Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eternal Life

I’ve been thinking about life eternal, in preparation for Sunday’s sermon. What does it mean? What does “everlasting” feel like?

I don’t think eternal life begins when we die, because if it had a beginning, then it wouldn’t be eternal. Eternal not only means “always will be” but also “always has been.” Shane Claiborne wrote about this in “The Irresistible Revolution,” saying that he is convinced “Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live.” Eternal life is an ongoing something that we enter into when we decide to follow Jesus.

I’ve been contemplating how this idea weaves in to the social issues around the beginning and ending of life. For example, one of the loudest groups in the milieu believes that life begins at conception. While biologically this may be true, theologically I do not believe it. God tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (Jeremiah 1:4) not “At the moment of your conception I knew you…” Life everlasting has no beginning; it is like entering a flowing stream somewhere in the middle.

Similarly, Paul writes that “we will not all die, but we will all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51). I do not believe that ceasing to function biologically is the same as ceasing to be. I do not know how I personally will feel about it when a loved one is close to death, or when I am. I’d like to think that I will be able to face it unafraid. But I have numerous experiences in ministry with people who are dying and with their families, and it is a holy time in which you get a little glimpse in the direction of infinity.

And while I don’t know exactly how to express the idea, because all language is metaphor, all of this means that saying “yes” to the life everlasting that Christ offers should therefore impact us in the present. Followers of Christ should live differently, better. In other words, I’m no expert on the “everlasting” part, but I’ll do my best to live the here and now like God wants me to.

Doesn’t it seem like sometimes we spend a lot of energy waiting around for heaven? As Shane Claiborne puts it, “Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus in along the way.” I don’t believe that we are supposed to live however we want and then let God sort it all out in the end. I believe we are supposed to live here and now as if the there and then has already come. Why else would be pray for God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven?

The life God wants us to live will be easy then, because God’s reign on earth will be fulfilled and God’s law will be written on all hearts. And what a wonderful party that will be! But while we wait for it, we are supposed to bring that life to life right now, and that’s not easy. In fact, it’s amazingly difficult.

Kind of like it was for Jesus. Jesus came to tell us that God’s reign on earth was among us, not in the far-off future, and certainly not in any earthly authority. And not only that, he came to embody that heavenly reign on earth in his very self. And it was hard work. You might say he worked himself to death.

Have you ever thought about how much in this world would change if Christians really lived the way Jesus says we should? What would it look life if we truly believed that we have been given life everlasting? How would you respond? How would you change?


Anonymous said...

difficult times seem eternal, great times are the ones we remember - 'everlasting'

Poppy said...

The creation story in Genesis may be helpful here as well. "The likeness and image of God" is a powerful metaphor that describes timelessness among other attributes that are, at once, scary and hopeful.

Steve H said...

Whenever I read stuff like this I think of the very ending of a Star Trek (original series) episode. At least I remember this or maybe it’s just a figment of my imagination. At the very end of the show, some guy (whose life they could save) dies because it’s his choice and his time. So when he dies, Spock, viewing his instrument panel, picks up a very slight energy fluctuation around the planet (or something like that). The implication is that in death he became energy. (somebody help me out here – do you remember it too. I looked through all 3 years episode summaries on two web sites, but didn’t recognize it).
From early years of Sunday School we get this image of angels floating up to heaven in the clouds, St Peter’s standing at the gate (you’ve heard the jokes), we see all the other dead people we know, blah, blah, blah.
My point is that as mature Christians, there is a point at which we should understand “everlasting life”, then also a point at which we do NOT understand it. It’s not important to me if I sprout wings when I die or if I transform into energy and become a quark of quantum flux. This is heavy stuff to have all the answers. (really – this bugs me – does anyone else remember that Star Trek episode?)