Eternity. Unfathomable, inconceivable, inexplicable, uncontainable, incomprehensible, indescribable, infinitely unreasonable. It’s a term that gets thrown about often without much thought-“I waited for what seemed like an eternity”; “they rode off into eternity”; “he passed on into eternity”. It’s a theological term to those of the faith that brings great hope for us and great sorrow for those we hold dear who don’t share our faith. It’s a mystical term because it represents something our limited experience can’t quite grasp even when serious attempts are made to do so.
It’s word origin simply means without beginning or end. It is defined as a state in which time has no application, no meaning and no purpose; no tomorrows, no yesterdays, no next year. It is that state into which the soul passes upon mortal death whose eternal condition is based on how the minuscule measure of time called life was lived. Understanding eternity is not unlike trying to understand the scope of the unending universe. It’s difficult because we use measurements for everything from recipes to weight to speed to time, and can’t wrap our minds around something being immeasurable or without limit. Still I have attempted to put into terms we can understand how undefined eternity is.
If you were to combine the sands from every known desert and beach on the earth so that one of those grains of sand represented your life span, the remaining grains of sand would not be indicative of the measurable beginning of eternity. Similarly, if you could combine all the salt water oceans that cover the surface of the earth and somehow extract one molecule of salt from all the waters represented, the remaining molecules would not accurately represent the beginning of an eternal state. And if you could take every loud mouthed belligerent nagging wife or ex and give them all to one man for his entire lifetime, it still wouldn’t represent eternity, though some might argue it would be close!
Forever means forever. As Christians in the faith the thought that we will be with our Creator forever is comforting-it drives us and helps us keep the trials of this life in perspective in as much as we can see the big picture, though at times our vision may be temporarily blurred. There are a host of Biblical references to the notion of eternity that can bring us great pleasure as we anticipate the return of our Lord;
Psalm 23:6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever
Lamentations 5:19 You, LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.
John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
1 Thessalonians 4:17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever
1 John 2:17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
The flip side of eternity brings with it much sorrow and grieves the hearts of those who long for their loved ones to accept the reality of the person of Jesus Christ as Lord eternal. The story told for us in the Bible of the rich man and Lazarus gives implication that we may indeed be aware of those we shared life with but are not sharing eternity with. It is very clear through scripture that there will be no sorrow or regret in Heaven but the suggestion that we will have an awareness of souls lost for eternity remains a possibility.
There exists particularly among the younger generations a sense of invulnerability. And yet in this day with all the things happening around the world we know that no one is guaranteed tomorrow. The workers who entered into the World Trade Center had no idea they would not be exiting that fateful day. The High School kids on the recent ship tragedy had no idea they were spending their last few precious moments on earth. The young professional broad sided by a speeding car, the bartender caught in the crossfire of a gun fight, the athlete who collapses due to a previously unknown heart condition and on and on. No one knows for sure what the day brings and when our measurable mortal time ends and our unfathomable eternity begins.
James 4:13 gives us this warning:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
A mist, a vapor, a puff of smoke that vanishes and is blown away by the wind-our mortal life and its temporal nature. And yet the choices we make here in our measured span of time, our vapor, the way we live our lives and most importantly the way we handled the truth and reality of one Jesus Christ, our acceptance through faith or our denial through humanism, will ultimately determine the quality of our bliss or the horrors of our torment for all eternity. This concept is even lost on the church at times. We must get back to teaching the fundamental truth of eternity in as much as we can wrap our spiritual minds around it, for our sake and the eternal sake of those we love lest all be lost forever by our unwillingness to acknowledge what our minds can barely conceive.