Read THE NEAR HEREAFTER: CHAPTER VII of The Gospel of the Hereafter , free online book, by J. Paterson-Smyth, on ReadCentral.com.

RECOGNITION

Section 1

SHALL WE KNOW ONE ANOTHER IN THAT LIFE? Why not? As George Macdonald somewhere pertinently asks, “Shall we be greater fools in Paradise than we are here?”

This is a perfectly apt retort, and not at all flippant as it may seem at first. It is based on the belief suggested by common sense and confirmed by Scripture that our life there will be the natural continuous development of our life here and not some utterly unconnected existence. If consciousness, personal identity, character, love, memory, fellowship, intercourse go on in that life why should there be a question raised about recognition? True, there are morbid times with most of us when we are inclined to doubt all desirable things, and there are some gloomy Christians who are always suspicious of anything especially bright and hopeful in the Gospel of Christ. But to the normal Christian man who knows what is revealed and who believes in the love of God, there should never be any serious doubt about recognition in that life.

Section 2

Before saying anything about Scripture evidence let me point out that there are some things that are always assumed by legitimate inference even without any definite proofs. If I knew that the inhabitants of Mars were alive, and in full consciousness, and with souls like mine, and capable of intercourse with each other whether they have bodies or not, I should assume that they knew one another. I should not wait for that fact to be definitely stated by a visitor to Mars who should return to earth. I should assume it without his stating it. Nay, I should require very strong evidence to make me believe the contrary. Now, the Bible says that our dear ones in Paradise are alive, that their life is a full conscious life, with full consciousness of personal identity, that they remember the things of the old earth life, that they love one another, that they can have intercourse together as in the story of Dives and Lazarus.

So far as we can judge, the inner life of the “I” THERE seems a very natural continuation of his life HERE.

If then, “I” am the same “I,” the same person, still alive, still conscious, still thinking, still remembering, still loving, still longing for my dear ones, still capable of intercourse with others, why may I not without definite proof assume the fact of recognition? Surely it should require strong evidence to make me believe the contrary. It is one thing to avoid reckless assertions without any foundation it is quite another thing to have so little trust in God that we are afraid to make a fair inference such as we would unhesitatingly make in like conditions here just because it seems to us “too good to be true.” Nothing is too good to be true where God is concerned. I do believe that one reason why we have not definite answers to such questions as this is because such answers ought not to be necessary for people who trusted fully in the tenderness of the love of God.

Section 3

Why, even if the Bible were to give you no hint of it, do you not see that the deepest, noblest instincts that God has implanted in us cry out for recognition of our departed; and where God is concerned it is not too much to say that the deepest, noblest instincts are, in a sense, prophecies. This passionate affection, the noblest thing that God has implanted in us, makes it impossible to believe that we should be but solitary isolated spirits amongst a crowd of others whom we did not know, that we should live in the society of happy souls hereafter and never know that the spirit next us was that of a mother or husband or friend or child. We know that the Paradise and earth lives come from the same God who is the same always. Into this life He never sends us alone. There is the mother love waiting and the family affection around us, and as we grow older love and friendship and association with others is one of the great needs and pleasures of life and one of the chief means of training the higher side of us. Unless His method changes we may surely hope that He will do something similar hereafter, for love is the plant that must overtop all others in the whole Kingdom of God.

Again, love and friendship must be LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP for SOME ONE. If we don’t know any one, then we cannot love, and human love must die without an object. But the Bible makes it a main essential of the religious life that “He that loveth God love his brother also.”

If we shall not know one another, why then this undying memory of departed ones, this aching void that is never filled on earth? Alas for us! For we are worse off than the lower animals. The calf is taken from the cow, the kittens are taken from their mother and in a few days they are forgotten. But the poor human mother never forgets. When her head is bowed with age, when she has forgotten nearly all else on earth you can bring the tears into her eyes by speaking of the child that died in her arms forty years ago. Will God disappoint that tender love, that one supreme thing which is “the most like God within the soul”?

Section 4

There can be no real reason, I repeat, for doubting the fact of recognition unless the Bible should distinctly state the contrary. And so far from doing this the Bible, in its very few references to the Hereafter life, always assumes the fact and never in any way contradicts it.

Notice first the curiously persistent formula in which Old Testament chroniclers speak of death. “He died in a good old age and WAS GATHERED UNTO HIS PEOPLE and they buried him.” “Gathered unto his people” can hardly mean burial with his people, for the burial is mentioned after it. It comes between the dying and the burial. And I note that even at Moses’ burial on the lone mountain top this phrase is solemnly used. “The Lord said unto him get thee up into the mount and die in the mount AND BE GATHERED TO THY PEOPLE.” Miriam was buried in the distant desert, Aaron’s body lay on the slopes of Mount Hor, and the wise little mother who made the ark of bulrushes long ago had found a grave, I suppose, in the brick-fields of Egypt. Did it mean that he came back to them all in the life unseen when he was “gathered to his people”?

David seemed to think that he would know his dead child. “I shall go to him but he shall not return to me.”

