On Learning and Growing – In the Next Life
For believers, the future life will never be dull or boring:
Some Christians think our future life will be rather static – and perhaps even boring. They think we will be ‘perfect’ – whatever that means – so we will not be making any advances or developing in any way. But Scripture does not speak that way about the next life.
Yes, in some things there will be no change – for example we will not be sinning there. So that is something we can count on as not changing but remaining the same. But as I said in a previous piece, getting into heaven – or more precisely, the new earth – will not make us godlike: we will not all of a sudden become omniscient and the like.
So there will be a real place to grow, to develop, to expand in so many ways, including intellectually. We will be learning new things. We will develop in our minds. I spoke to this somewhat in the earlier piece I just mentioned: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/07/20/will-there-be-art-galleries-in-heaven-christianity-culture-and-eschatology/
In that piece I spoke about cultural pursuits and even artistic endeavours taking place in the next world. Here I want to develop all this further, especially looking at things like the mind, learning, and perhaps even reading and writing. Yes I know, my love of books is showing here, but I think a case can be made for what follows.
As I said in that previous piece, there is admittedly a fair amount of speculation here. We do not have a heap of detail as to what life in the next world will be like, but we can consider it, based on what we do know about life in this world, and God’s original intentions when he first created man. Part of this I already discussed in my piece on the cultural mandate: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/07/19/on-the-cultural-mandate/
Let me feature a few writers on this topic, firstly by looking at the slightly broader issue of thinking of heaven as a boring, static place where nothing new ever transpires. In his book 10 Mistakes People Make About Heaven, Hell and the Afterlife Mike Fabarez discusses this matter:
If your unspoken aversion to thinking about the afterlife is prompted by this concern, allow me to relieve your fears. Even in this life, the exaltation of God is not confined to the singing of worship songs. The Bible says that you can and should seek to glorify God even when you are having dinner (1 Corinthians 10:31). In your daily tasks and at your place of employment, the Bible says you are to be engaged in consciously and joyfully serving Christ no matter what your job title might be….
If every task in heaven wherein you could engage your creativity, apply your wisdom, and purpose your mind to work had no pain, frustration, or disappointment associated with it, I’m assuming you would rethink your ambition of lounging in a hammock for eternity.
As to the issue of learning and the like in the next life, let me start with some thoughts from Alan Gomes and his very useful book, 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell. As to my point about us not being omniscient in heaven, he quotes W. G. T. Shedd:
“We are not to understand that the creature’s knowledge, in the future state, will be as extensive as that of the Omniscient One; or that it will be as profound and exhaustive as His. The infinitude of things can be known only by the Infinite Mind.” Gomes then says this:
Related to the finitude of our knowledge is our continued growth in it. What we know and experience in the eternal state will not be static but ever increasing. As created and therefore finite beings, we are mutable. This means that we are subject to change. Change, however, is not necessarily a bad thing if the direction in which we are changing is for the better. As we grow, we develop, enlarge, and actualize our capacities for enjoying God and his creation—from “glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18, KJV), so to speak….
What we are saying here about growth in the eternal state should in no way discourage us but rather be cause for great excitement. Simply because growth in our present state of existence is frequently painful does not mean it will always be so. Far from being a defect, growth is the glory of the mutable creature. God made us for growth and we will revel in it. Learning new things about God, his creation, and one another for all eternity is truly a thrilling prospect. Imagine the anticipation and delight that each day will hold!
Finally, someone whose 500-page book on heaven has helped so many over the years is also worth quoting from here. Randy Alcorn says this about learning in heaven:
I frequently learn new things about my wife, daughters, and closest friends even though I’ve known them for many years. If I can always be learning something new about finite, limited human beings, surely I’ll learn far more about Jesus. None of us will ever begin to exhaust his depths….
Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, who intensely studied Heaven, believed “the saints will be progressive in knowledge to all eternity.” He added, “The number of ideas of the saints shall increase to eternity.”
Will our knowledge and skills vary? Will some people in Heaven have greater knowledge and specialized abilities than others? Why not? Scripture never teaches sameness in Heaven. We will be individuals, each with our own memories and God-given gifts. Some of our knowledge will overlap, but not all. I’m not a mechanic or gardener, as you may be. I may or may not learn those skills on the New Earth. But even if I do, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be as skilled a gardener or mechanic as you will be.
When we enter Heaven, we’ll presumably begin with the knowledge we had at the time of our death. God may enhance our knowledge and will correct countless wrong perceptions. I imagine he’ll reveal many new things to us, then set us on a course of continual learning, paralleling Adam and Eve’s. Once we’re in resurrection bodies with resurrected brains, our capacity to learn may increase. Perhaps angel guardians or loved ones already in Heaven will be assigned to tutor and orient us.
Consider how exciting intellectual development will be. Father Boudreau wrote, “The life of Heaven is one of intellectual pleasure…. There the intellect of man receives a supernatural light…. It is purified, strengthened, enlarged, and enabled to see God as He is in His very essence. It is enabled to contemplate, face to face, Him who is the first essential Truth. It gazes undazzled upon the first infinite beauty, wisdom, and goodness, from whom flow all limited wisdom, beauty, and goodness found in creatures. Who can fathom the exquisite pleasures of the human intellect when it thus sees all truth as it is in itself!”
