Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Eternal LIFE

Today I learned of the death of a friend. His health has been fragile for years. We lost touch some time ago.  Then the chance encounter with a mutual friend and the conversational starter, “Did you hear the news about…”  Details were shared and I left sobered by the news.  One more reminder.  From the graying of my hair to the sputtering of my Chevy Lumina; from the uncle with dementia, to the friend awaiting a bone marrow transplant, there are steady reminders of transience that culminate regularly enough in the death of a loved one.

Faced so regularly with mortality, I put the weight on "eternal" when thinking of eternal life.  This is the element that seems out of reach.  All the facial creams and fitness centers can't deliver eternity, despite their grandiose claims.  Each day brings  me one step closer to my impending death.

 But the truth is that all of us are eternal, from the holiest saint to the hardiest scalawag. All will be raised – some to eternity in heaven, others to eternity in hell.  As C.S. Lewis noted, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.  It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory).  Immortality is the common denominator of us all.

In light of this, I wonder if the accent should slide from “eternal” and fall on “life” instead.  At first blush this seems the anticlimactic word of the pair.  Life is wholly familiar, something I get a dosage of each new day. Eternal seems the realm of the exotic, while life feels wholly domesticated, the pussy cat standing next to the tiger.    Life as mere vital signs is not a compelling offer, even if stretched into eternity.  An exceeding pile of blandness is still bland.

But the promise of life in the New Testament is often focused not just on quantity, but on quality; not more of what we already have, but the promise of an abundance of something better.  So Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10) and Paul calls us to take hold of “the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19).  There is quality of life found in Christ that is better than just having a pulse. This is the compelling nature of eternal life...not that it is eternal, but that it is the life that we have always wanted, abundant and satisfying.

So what, precisely, sets this life apart in quality?  We find the answer on the lips of Jesus as he prays. “Now this is eternal life:  that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).  This is a startling verse.  Jesus suggests that eternal life is measured, not by time, but by intimacy.  No mention of harps or wings, pearly gates or white robes, halos or any other comic book images of eternity.  Eternal life is equated with knowing God. In the familiar words of St. Augustine, "God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you."  

This means that eternal life is not something merely future oriented for the Christian.  It begins now.  As my intimacy with God increases, my experience of eternal life increases.  Paul makes it his goal “to know Christ" (Philippians 3:10).  It is a pursuit I can join him in.  I know him through the Word and worship, through fellowship and prayer.  These set me on a course to know God more intimately and to begin to experience, in some measure, eternal life.


  1. This is a great post. My husband just lost his father who had been sick with Parkinson's for some time. Though the normal human reaction is to grieve, my recent growth in my own spirituality made it 'hard' to be sad as my father-in-law is now truely home. I, of course, did not discuss this publicly but had such a sense of comfort throughout the services.

    I was asked to do a reading at the mass. While I was reading about the promise of eternal life, my belief in those words apparently was very obvious, as someone revealed to me later in the day. There were various comments about it wasn't what was read but how it was read. I pray that when I lose my own parents or other loved ones that I have the same strength as I did with my father-in-law.

    Your writing is wonderful...I love the fact that you hold a "real" job during the day and write about God at night. I am an aspiring author who just now realized that I can use my gift of writing and my strong faith to fulfill the dream of being an author while staying true to my duty to spread the word of God. In trying to build my resume, I came across The Upper Room and Weavings. I feel like I belong somewhere, I have found my niche. And more importantly, people like you offer inspiration because like you, I take care of my family during the day (was a teacher) and write at night. So, I guess I should just get to the point and say thank you. I will follow your blog.

    Mary Eileen Oakes
    Cortlandt Manor, NY

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I write about this dynamic of having a job and being a writer in my very first post ( I think you could relate. Best wishes in you writing endeavors.