believing “saints” in heaven, and in particular, seeking further connection with them. Another temptation is to spend too much time and effort focusing on them rather than on Jesus.
Jesus is the only Mediator Christians will ever need (1 Timothy 2:5). He is superior to the mediator of the Old Covenant (Hebrews 8:6), because He died and rose again to establish the New Covenant and lives to make intercession for His own (Hebrews 7:25).
Christians must never pray to saints who cannot help or serve believers in any way. Paul tells Christians to draw near to God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:15-16) and pray in confidence to God because of Jesus—not because of any saints, including Jesus’ earthly mother.
Beware of Sentimental Thinking
Hollywood loves to promote unbiblical, sentimental thinking with statements like: “They are looking down on us now,” or “They are with the angels.” The problem is, so often, there is no reference to God the Father or His Son, Jesus.
The impression that’s left to the world is that people with little or no faith—as evidenced by their sinful lifestyles—might be true believers. Sometimes sappy scripts lead some Christians to believe the dead regularly observe people on earth, and in some cases, have powers of influence.
Christians must be careful about such foolish thinking. Though there may be last-minute conversions—such as the thief who turned to Christ at the crucifixion (Luke 23:32-43)—we also know there will likely be many in future eternity who will stand before the righteous Judge only to hear Him say, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:22-23). Many fall for Satan’s and the culture’s lies—telling the world “good people” who die without Christ will somehow still be in heaven and they are watching over us.
They’re Already Experiencing Great Joy
Why do we wonder if people can look down on us? Do we think it will bring us more joy? More comfort? Possibly, some answers?
Though we may long to see our friends and loved ones, and we will certainly enjoy our fellow servants in heaven, our joy and comfort on earth are to be in God, not focusing on saints who have gone on before us and whether they can see us from heaven’s heights.
It should satisfy us that the saints in heaven are already enjoying fullness of joy and eternal pleasures in the Lord’s presence (Psalm 16:11).
Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com and Christianity.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach.