Aloha from Honolulu. Linda and I sat down yesterday and read aloud your meditations on heaven and were quite moved. It is so incredible to see God's grace in your life in helping you to walk through the pain of losing Joey. The following is in response to what you said in your letter I would not have sent this to you any time sooner until now but was prompted in reading your reponse.
This is because it is factually based, theologically grounded, etc. and it is usually not facts and theology that people need when they are hurting. But I felt to write the following as a confirmation on what God has already been showing you and to encourage that you are on the right track in looking forward to the future.
All of us deal with grief differently. I have never lost a son so I have no way of knowing how to deal with the same degree of grief that you folks have had. However in the last year I have lost my best friend to cancer, a very good friend, Kit to cancer and now am watching my best friend's wife (the one who died) lose her hair in suffering with cancer as well. Also, we have had several of our YWAM leaders who were early pioneers pass away recently as well.
This has caused me to dive into the Scriptures to really get convinced in my own mind about all this stuff about heaven and eternity (and I suppose this is the way I process grief!). This led me on an intense study of the Bible on my own and a consulting of deep theologians like N. T. Wright who has written a 900 page thesis on the "Resurrection of the Body" (called "The Resurrection of the Son of God") and a more popular book called "Surprised by Hope." There is also a 500 page book that I plowed through last year by Randy Alcorn called "Heaven" which is a more readable rendering of what happens after death and kind of a user friendly way of communicating what N.T. Wright has said as well as others.
I recently heard professor Wright in a question and answer session at Calvin College. When speaking of heaven he said "OK for those of you American Evangelicals, yes when we die we go to heaven - but we won't be there for long!" By this he was referring to the clear teaching of Scripture on us inhabiting a "new heaven and a new earth" spoken of many times in Scripture in the writings of Peter and the book of Revelation. Both N.T. Wright and Randy Alcorn stress in their books, " The PHYSICALITY of our eternal life." Both of these authors drill home that we will be in physical and resurrection bodies identical to the one that Jesus appeared in when he met with his disciples (Phil. 3:21, 1John3:1-2). An excellent chapter in Alcorns book entitled "Who Will We be in Heaven" Alcorn points out many Scriptures where we retain the same identity that we had here on earth. With a lot of Scriptural background and a tad bit of conjecture and guesses based upon what is clear in Scripture, Alcorn suggests we will be exactly who we are for all eternity except with a magnifying glass on our good traits and our bad traits taken away.
The conclusion, to me, was a confirmation of what you said in your reflections on heaven, that we will be on paradise earth (the Jehovah witnesses had something right!) The reality will literally be heaven on earth when the New Jerusalem descends out of heaven from God and we all live forever on planet earth. The Scripture is not clear on descriptions of "heaven" so unfortunately our minds listen to Medevial writers who talk about sitting on clouds, and somehow floating around the universe as disembodied spirits. Wright and Alcorn point out that this is not the case. We will not be disembodied spirits, we will be in resurrection bodies able to recognize one another and continuing on for all eternity to love the ones that God gave us to love for our temporal life here on earth.
As you said, you will be reunited with Joey and will have the same wonderful interaction with him except enhanced to the nth degree; I suppose this will be to all the intensity we can handle by our loving Father in heaven. I will hang with my friend Kevin in heaven and continue to bug him about his red hair and he will continue to ridicule me about being short. I will bug Kit about all those times that he fell asleep in the Maui airport parking lot when I was supposed to be picked up to speak at the church! I will see Keith Green and ask him what the heck happened on that day when his plane went down.
One thing for sure. We will all as the scripture says have ETERNAL LIFE - an eternity not only with Jesus but with the ones Jesus has given us to love here on this earth.
Linda and I are finding as we are pushing 60 (I'm pushing harder than she is!) as we hear reports of friends going to be with the Lord (Just yesterday our first European YWAMer passed away) it causes us to think more about finishing well. I'm pouring myself into the next generation so that many more people will be able to experience this wonderful life in the new heaven and the new earth where indwells righteousness (2Peter 3).
I know the pain never goes away but as Paul exhorted the Thessalonians they were not to sorrow as others regarding those who had passed away because we know we will see them again. We sorrow not "as others" this is simply because we have the hope of eternal life. I have always observed the generally accepted wisdom not to talk a lot in the presence of grieving people and certainly not to give them a load of Scriptures to make them feel better. Often times those Scriptures make them feel worse, much like those Hallmark cards that you beat up on the other day, Karen! However, a word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver (Prov 25:11) and I trust these words will be that to you. May the Lord bless you guys and you are continually in our prayers, that God would continue to heal your hearts and help you personally to finish well.