WE SHALL KNOW AS WE ARE KNOWN
T. PIERCE BROWN
Recently I visited a college age class and was inspired by the inquisitive minds of the students. One raised a question concerning “degrees” in hell or heaven. I showed that both the Bible and logic indicate greater and lesser guilt and therefore greater and lesser rewards or punishment. There are many passages that so teach. A few of them are: John19:11, “Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” Matthew23:14, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.”
Mark12:40, “Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.” James 3:1, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 12:47, “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”
One of the students then read from 1 Corinthians13:12which says, “For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully, even as also I was fully known.” He assumed that it meant that when we get to heaven all of us would fully know everything, and thus there could be no degrees of appreciation or knowledge.
There are several things wrong with that conclusion, some of which we shall point out. First, the passage is not a contrast between what we know now and when we get to heaven, but between what they knew in part as a result of each one having a special spiritual gift, and what they would know when the partial revelation would cease and the perfect revelation would be complete (vs. 9-10). There are at least half a dozen passages that show us that we can know fully (epiginosko) many things in this dispensation. This is the word that is used in 2 Peter 1:2-4. Verse 3 says, “Seeing that his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge (epiginosko) of him that hath called us by his own glory and virtue.” Paul and Peter are emphasizing the same truth: just as God knew fully the needs of all men, so He has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the full knowledge of His perfect revelation.
A second thing that is wrong with the assumption of the student about 1 Cor. 13:12 is that it necessitates an interpretation that is contrary to fact and revelation. The idea that we shall fully know all things as God knows all things would mean that sometime (presumably when we get to heaven), we will become omnipotent. That is nowhere suggested in the Bible except by the Devil to Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Third, even if it referred to what will happen in heaven, and our knowledge there, the fact that we may continue learning many things there that we do not know here, and even continue growing spiritually throughout eternity has nothing whatever to do with the reality of degrees of reward or punishment. Each one of us may learn more fully any truth in any area at this time, but it does not keep us from having different degrees of joy in learning it. A little child may learn how to spell some words and read. He may not be aware that there are 26 letters in the alphabet. When he learns that, he will know all that anyone can know about it. That is full knowledge! But he may still have different degrees of happiness in putting them together in different ways.
Although one may have an interesting study about “degrees” of reward or punishment, there is very little practical value in dwelling on it, for if we, by God’s grace and our acceptance of it, get to heaven, we will enjoy it as much as we are prepared to enjoy it. If we miss it, we will suffer to whatever extent the circumstances demand for God to be perfectly just and merciful. Our real concern should be, make sure you know you have eternal life!