The Survival of Personality After Death

by Spiros Zodhiates

Dr. Zodhiates continues to explore the implications of Paul’s teaching on our future state, when we shall live eternally in the light of God’s glory.

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For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

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What do you think God looks like? A little child may conceive of Him as he has been portrayed in some picture book—a big man with a white beard perhaps, floating amidst clouds and surrounded by cherubs. Even adults may have a hard time shaking off such childish conceptions. Where the artists got this idea is puzzling, for the Bible says, “God is a spirit” and “No man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18; 4:24). Even the seraphim around the throne veil their faces with their wings before Him. Whether, then, we shall ever see God, as He is, in His essential being, is debatable. That we shall know Him with a knowledge intimate and satisfying is certain from Scripture.

However, as believers we do know that we shall see the Lord Jesus Christ “face to face” in the life to come—whether this be at our death, or at His second appearing if this should precede our death. Many artists have attempted to portray Christ, but what they have succeeded in giving us is the character of Christ as they conceive it to be reflected in human lineaments. One of the most famous heads of Christ by a contemporary artist gives Him at once a kingly and a humble look, a resolute steadfastness of expression, an evident nobility of character—expressing on canvas what the Gospels express in words. But to assume that Christ’s features and bodily characteristics actually resemble any artist’s conceptions would be naive indeed.

What did Paul mean by “face to face”? What did John mean by seeing Him “as he is”? It is often a very revealing moment when we first see people as they really are. We thought we knew them, and then some hour arrives when heights and depths in them flash out upon us. Then we feel that we have never really known them, never understood the depths of their character. In some such way, when we awake in heaven, we shall feel that we have never really known the Savior, and at this glorious moment, when we receive this fuller knowledge of Christ to our deepest satisfaction, we shall certainly never more be disappointed. Now we know in part and see in part; then shall we know even as we are known. At last, when we are purged and purified, and when the love of God has given us eyes to see, we shall see Him as He is.

To Paul, the thought of heaven was not primarily of its splendid mansions or its golden streets. He knew about these, of course, but heaven to him meant supremely the joy of being with Christ. He never said, when life was difficult, “I have a desire to depart, and go to heaven,” rather “I am . . . having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). It is true that we know Christ as Savior, Master, and Friend while we are here on earth, but this is always a qualified knowledge, limited by our capacity for spiritual things, our state of Christian development, and the fact that we must walk by faith and not by sight. In heaven we shall no longer be hampered by these limitations.

There is one additional factor that will enable us to know Christ “as he is,” and that is that “we shall be like him.” Being like Him will make us sensitive to all that we have missed in our relationship with Him on earth. You must have the Christlike heart to see the Savior, and in heaven our hearts will be perfectly tuned to His.

This is one side of the coin—that we shall see Christ face to face and know Him far more intimately in heaven. The other side is that we ourselves are intimately known of God, not only in the here and now, but also in the hereafter. “But then shall I know even as also I am known,” said Paul. That this refers to life in heaven, there is no doubt. The “then” is in contrast to the here and now. That this argues for the continuance of our personalities in heaven is also certain.

Now we “know” through our minds which dwell in our bodies. Our personalities are made up of that which is immaterial—soul and spirit—and that which is material, our bodies. One apart from the other cannot “know” here and now. But “then” presupposes the separation of the immaterial from the material, of soul and spirit from body.

Two different forms of the verb “to know” are used in the original Greek of this verse. In the clause, “Now I know in part,” Paul uses the simple verb ginoâsko to indicate our present knowledge. In the next clause, “But then shall I know even as also I am known,” he uses the compound verb epignoâsomai, “I shall fully recognize,” to refer to our knowledge in the world to come. Only in the sense of “to recognize” does the compound verb have a special sense. We believe this is one instance in which this verb form was intentionally used to express recognition, as distinguished from simple perception. What Paul was saying here is that in heaven he would still have the power of personal recognition, as distinguished from simple perception.

The verb is in the future indicative middle voice. It is a deponent verb in the future tense; that is, although it is in the middle voice it has an active sense. In other words, when Paul says, “Then shall I know [epignoâsomai] more fully,” he indicates that he will still have the power of personal recognition. There will be no substitution of personality but an elevation and increase of personal understanding.

In heaven we shall maintain our inherent self–conscious identities with an increased capacity for volition and action, as well as for knowledge, of recognizing the reality implicit in appearances—something we could not often do to our satisfaction while down here on earth. In heaven, Paul intimates, though we become partakers of the divine nature (God’s communicable attributes to perfection—righteousness, love, etc.), our personal identity coexists with God’s essence or deity, though very distinct from that essence of deity. We will have ceased to be hampered by a body of limitations.

After His resurrection, Christ was readily recognized by his friends when, in various post–resurrection appearances, He chose to reveal Himself plainly to them. In other cases, however, as in His appearance to Mary, He was not recognized at first, though He was eventually recognized in every appearance. Thus we see that He had not altered His outward form in such a way that He could never be recognized. His change was not like the radical metamorphosis the caterpillar undergoes, in order to become a butterfly.

Have no fear, then, that we shall not recognize one another in heaven, even though perhaps not instantaneously. Shall we not be transformed into a form very similar in manner to that in which our glorified Lord was transformed? We shall be different, but not so different as to be unrecognizable to one another. (Morrison, The Wind and the Heath, 139–48; and Shepheard–Walwyn, “Personality in the Future Life,” Christian World Pulpit, 254–6.)

© From To Love Is to Live, an exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 13, 1967, revised 1998. Available from AMG Publishers.

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