The word eternity is often used in a negative way, like ‘I had to wait an eternity to be served in the restaurant’, or ‘it took forever to get home..’ With the increasingly short attention span of our times the notion of eternity is a bit alien. It can connote monotony, a never-ending amount of cloud-hopping, harp-strumming or just hanging out on clouds singing hymns, if you were raised in churches like mine. Mm. What fun.
The idea of nothingness is perhaps more comfortable. We live, we die, that’s it.
There are, of course, many theories about what form life beyond this one may take, and I’m not really trying to add to them, but a recent conversation with a friend set me thinking. She was talking about Kairos, a word used to describe God’s time, the time when a prophecy might be fulfilled, when God intervenes directly in human history. I started thinking about ecstatic experiences in which time essentially stops and the person involved is wholly caught up in God. I wonder whether eternity might be a bit like that. If God is the ultimate reality (which you know by now I believe He is), then eternity is the norm as it were, and time is a construction He made for people. It was one of the first things He did, to create elements with which to measure the passage of time. (Genesis 1: 3 – 6). Another friend said recently that the idea of eternity put his problems, even his big ones, into perspective. So a bad experience became a tiny fragment of negativity in the infinite sweep of forever. But that was in the light of his belief in a positive eternity with God, not nothingness.
Interestingly, after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit God also made sure that life eternal was no longer available, setting angels in place to guard the way to the tree of life. In the creation story Adam and Eve were told not to eat the fruit because they would die. The snake queried that with Eve, essentially encouraging her to take a bite and find out for herself. What followed was that she and Adam were cut off from their source of life, God himself. (Genesis 3). In Jesus Christ that separation is reversed. He is the tree of life for everyone who believes in him. So for someone like me eternity doesn’t start once I’m physically dead. I already have eternal life.
We are driven by time in so many different ways. If eternity is some sort of existence outside of time and the relentless drive of the clock and the calendar, I see it as a gift. For myself, eternity, whatever shape it takes, also puts my daily ups and downs into a useful perspective. It helps me to take a deep breath when I need to, and to remember that in a thousand years today’s troubles will take their place in a much bigger picture.