Thursday, May 4

Eternality

e-ter-nal-i-ty
  1. The condition or quality of being eternal or without beginning or end; the quality of existing outside of time.
  2. The condition or quality of continuing without interruption; perpetuality.
  3. The quality of being forever changeless.
  4. The quality of being timeless, uninterrupted, or endless.
Living in a world where nothing lasts forever, and everyday, every single minute, carries within it a little change, a little loss, a little bit of death, we are forever reminded of our own limits and the limits of our world. Yet we can't--at least I can't--help but long for more: for something beyond, for something permanent, for something fully forever alive.

When my husband died, well-meaning folk would comment that he lived on in his children, or his students, or our memories. That's true enough, I suppose. Youngest son certainly looks like him and walks like him. The older children share some of his character--and characteristics--too. A few students have told me of his lasting influence in their lives. And we have memories--lots of them, good ones--and those memories bring some comfort.

But let's talk turkey for a second. That isn't much, is it? Compared to what there was of him when he was alive, that's piddlingly trivial, and even that little remnant of something him-like will continue to peter out over time until there's nothing left at all. What if my children have no children? Then in a couple of generations, any bit of him, any influence, any memories, will die out completely.

I understand why people cling to ideas like this, and why, when they are searching around for some sort of consoling words for the bereaved, these are the ideas that spring to mind. It's the best we've got, in a temporal world, so we comfort ourselves with it, because something, no matter how trifling, is better than nothing. We cling to the promise of children and exemplary influence and happy memories as if they give big meaning to our mortal lives, but when we're alone in the dark, we know it's all poppycock.

It's not enough for me. I want more--way more--than that. I want something that lasts: unchanging, undying, constantly, fully alive, forever. Something for which there is no waxing or waning, no ebb and flow, no hint or possibility of dying. I want something beyond temporality to hold onto, something from another realm--the realm of the eternal.

Of course, if there is no eternal realm, then my longing for something beyond is just wishful thinking, and I'm left in the cruel and hopeless position of constantly wanting something I know I can never have. But I do believe there is an eternal realm. No, that's not quite right. I believe there is an Eternal Being.

Why? I look out my window and see the mountains, and think of the mountains, and of the whole universe that those mountains are just the teeniest bit of, and I know it's not self-sustaining. The universe isn't here because of itself. The whole of the universe has to exist because of something beyond itself, and that something beyond has to exist independent of input from anything else.

In other words, the something beyond has to be self-sustaining, which is really just another way of speaking about eternality. Something self-sustained cannot have a beginning and it cannot end. Something self-sustained is perpetual by definition. Something that exists without input from anything else will not change. Something truly self-sustained is eternal.

I'm not the only one who sees things this way. The Apostle Paul, writing a long time ago, says that the universe shows us that there is an eternal and powerful divine being beyond the universe. And Paul wasn't just speaking for himself. He says that every single person can look at the universe and understand something about the eternal God who created and sustains it.

Doesn't that seem like a silly statement, since so many people don't believe in an eternal Creator? But Paul wasn't unprepared for that objection. He says that even though we all, deep down, recognize that there must be Someone more and beyond, we also recognize something else: that the existence of an eternal personal power demands something of us. It compels us to acknowledge that we are dependent upon and beholden to that eternal power. And that's an acknowledgment that we aren't so keen on.

So, Paul says, we choose to trade what we all, deep down, know is, for something we all, deep down, know isn't, in order to avoid the implications of the truth of what is. We choose to believe that the universe, with it's ever changing and downward spiraling cycles of life and death, is all there is because, despite the longings left unsatisfied, we like things better that way.

It's a slick trick to avoid our obligations. We'd rather mutter useless answers about children and memories to the bereaved than acknowledge the truth of a Great Eternal One Beyond to whom we owe something big.

And in that, we are fools, since eternality promises so much. Everything that temporality takes from us, eternality can give. The Eternal One, as self-sustaining, self-existent, is a source of life, and not just life that eventually ends, but life with the promise of carrying on forever. The Eternal One is the promise of new life, and resurrection, and fullness and completeness, and never-ending excitement, and forever fresh newness. He is the promise of constant help, of longings satisfied, of hope beyond, of life in another realm.

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