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When Loved Ones Die and You’re Not Sure They’re in Heaven

When we lose a loved one, we long to have a confidence that they are standing in glory with Jesus. When there is little evidence of that left behind, it can be devastating for us. When you are gone, what are the traces of a life lived for Christ that your loved ones will see? What legacy will you leave that speaks to the love and confidence you have for Christ and your salvation? Your story can begin anew today and tell of God long after you are gone...

I once received the dreaded middle-of-the night phone call.

As most of these calls do, it breathed news of tragedy: my brother snapped in two at the neck after running his Jeep headlong into an oak tree.

Left behind in the backseat were terrible evidences of his devastating end — everything blood-soaked: a half bag of sunflower seeds, a baseball mitt, a couple of molars.

It’s graphic, I know. But these pictures hold power, and I want you to see.

Because they say that forensic experts can formulate both victim and offender profiles by observing a person’s possessions and space or interviewing a person’s friends and family. It follows, then, that family members can do the same with their loved ones.

So we rifled through all that was left behind in the wake of my brother’s life — we rummaged through items not just from his vehicle, but also from his apartment: clothes, checkbook, CDs, books, photos, video games, receipts, calendar, love letters.

But it’s what my brother didn’t leave behind that — for a long time — made me agonize over whether or not he is in Heaven.

We found no Bible or church bulletin, uncovered no crucifix or prayer book, spoke to no one who indicated he had a faith-life of any kind.

We did find a four way Catholic medal which was something, but there’s no hint that he understood the rich symbolism associated with it.

Now I am in no way saying that discovering a drawer full of religious paraphernalia or a closet crammed with Christian t-shirts would have somehow verified that my brother had a relationship with Jesus.

But with so little to go on, I’m left with questions: If my brother was a follower of Jesus, wouldn’t there have been some evidence of a connection?

Wouldn’t those closest to him have testified to hearing him speak about Jesus? Because “if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

And if he was a true disciple of Jesus, wouldn’t his life have produced much fruit (John 15:8)?

Ultimately, these unanswered questions make me wonder: What spiritual “hard evidence” am *I* leaving behind? When I die, will my friends and family have to speculate about my allegiance to the Christ?

And to you I ask the same question: What spiritual traces are you leaving behind for your loved ones?

Artifacts such as these could speak volumes: a family Bible sitting untouched on the coffee table gathering dust; a summer calendar crowding out entire months of Sunday worship in lieu of jet-skiing at the lake cottage; a growing savings account recording no tithe to the Church.

Equally telling would be the testimony of these items: a tattered prayer journal next to the bed stand; a day planner indicating purposeful time set aside for God, spouse, children, friends; a checkbook chronicling generous support for those spreading the Good News.

Would any of these articles guarantee entrance (or exclusion) to Heaven for the owner? No.

But when loved ones die and you’re not sure they’re in Heaven, chances are they didn’t leave behind much evidence to suggest a relationship with Jesus.

And even if they did, Scripture tells us that:

“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out… God [is the One who] search[es] the heart and examine[s] the mind. [He] get[s] to the heart of the human. [He] get[s] to the root of things. [He] treat[s] them as they really are, not as they pretend to be” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

Furthermore, Jerry Bridges wisely states in his book The Pursuit of Holiness that “even as believers we do not know our own hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).

So I trust that the God whom I serve — the God whom my brother at the very least seemed to know about — will get to the heart of each human. Mine. My brother’s. Yours.

And because it is impossible for me to know my OWN heart let alone another’s, who am *I* to authenticate a person’s spiritual connection with Jesus?

Therefore, I no longer agonize over whether or not my brother is in Heaven.

Instead, I’m working on living a life that produces so much fruit that when I’m dead, there will be little doubt for my family as to whether or not I was a disciple of Jesus Christ (John 15:8).

Won’t you join me?


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  1. Fantastic post. I want my daughter and my wife to be in no doubt that I had a relationship with Jesus when I die…

    1. Thanks, Rob! I’m glad it was an encouragement to you. And I TOTALLY agree! I want to live in such a way that my words and actions and thoughts — everything! — bring attention to Jesus; if we live like that, then our families can dance and sing at our passing. Amen? 🙂

  2. What a great post. Found it on Facebook thanks to Kirk Cameron who posted it. It certainly made me think and want to share it.
    Thank you for sharing your testimony.

  3. This is something I struggle with since I lost my adult son 5 years ago. God has given me signs to assuage the qustions my grief has brought out, but we’re still left with the idea that we may not be with our loved ones in Heaven.

    And how then could it be Heaven?

    I fall back to Job, and consider that I have to let God be God, and to think I have the answers, or even a dim understanding of God’s plan would be foolishness.

  4. First of all, anyone who is not saved, can not say Jesus is lord, second you are not going to hell for your sins, Jesus took all sin upon himself, past present and future, so if you do not have a relationship with Jesus, the gift of life, I’m petty sure that you won’t be going to heaven, it’s impossible to please God without faith, So please ask Jesus to come in your heart and make him your lord today, God Bless.

  5. thank you for this…we went through loosing my brother…he was 25, I was 20 -I think about this all the time because I am not positive He turned his heart to God even though all He seem to do was good was in short life. I also desperately want to see him again…. I am happy to know I am not alone but this is a good message and reminder to realize it is important to learn to leave the legacy of knowing Christ. I have two boys who we are raising in a home where Christ is our Savior and Lord. If I see my brother again, I will be beyond happy, but making sure my boys, my family and friends are aware of Christ as Savior is most vital.

  6. I have kind of wondered. I lost my husband to suicide on December2,2013. I met him in church and felt I had found the right man only to watch him go on a downward spiral over the last two years of his life. He quit going to church, quit going to things with church people. He quit taking care of himself and stopped bathing. I tried to get him help but he didn’t want to go to the church for council. The moment I found my husband had passed, I called 911, family and church family. The prayers started immediately. The church put on a memorial service for him that was beautiful. The pastor spoke a very hopeful sermon on tortured souls. I truly believe my church saved me and my sanity. Their prayers brought so much comfort at a very difficult time. I was wrapped in the peace that goes beyond human understanding and have been able to continue on with out Rick. They have been there to listen to me. They send notes every once in a while to remind me that I matter to them. God is my savior and I couldn’t have managed if it weren’t for Him and the people He has placed in my life. I know there is evidence that I have a relationship with our lord. It is all over my house and truck. Thank you father for MY salvation that only comes through you. I may be pleasantly surprised to find that Rick made it to heaven.

  7. Thank you Rhonda…this is a very important subject to reflect on…and one worth sharing!…God Bless

  8. Beautiful. And so true. I have always agonized over my great-grandmother, and like your brother, there was little evidence. So I have the same goal as you…live so there’s no doubt.

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