Saturday, July 2

Eternal Kind of Life

Reality, seen and unseen. Real life. I want to understand it.

I want to understand how to live well, with joy and peace and harmony. This seems like an impossible dream, a utopian speculation, except that I have biographies of a few individuals who lived that way, more or less. Not only by their own account, but also according to the people who lived with them and knew them intimately. And I've actually met one or maybe two people like this, so I'm sure it's not fiction.

George MacDonald insists that eternal life does not mean merely living without end. Who would want that? I love aspects of my present life, but I sure do not want to continue like this forever! Eternity is not about mere duration, he says.

Then what is it?

Dallas Willard remarked in a sermon (found here) that the only place where the Bible describes eternal life is John 17:3. Jesus says God has granted him the authority to give eternal life, and then says, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

Intriguing. And puzzling. Because Jesus doesn't say anything about duration. He doesn't mention harps, halos or streets of gold. (And by the way, what a boring heaven our culture foists on the popular imagination. I prefer my present life to never-ending harp-strumming on clouds, please.)

Essentially, he says eternal life is knowledge. Knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ.

The Bible is an eastern book, written by easterners and to easterners with a thoroughly eastern worldview. We westerners think of knowledge in a rationalistic sense: information. Data. Head knowledge. Stephen Hawking. But biblically knowledge is a matter of heart as well as head. Actually, often they used the word "bowels." Guts. As in, "What's your gut-feeling about this?"

And people used the term "to know" differently related to people, too. "And the man knew Eve his wife, and she conceived." That doesn't mean he knew of her, or understood facts about her biography or even biology. To know is intimate, interactive relationship.

Maybe poets like John Donne got it right when he used erotic imagery to describe relating to God. Jesus says eternal life is a gift. The gift is the intimate, interactive relationship with God and with himself. And he says nothing about duration.

So I can have eternal life now, at least to some degree. That's what those few individuals had. And I suppose I could live forever without much eternal life. Again, who wants that? (Well, depends on your imagination of God, but I digress.)

So I guess when Augustine said, "You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you," he meant eternal life.

Oh God! My heart is restless! I want that kind of life! Could it be true? Could I actually find some kind of fulfillment for my emotional yearnings, sexual passions, social longings? If that's eternal life, I would like some more, please.

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