We’re all familiar with the story Jesus told His disciples about the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus from Luke chapter 16. During his life, the beggar Lazarus knew nothing but poverty and misery, while the rich man enjoyed a life of wealth and ease. Eventually both men died. Lazarus was taken to Heaven. The rich man was taken to the place Jesus called Hades where he was in anguish and torment. The scripture says the rich man lifted his eyes and spotted Abraham and Lazarus far off in the distance. He begged for relief and when that request was refused, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his family about the destiny that awaited them. In verses 27 and 28 the scripture tells us: Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’
Even though his earthly body had died, he was still conscious and fully self aware. And it’s apparent that he had retained his memories from his life on earth. He knew he had five brothers. And he was fully aware of the danger they were in, that unless they repented and turned to God, they would join him in the “place of torment”. I don’t know if the same holds true for believers, but it’s apparent from that passage that unbelieving people will remember most, if not all, of their lives here on earth. They’ll likely remember all the times they scoffed at God and sneered at Christians. They’ll probably remember every single sin and every act of disobedience they committed. In fact, they will be judged on the basis of those sins. And they’ll remember every time they passed on an opportunity to accept Jesus Christ.
It could be that unbelievers are doomed to remember every detail of a life that was lived apart from God. Maybe that’s part of the punishment God has in store for them. That certainly seemed to be the case with the rich man in Jesus’ story. He was tormented by the prospect of his brothers joining him in that place of torment. But what about believers? How much will of our memories will we retain? In Hebrews 8 we’re told that God will be merciful toward our iniquities, and He will remember our sins….no more. The writer was quoting Jeremiah, but if God promises not to remember our sins, does that mean they will be erased from our memories when we go to be with the Lord? I’d like to think so. God’s word does tell us in Revelation 21 verse 27 (depending on your particular translation) that nothing unclean, impure, or defiled can enter Heaven. That makes me think that even the very memories of our sins would qualify as unclean, impure, or defiled. In 2 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul wrote about the new bodies we will put on when God calls us home. Those new bodies will be perfect and undefiled, so the idea that we’ll still be able to recall the unholy things we did in our present bodies just doesn’t make sense. And since our sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus, and God promises to remember them no more, I don’t think we’ll remember them either. Personally, I hope that’s true because there are some things I’ve done and said that I wish I could forget.
I’m just brainstorming here and I could be wrong about all this, though we can be sure God already knows the answer to this question. But here’s the point I’m driving at: Since nothing unclean, impure, or defiled can enter Heaven, and I believe that includes the very memories of all our past sins, I also think it’s very possible that we may not remember our friends and loved ones who were not saved. God considers unsaved people to be unclean, impure, and defiled and for that reason, they will not be allowed into Heaven. And since they will not allowed into Heaven, is it even possible for believers to carry the memories of unclean, impure, and defiled people into Heaven? I don’t know. I’m sure that’s getting into some very deep theology. It could be that we won’t know that they ever existed. We may not remember our unsaved family members. We may have no knowledge of a spouse, parent, child or grandchild who was not saved. Either that, or God will somehow remove our emotional attachment to them.
Regardless of how God works all of this out, this is why it’s so important for us to reach out to our family and loved ones who are not saved, while we still have time, and do everything we can to win them to Christ. We may or may not remember loved ones who end up condemned for eternity, I just don’t know, but we will remember what we did or failed to do to show them the way to salvation through Jesus Christ. That will be the basis of OUR judgment at the mercy seat of Christ. We may not be successful, but we have to try, because when we stand before Christ, it will be far better to remember how we tried to reach out to our loved ones, even if we were met with failure, than to live for all eternity with the memory that we failed to try.