Thursday, February 4, 2016

Asking Myself: What is Eternal Life?

This is week 5 of my year-long endeavor to pray through some ultimate questions, to discover my actual theology and understanding of God, myself and everything. My weekly questions are taken from the prayer exercise on page 65 of Teresa Blythe's insightful and encouraging book, 50 Ways to Pray. If you're looking to breathe new life into your prayer life, I highly recommend this one! If you've missed last week's musings, you can find it here, or start from the beginning here.

Q: What is Eternal Life?

Depending on how you look at it, this is either a heaven question or a nature of God question. I was raised in a church that emphasized the latter aspect of eternal life. In other words, I was taught "eternal" referred to the quality or kind of life promised to Jesus' followers. My church de-emphasized the forever-and-ever heaven aspect of "eternal," though not denying that eternal life was indeed everlasting. 

This interpretation that eternal life is simply God's divine life— a dynamo of abundance, a resurrecting grave stomp, an ever creating, unstoppable, unflappable, unquenchable, never-thirst again, shining-like-the-sun kind of ζωή -life— suits me just fine. 

The way I see it, eternal life has to be more than an everlasting continuation of life as I know it. I prefer not to dwell too long on the everlasting aspect of eternal because, honestly, one of the things that really freaks me out is thinking about forever. I get that feeling like I'm standing between two opposing mirrors and peering into the greenish depths of a tunnel imprisoning tinier and tinier versions of myself. I know. I'm a little crazy.

My mind, so settled into the finite has a fearful time wrapping around the infinite. I just find it unnerving to think about anything, even the very best of things, having no end. I harbor fears that I might be bored though I should be ecstatic or that maybe after eons God will change, that reality will bend into something else. Forever. This should be a word full of freedom and comfort, but when I let my mind go there, it morphs into an insanity of monotony, a bondage of restlessness. In short, I'm prone to doubt God's goodness.

When I'm in my right mind, a mind set on Christ, I'm pretty sure this is not what God has created in eternity, in the new heaven and new earth. Just those words alone ground forever in something good and familiar, something promising and hopeful. And I start to wonder, in eternity, might there be time and space to do things right? To love well, to redeem the lost and restore the broken. But I also wonder if anything will need to be done at all. Will there be problems to solve in heaven? Or simply improvements and innovations to be added to what's already awesome?

Some say all we'll be doing in eternity is worshipping God. At face value, I don't have a problem with this. He is worthy, after all. But those who emphasize this interpretation of heavenly occupation tend to either envision the sitcom version of eternal worship as a flying hallelujah choir in white wings and gleaming halos, or maybe the contemporary version within the dusky vault of heaven's megachurch, complete with spotlights and fog machines and throaty lead singers. I could do either of those for a little while, perhaps. 

But I'm not buying it. If worshipping God here on earth, in time, can look like many things (and I believe it does) then I think it might look as varied and diverse in heaven. Worship here and now can look like happy tears, a gratitude list, a meal shared with friends, a walk in the barren winter woods, a splash in sun-sparkled ocean, a candle quietly lit, a well-tended garden, a piece of fine art, a quilt whose squares are memories, a heart-wrought poem, novel, or dissertation. A warm embrace. A moment of bodily worship dancing exuberantly or lying prostrate, a song belted behind the driver's seat. A yoga routine. A deep breath in. A sigh exhaled slowly. If our hearts are pointed toward God in the doing, these are all worship.

I think (hope) the multifarious acts of worship will each somehow have their place in eternity, and will be fueled by God' eternal life in us. And this brings me back to my initial interpretation of the question: What exactly is eternal life in the here and now? 

These are the verses that popped into my head (and, for the record, the words and images popped into my head, but I had to use a concordance to find the references):

Solomon's wisdom in Eccesiastes 3:11 (NLT):
"Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end."
John 4:14 (RcV), from Jesus' mid-day meet up with the Samaritan woman at the well:
"But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall by no means thirst forever; but the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water gushing up into eternal life."
John 17:3 (MSG), part of Jesus's epic quiet time conversation with God:
"And this is the real and eternal life: That they know you, the one and only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent."
Bonus from 1 John 5:20 (NLT) I guess the apostle John was the leading expert on eternal life, eh?
 "...we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life."
So what is eternal life? It's knowing God; it's living engulfed in His presence. It's a longing placed in our hearts since eternity past, nurtured and yearned after in the present, and the energizing expectation of of its fulfillment in eternity future. It's Spirit-power gushing up to do what we couldn't in and of ourselves, and to satisfy what nothing else could. It's love we didn't know and couldn't give before knowing Jesus. Eternal life is Jesus, the one and only, himself. We get to start plumbing the depths here and now, but our experience is a shadow of the never-ending depths, the adventure to come. 

What do y'all think?

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