Grappling With Forever
Joe Clark ~~ Mar 14, 2004

As I have mentioned in previous wise thoughts, when I take some time to really think about eternity, the exercise leaves me with more questions than answers. The questions, I think, are a product of me trying to wrap my mind around eternity -- the finite trying to comprehend the infinite. Most people I suppose (and I myself in most other moments of life) would say that thinking this hard about an unfathomable concept like eternity is mostly a poor use of time, since obviously I'll never understand it. But, it does seem to have a bearing on my life, since "life" itself is only an infinitesimally small "blip on the radar screen of eternity." Ignoring the topic because of my lack of understanding of it is necessary at times so I don't go completely crazy, but ignoring it also leaves a substantial set of questions about life unanswered.

So, to begin with, let me frame these comments with the realization that humanity as a whole (and each individual) has been crafted as a mix of the finite and the infinite, at least after the Fall. God has placed some piece of the infiniteness of Himself in us. The implications of that are the stuff that worldviews and paradigms are made of. This infinite nature means that we are not just random collections of rocks and dirt, but that we were made for a purpose.

The Bible states that we were created by God "for His pleasure." Without proper context, that statement offers little hope. So, our goal is to please God for eternity...I know this sounds like a selfish sort of question to ask, but what is there in that plan for us as individual humans? My goal, my plan, my fate is to please God, but in light of eternity, what will pleasing God and being a member of his forever "Bride" look like? Because of biblical context and what I see from God, I trust and believe that this intimate relationship is the highest goal of the infinite and most real part of me, and also the thing that will provide the greatest sense of love, peace, and joy literally forever. I trust also that the random thoughts that would say otherwise are simply products either of my inherent mental limitation, or perhaps the product of an outside force (ie the devil) always looking for a way to confuse humanity about the truths of God.

One thing I often think about in relation to this topic is the paradox in life between the cyclical and the straight-line path. It seems as though God has created our lives and our world and the universe in a very cyclical way. Best example: the seasons. Living in the Midwest US, the seasons are quite distinct, and there is a certain excitement of the seasons, and certain memory-treasuring mindset of being able to remember the general feeling of warm summer nights, of cold winter mornings, of flowers in the springtime, and of the smell of fallen leaves in the autumn. These are comforting images, and I'm sure every person could come up with other such images particular to their own experiences. The seasons give us something to look forward to, and break up an otherwise perhaps monotonous existence.

On the other hand, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes about another facet of the cycles, which perhaps lends a more eternal (and yet mournful) look at the seasons. He describes them (I think) something to the effect of "wearisome" and "meaningless", along with so many other things in life. I'm not sure that he was on solid footing intellectually when making these statements, but I think I see his point. The cycles and the patterns in life are great, but is it not also true that they tend to frame our existence somehow? "Is there nothing more" is the typical question. It can seem troubling that life goes on, season by season, trial by trial, and after a while things become predictable and easier to deal with, but is that really such a high goal? Predictability is not joy, and the same things (even the same joyous things) can become wearisome sometimes. Sometimes we all get restless, even if life is good, at least in this earthly life.

Here's one of the eternity tie-ins, if you haven't figured it out yet. Is eternity going to be another series of cycles? Will there be seasons in heaven? Will there be "ebb" and "flow" of any of a number of things? Of course we can't really say. But it seems (at least sometimes it seems) that either way there is a certain... wearisome pattern to it. Maybe my thinking shouldn't end with such thoughts. A couple questions from the human perspective: does a wise older person grow weary of the changing of the seasons? Does a wise older person grow tired of life itself (not the aches and pains and crummy parts of life, but just life in general)? Does a wise older person grow weary of the patterns that in another mood are the same patterns that give us assurance and hope and fond memories? Do married people in their right mindsets grow tired of their vowed-to spouse? These questions seem to weigh in to this conversation somehow, to the effect that human individuals seem to be chronic miscontents (at least I am), and here's the problem: Eternity is forever. Can a human remain content with [whatever life is like in heaven] for an eternal amount of time? Perhaps another way to answer this question is this: if we were in an atmosphere where the answer to the question, "Is there nothing more?" is an emphatic **NO, this is the destination you've been designed for ** (ie, when we are in heaven with God), will that answer make us restless, or will it fill us with satisfaction that we have finally found what we were looking for? I suppose I write this only from the human perspective, in that right now I know and believe that there IS more, and the searching for more probably taints my view to such a degree that I can't imagine a life where I'm not needing to search for more.