Our Lord assumes that Dives and Lazarus knew each other. And in another passage He uses a very homely illustration of a friendly gathering when He speaks of those who shall “sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom.” And again in His advice about the right use of riches. “Make to yourselves friends by the means of the mammon of unrighteousness that when ye die they may receive you into the everlasting habitations” (Luke xv. Surely, that at least suggests recognition and a pleasant welcoming on the other side.

I remember well, how in the pain of a great bereavement, His words to the penitent thief came into my life like a message from the Beyond. “To-day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.” I put myself in the place of that poor friendless man taking his lonely leap off into the dark and felt what a joy and comfort it must have been. “To-day we shall be together again at the other side.” Not, “I will remember thee,” but, “Thou shalt be with Me.” Not, by and by when I come in My Kingdom, but “To-day.” If anybody knew, surely Jesus knew. If His words meant anything surely they meant we shall be conscious of each other, we shall know each other as the two friendless ones who hung on the cross together.

Then I see St. Paul (though he is referring to the later stage of existence) comforting bereaved mourners with the thought of meeting those whom Christ shall bring with Him. Where would be the comfort of it if they should not know them? He expects to meet his converts and present them to Christ. How could he say this if he thought He would not know them?

I wonder if anybody really doubts it after all. Just think of it! With Christ in Paradise and not knowing or loving any comrade soul! Is that possible in the land of love? With our dear ones in Paradise and never a thrill of recognition as we touch in spiritual intercourse the mother, or wife, or husband, or child for whose presence we are longing! Cannot you imagine our wondering joy when our questionings are set at rest? Cannot you imagine the Lord in His tender reproach, “Oh, thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”

Section 5

Sometimes one vaguely wonders, How can there be spiritual recognition? How shall we recognize each other without this accustomed bodily shape? And in the effort to realize the fact of recognition men have made many guesses. But really we know nothing about the “How.” We know that the self in that life can think and remember and love. We know that we can still communicate thoughts to each other. Can we not leave with God the “how” of recognition?

In several places Scripture seems to suggest that the souls of the departed are clothed in some kind of visible spirit shape. They are spoken of as not only recognized but in some way seen as in the case of Samuel and of Dives and Lazarus and of Moses and Elias at the Transfiguration and of our Lord Himself in the spiritual body after the Resurrection. They seem to be visible when they please and as they please.

But when a mother asks, how then should she know her child who died twenty years ago, one feels that recognition must be something spiritual and not depending on visible shape. Even here on earth much of our recognition is spiritual. Soul recognizes soul. We recognize in some degree good and evil character of souls even through the coarse covering of the body. We instinctively, as we say, trust or distrust people on first appearance. Or again, a slight young stripling goes away to India and returns in twenty years a big, bearded, broad-shouldered man, with practically no outward resemblance to the boy that went away. But even though he strive to conceal his identity he cannot hide it long from his mother. She looks into his eyes and her soul leaps out to him. Call it instinct, insight, intuition, sympathy, what you please, it is the spiritual vision, soul recognizing soul. If that spiritual vision apart from bodily shape plays so great a part in recognition here, may it not be all-sufficient there? In that life where there is consciousness, character, memory, love, longing for our dear ones, and power of communication, is it conceivable that we should have intercourse with our loved and longed for, without any thrill of recognition? Surely not. Instinctively we shall know.

It was not mother that I knew thy face,
It was my heart that cried out Mother!

Section 6

P.S. I let these words stand as they appear in the earlier editions of this book. For they are true. But to my mind now there is a far more probable answer. It is this: That it is not you who will have to do the recognizing; at any rate that you will not be first with it.

If it be true, as we have reason to believe (see next chapter), that your dear one there is watching your life on earth, of course he would know you at once. While, year by year, you have been changing from youth to old age he has been near you all the time. He knows you as familiarly as if he had been on earth beside you. Probably he has been waiting and watching as you came through.

And whatever change has passed on him in his new life, surely he too will be easier to recognize when he has claimed you first.

Whether this suggestion appeals or no, at any rate we need have no doubt that we shall know one another there. Nay, shall we not know each other there far more thoroughly than we do here? “Now,” says St. Paul, “we see in a mirror, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then shall I know even as also I have been known.” St. Paul’s thought is of our fuller knowledge of things hereafter. Does it not include also our fuller knowledge of one another? I met this passage lately in a letter of Phillips Brooks: “I wonder what sort of knowledge we shall have of our friends in the Hereafter and what we shall do to keep up our intimacy with one another. There will be one good thing about it. I suppose we shall see through one another to begin with and start off on quite a new basis of mutual understanding. I should think it would be awful at first, but afterwards it must be nice to feel that your friends knew the worst of you and you need not be continually in fear that they will find out what you really are.”

I think a simple natural thought such as that seems to bring the idea of spiritual recognition more within our ken. But we must remember that our conjectures about the MODE of recognition have very little basis. The FACT of recognition we may practically assume. The “how” we must leave with God.

“Soul of my soul I shall meet thee again.
With God be the rest.”