I’ve really struggled recently with the concept of eternal life. My grandfather passed away this year, and I’ve been close to people with other life-threatening illnesses. Death has been on my mind a lot. If I am honest, I would say I am probably kind of scared of death at the moment. Not only does the thought of not being alive scare me, but the thought of eternity scares me too – I can’t work it out. I can’t comprehend it nor box it in – and that’s not nice.
Yet if it is the way things are, then I need to be at peace with it. I tried to roll with the idea that this life is all there is, but I couldn’t square it with my understanding of the world around me. It just wasn’t enough. Rob Bell has some interesting thoughts around eternal life in his book ’Love Wins’. He talks about the word aeon and how we translate it as “eternal” in terms of a period of time, but that it could also mean an intense, deep, but finite period.
That’s not to say that we don’t go on to live forever – that is of course something possible even if incomprehensible. The interesting thing is that Jesus promises eternal life – but does Jesus mean a life forever, or a life fulfilled – shalom as the hebrews would have called it?
I think perhaps both.
A friend of mine suggested to me today that it was interesting that many of those who lived daringly in the name of Jesus died young – many a martyr, people such as Martin Luther King, and so on. Perhaps they discovered the true eternal life – the shalom opened up to us through Jesus. Perhaps that meant that they didn’t need to experience a long life. Perhaps there’s more to life than the length it has.
The same is true of illnesses. We spend so much time and money in trying to prolong our lives, instead of trying to live them out in such a way as to live them fully – Jesus said “I came that you might have life and have it to the full“. He didn’t say “I came that you might live for a really long time”. I’ve seen this played out in reality recently – the choice of quality over quantity.
It isn’t something that sits naturally. But I think it makes sense. I just don’t feel like it does yet…