These thoughts lead into the other side of the paradox, the realization that life is a journey. All through our Christian lives, if not our human lives, we tend to have this restlessness I think, this searching for more. Despite (or rather within) the cycles, as the days and weeks and months and years go by, we seek to go to new places, learn new things, to "grow up", to become more than what we are. This becoming is hard, but I think for some of us at least we realize that it is the highest calling and endeavor to keep it at the forefront of our minds. Here's another question: Does it ever occur in life that someone pursues a destination with such tenacity and against such obstacles and for such a long time that when that person arrives, he or she does not know how to enjoy the destination because life has become simply a chase for the prize, and living in "peace" (at the destination) is a foreign concept. This reminds me of the original Star Trek episodes where they would be tempted to embrace some form of "paradise" or another, and Kirk, after leading his men away from the fantasies, would say, "Maybe man wasn't meant for paradise." Interesting...what we seek is peace and rest and contentment and paradise, but at least in the episode, when we find it, we don't know what to do with ourselves because we're so used to searching.

So, does this have any bearing on eternity? When we as Christians enter our eternal home, will we have this restless paradox in this way? Will we say, "I have arrived!...Now what?" I believe that we won't, for one of two reasons: a) God will be such a totally overwhelmingly amazing destination that the journey and our former way of living and thinking will quickly fade into memories of past ignorance, or b) God will perform some miracle on our thinking to purge away the old way of thinking. Either way, there is hope.

The final and perhaps most off the wall thought is that we live our lives in light of death. True, we technically should live our lives in light of eternity, but death is often a more visible effect than eternity. What I mean in a broader sense is the sort of cause-effect, action-reaction laws that govern our universe. It makes sense that everything that has a beginning has an ending, that everything that goes up must come down, that things return to their previous state. This provides (for me at least) an intellectual challenge when contemplating eternity. This is why I have said in the past that the idea of living forever is almost as weird as not living forever. I guess I can't really explain the weirdness of it, and perhaps I in my dysfunction am the only one to think such things (but I doubt it). But again, I rely on a trust in God that tells me that I don't have to understand everything about the future. Truly, I suppose to trust God that heaven won't be boring is just as much a matter of faith and hope as any other thing I trust God about. It could be seen as getting at the very heart of the matter, for if "salvation" is really a benefit, then it must not be boring, and must not be just some "blah" kind of life for the eternal future, but rather a life full of hope, joy, and meaning. If it does not have those qualities, it can hardly be called "salvation."

Some wrapping-up thoughts about heaven & eternity: I know that life in eternity is about *God*. Learning more about Him and learning to "commune" with Him is not only the most important task in this life, but the most important task of eternity as well. "Eternity starts now." I also need to consider the individual versus community aspects, both now and in eternity. I think sometimes I get my brain wrapped up in knots when I think about myself riding my horse into the western sunset for an infinite amount of time. But that lone-ranger attitude is inaccurate. I'm not sure how much comfort it should give me, but I know that I am comforted by the fact that there will be a great multitude of other people there. Dangerous question: Is it normal and wholesome to be glad that there will be other human people in heaven, besides just God? Tough question. On the one hand the intimacy with God is of course The Main Event, but if it really were just Me & Jesus, would that be as joyous as Me-as-part-of-the-community & Jesus. And can I even really think about that question in the proper context, let alone come to any reasonable conclusion, in this limited earthly existence? What is the "bride of Christ" deal all about, and should I try and figure it out now (should it affect my participation in the community of saints here on earth at all), or should I just again trust by faith that God knows what he's doing and not worry about it?

Well, I don't know if I've conveyed the full "mystery" of the kinds of thoughts I have on these topics, but I think I've gotten across most of what's on my mind tonight. I would love to have discussions on the topic, but I think most people see this kind of talk as either too unknowable as to be useful, or as too evident of some mental dysfunction as to be tolerable. Maybe not. What I notice, one way or another, is that while we talk about eternity in general terms, we don't often really think about all that it implies. Perhaps because we're scared to think about it, perhaps because we don't have time to think about it, and perhaps because it's such a foreign, nebulous topic that it's hard to have anything worthwhile to say about it. But for me, I see it as a part of "growing up to maturity in Christ" to think about what life (eternal life) is about, and what role I now play and will one day play in that eternal life.