If seeing truth “as it is in itself” is that exciting for those of us who’ve had some education here on Earth, imagine what it will be like for those who never had the benefits of literacy and education.
I quite like what he says next:
Think of what it will be like to discuss science with Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and Thomas Edison or to discuss mathematics with Pascal. Imagine long talks with Malcolm Muggeridge or Francis Schaeffer. Think of reading and discussing the writings of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, G. K. Chesterton, or Dorothy Sayers with the authors themselves. How would you like to talk about the power of fiction at a roundtable with John Milton, Daniel Defoe, Victor Hugo, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Flannery O’Connor?
How about discussing God’s attributes with Stephen Charnock, A. W. Pink, A. W. Tozer, and J. I. Packer? Or talking theology with Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther? Then, when differences arise, why not invite Jesus in to clear things up?
Imagine discussing the sermons of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, and Charles Spurgeon with the preachers themselves. Or sitting down to hear insights on family and prayer from Susanna Wesley. Or talking about faith with George Mueller or Bill Bright, then listening to their stories. You could cover the Civil War era with Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Or the history of missions with William Carey, Amy Carmichael, Lottie Moon, or Hudson and Maria Taylor. You could discuss ministry ideas with Brother Andrew, George Verwer, Luis Palau, Billy Graham, Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Colson, or Elisabeth Elliot.
Yep, heaven sounds like my kind of place. I can’t wait to chat with Jeremiah and James and Justin Martyr and John Bunyan and John Stott, to name but a few. Sure, God himself will always be the main object of our attention, affections and adoration. But the whole company of the redeemed will be so great to be around with as well – and that is how God intended it to be.
You cannot call that boring. I certainly look forward to all the learning and growing that will take place then.
For further reading
Here are 15 quite helpful books on the afterlife, heaven, the eternal state, and related matters:
Alcorn, Randy, Heaven. Tyndale, 2004.
Boettner, Loraine, Immortality. P&R, 1962.
Fabarez, Mike, 10 Mistakes People Make About Heaven, Hell and the Afterlife. Harvest House, 2018.
Gomes, Alan, 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell. Kregel, 2018.
Habermas, Gary and J. P. Moreland, Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality. Crossway, 1992, 1998.
Kreeft, Peter, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven . . . But Never Dreamed of Asking. Ignatius, 1990.
Miller, J. Steve, Near-Death Experiences as Evidence for the Existence of God and Heaven: A Brief Introduction in Plain Language. Wisdom Creek Press, 2012.
Morey, Robert, Death and the Afterlife. Bethany House, 2001.
Morgan, Christopher and Robert Peterson, eds., Heaven. Crossway, 2014.
Pache, Rene, The Future Life. Moody, 1962.
Strobel, Lee, The Case for Heaven. Zondervan, 2021.
Twelftree, Graham, Life After Death. Monarch, 2002.
Williamson, Paul, Death and the Afterlife: Biblical Perspectives on Ultimate Questions. IVP, 2017.
Wittmer, Michael, Heaven is a Place on Earth. Zondervan, 2004.
Wittmer, Michael, ed., Four Views on Heaven. Zondervan, 2022.
6 Replies to “On Learning and Growing – In the Next Life”
“Yes, in some things there will be no change – for example we will not be sinning there. So that is something we can count on as not changing but remaining the same. ”
Not sure how _that_ works. As I read it, there’s no sinning here now. Well, I still see a lot of it here in QLD. 😉
Inspirational post, Bill.
I look forward to working in the New Creation free of sweat and thorns. I have always enjoyed work—using my mind and body to create and accomplish even menial tasks. There are few enjoyments that eclipse seeing the results of devoted labor. It is the sweat and thorns, and my aging and aching body, that turn work unpleasant. My wife loves vegetable gardening and preparing delicious food from the results. Doing this to God’s glory, without pests and heat and poor soil—what a joy! Both of us enjoy the learning that accompanies work, and seeing the way that our increased knowledge and skills amplifies and enriches the outcome. I have no idea what work I will be assigned but it comforts me to imagine engaging in it and sharing it with others.
Thanks Bill, even though I was brought up to believe Heaven was this lovely place beyond the universe where the righteous go when they die, I now believe Heaven will be on earth as God meant the Garden of Eden to be and as Isaiah 11 portrays, so good to see one of your authors, Michael Wittmer has a book, ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’. We are supposed to rule and reign with Jesus for 1000 years but once the 1000 years is up it looks like Satan is loosed to show he is the deceiver of the nations and so he is thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone forever, then the rest of the dead are judged, then there is a new heaven and earth before the new Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven Rev 20:7 – Rev 21:1-2.
I agree, Heaven will be beyond our expectations.
So many great things have been written over several millennia that it would be nice to read them. One thing I would love would be time travel to see things as they happened. In Star Trek they have holodecks that show things in holographic form 3 dimensions and in it you can run a program on “Observer Mode” where you can walk through it like normal but no one in the program can see you nor can you interact with the program. A time travel like that would be perfect as you get to see everything but couldn’t change anything. As great as the “Passion of the Christ” was cinematicly at showing the lead up to the crucifixion and the crucifixion itself imagine going back and seeing the real thing happen as it did right in front of you? Or witnessing the resurrection? Or traveling with the apostles? While I like reading, especially fiction, I enjoy visual material more and this type of time travel would be the ultimate visual material.