Eternal Life May Not Be What We Think

“This is the promise of faith in Jesus Christ. How many people really ponder the meaning of this?  It’s significant, in part because of what it does not say.  The promise is not to live forever. It says eternal life.  The question therefore is, what does eternal mean? God is eternal.  So is this the promise that the serpent used in order to circumvent God’s will when it convinced Eve to eat the fruit in the garden? Once again, it all depends on one’s idea of God.  It also depends on one’s idea of the nature of humanity.”

Christopher C. Randolph in God So Loved the World; John 3:16 Revisited  

 The Celtic Eternity Knot has no beginning and no end.

 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  
(John 3:16 ESV)

As we delve into John 3:16, I thought that we should work backwards.  We’ll start with the promise and make our way though the means until we end up at the source: God.  Does that make sense?

Eternity…Eternal life….. I’m already beginning to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.  This post could end up being really long or rather short.  The fact is, you’re either going to get this right away or you’re going to think it’s crazy.  I guess a third option is that you’re going to be like me in a trigonometry class and just go, “Huh?”

Human beings like you and me think in linear terms.  We read and write in linear terms too.  That’s why writers utilize terms like “first”, “second”, “next”, “finally”…you get the drift.  Such words help the reader (and the writer make sense out of what the author is attempting to communicate.  We humans like it when things make sense.  The Bible even starts out with, “In the beginning God….”  Our minds, upon reading those words, know that it all starts here.  There’s nothing quite like reading the Bible straight through from beginning to end.  It simply makes sense that way.

Further more, we know when we read the Bible that all the events contained within it happened some 2,000 -4,000 years in the past.  We also know that we live in the present.  We know what “today” means.  We know that tomorrow is in the future.  These are basic concepts that help us make sense of our reality; our lives.

What about “forever”? “Forever” is a very long time.  It’s almost impossible to comprehend but it does make sense. In mathematical terms, a normal human life time is like a line segment whereas forever is more of a line which, by definition, has no beginning and no end.  A big concept, but it makes linear sense.  Today can be considered a point on that line and time goes on forever in either direction, past and future. Isn’t that what we usually think of when we think of “forever”?  And, don’t we equate eternity with forever?

From a Biblical standpoint however, we have a problem.  The Bible gives us a definite beginning and a definite end remember.  There is no forever.  “In the beginning…” And then Revelation goes into great detail about the end of the world.  There will be an end to time as we know it, so forever does not exist except as a mathematical theory.

And yet the Bible promises “eternal life” for our faith in Jesus Christ.  As just described, to equate God’s promise with living forever is a lie. And, I for one reject the idea that the Bible lies. So,  I must conclude that since there is no such thing as forever, eternity must mean something else.

Here’s the deal. Eternity, like God, exists outside of time. It’s not the past.  That is gone.  It’s not the future.  That is uncertain. Besides which, we’ve already explained how they are pieces of a forever that does not actually exist.  That leaves us with the present.

The present exists outside of time. With a snap of your finger you’ve missed it yet it is eternally here at the same “time”.  The promise of faith in Jesus Christ, then is to be able to live in the present. Think about it.  Jesus was crucified for the sins we are all committing right this very instant.  The crucifixion, like Christ, is eternally present, eternally effective for everyone. That’s a beautiful thing if you think about it.

By faith, we become part of God’s eternal plan.  That’s eternal life. At any given moment in any given place, God will move through a believer to further His will for His kingdom.  Being open to that and willing to be used in this way is living the promised eternal life. Didn’t Jesus say that we would do what He did and more?  Miracles are merely outbreaks of eternity.  Outside of time there is no past, no future, no distance, no impossibility.  Those are all constraints of time.  Eternity has no limits precisely because it exists outside of time.  It is therefore, the present.  Right now.  That’s where we find God and our life through faith in Jesus Christ; in the here and now.

It gets even better too.  No matter what you have done in your life and no matter what you think you are about to do, the Eternal Christ is present and you may believe in Him right now and be given eternal life in Him.  He is here/there for you at this very moment.  that’s the nature of eternity.

God Bless,

Christopher

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5 thoughts on “Eternal Life May Not Be What We Think

  1. Pingback: One More Thing… Jesus | Life of a Sinner

  2. Pingback: 120913–George Hach’s Inner Disciplines Journal–Thursday |

  3. One of the things that needs to be taken into account is the definition of the words.

    Forever:
    1. without ever ending; eternally: to last forever.
    2. continually; incessantly; always: He’s forever complaining.

    Eternal:
    1. without beginning or end; lasting forever; always existing ( opposed to temporal ): eternal life.
    2. perpetual; ceaseless; endless: eternal quarreling; eternal chatter.
    3. enduring; immutable: eternal principles.
    4. Metaphysics . existing outside all relations of time; not subject to change.

    In reality, the two words are interchangeable. Both are incomprehensible. In the scope of forever, there is no history, as is the case with eternal. When time ceases, history ceases. We don’t know how things will operate, as we don’t know what it is like to live without time. When God made this earth, He made it timeless. There was neither death nor sickness, it was perfect. When Adam and Eve sinned, it set time in motion. As this was no longer a perfect world, it must now end. That was the consequence of sin. Death was inevitable. The terms forever and eternal refer to the same thing. Eternity lasts forever; forever is an eternity. Both are outside the confines of time. Forever exceeds past the end of time as does eternity. History will end with end of time as history is the written records of what is in the past. When time ceases, those records, and everything that is temporal, will cease to exist.

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    • They are similar, yes. And in common usage what you say is correct. But the definitions you shared are not identical. There are subtle but important differences between the two. In the context of John 3:16, in which this discussion takes place, precision is of utmost importance. The nuances of eternity are Scripturally relevant given the nature of an actual, personal relationship with our Lord and God in this life. Our human language is woefully inadequate for describing the nature of God after all. This post touches on an important aspect of His nature that is rarely if ever considered.

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    • The rest of your comment was excellent as well. I like the concept of God creating a timeless world in the beginning and that time began at the fall. I would tweak that idea a little by saying that life in the garden (not the entire world) was eternal (once again subtley different than timeless) but that Biblical history as we know it begins at the fall.

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