We cannot be fully saved unless we are reconciled—not only with God but with each other. From this it follows that the undiluted experience of salvation in the world to come must include social reconciliation. Isn’t it enough, though, for God simply to give us eternal life and a completely fresh start after freeing us from the desire to sin?
When I was a teenager, a popular preacher used to illustrate what happens at conversion by using the image of a new page. When he was a boy (in a time before delete buttons and ballpoint pens), the preacher said, he could never write out a whole page without making a mistake or spilling ink. He was troubled by the mess he kept making and would always be relieved when he could turn to a new page and start afresh. This is, he said, what Christ offers to us—a fresh start. And this is what heaven will be like—our mistakes will be gone and we will be given a fresh start in such a way that from then on we will always write flawlessly.
But that is not quite right. Heaven is more than just a fresh start. It is more than just the creation of a new future. It is also redemption of yesterday, today, and tomorrow—redemption of our whole lived life. Heaven is having had your messy pages made clean and right again.
Apply this now to the wrongdoings we commit against each other—a majority of our sins. If the past, which is suffused with enmity, is to be redeemed, it is not enough for us to be given a fresh start. Our relationships will have to be restored. Hence the final social reconciliation of those who died unreconciled must be part of the transition from the present world to the world to come.
Miroslav Volf, “Love Your Heavenly Enemy,” Christianity Today (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2000), 96–97.