Today I watched a little boy walk down the sidewalk after timidly crossing the street. He wore snow boots which looked three sizes too big for him and his little winter coat (also too big) slid down his shoulders.
He wasn’t in a hurry to get home (or wherever he was going), but seemed to stop and look at every crack in the sidewalk as he went, stepping on some and skipping over others. I drove by slowly, watching and wishing I was as not-in-a-rush as he was. I wished I could have not only been as carefree but as furiously curious as he.
Yesterday I was this boy on the path, reciting sidewalk superstition and imagining aliens in the sewers; tomorrow I will be dust.
Life is very short and very long. A lot has happened in my 26.5 years on this planet, and simultaneously, not much has happened, as there are presently 7 billion human experiences of this planet happening right now. I’ve experienced the world temporally (within the confines of time, as opposed to atemporally: outside of time, as some posit God as being) and have been pretty grateful for it.
Today I was thinking about Jesus and the Bible and eternal life.
I was thinking about the film A Ghost Story and how his life is never ending, though it is not enriched. He passes endlessly through time, though in his passage there is neither joy nor purpose, identity or community. It is lonely and indefinite.
I was thinking about how Jesus promises that those who love Him will neither experience death nor will they be cut off from Him. Those who love Him will have eternal life, as promised in John 3:16.
But it’s not merely eternal life.
It’s not simply immortality Christ has promised us—it is far more than that.
If all Christ did was prolong the lives we are currently living, we would have little hope for anything being any better in the eschaton. We don’t merely get an extension of the lives we currently possess, but LIFE!
We don’t have to wait until we die to experience what Christ has promised us. It means that we gain glimpses of freedom and purpose now. You’ve been living life through the fog of pornography/drugs/alcohol, and Christ’s gospel for you is not Just wait till you die, then you can be in heaven.
No, life with Christ begins far sooner than that.
Like, right now.
You don’t need to wait till death to see the fruition of Christ’s promises coming true: His presence and peace is here and now.
I think the key here is understanding life. Or at least thinking about it. Jesus doesn’t say that we will survive eternally, or that we will simply exist without end. We have LIFE!
Elsewhere, He promised that we will have “life, and life to the fullest.” Even in my best moments of this life, I would be cautious to say that I had ‘life and life to the fullest.’ Sure, I have had great moments, but every one has ended.
Every moment of ‘life to the fullest’ has been bookended by pain, sorrow, rejection and disappointment. Every rollercoaster dips and rises. Every height of ecstasy eventually plummets.
But this is what Jesus is saying: That in our everlasting life with Him, it will not be a dry spell of immortality. Our lives after this one will be perpetual livelihood and joy, as unknown to any human this side of the kingdom, except it will not end. Our hope is not in a fleeting glimpse of satisfaction, nor is it in a boring extension of the lives we currently tumble through.
I remember being in college and going to swing dances at the University of Chicago in buildings that looked like they belonged in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. I remember standing on the balcony breathing in the crisp winter air with my sweetheart, dreaming about what life would be like when I finally arrived.
On my more melancholy days, I wonder if those dreams are the closest I’ll ever be to experiencing real life. On my hopeful days, I realize that the finish line isn’t going to appear in this life, that I may cross it. The finish line is at the tail end of this life like a rattle on a snake. It follows her from behind, haunting the path of the being, but rarely in her thoughts.
I think heaven is what I dreamed of standing on that ancient balcony while the big band swing played nearby in the warm indoors. I think heaven is akin to what we catch glimpses of in the poems we read: Not the boring ones which lose our train of thought halfway through, but the ones which suck us in and uppercut us in the jaw. Or the stomach. It’s the lively sort of life pointed to in Anis Mojgani’s poem Sock Hop, or in the wakefulness Annie Dillard seems to capture in every word she’s ever freaking written.
I’ve said it before, but time is the means by which we experience beauty. Without time, your favorite song is merely a note held for eternity. Without time, there is no decay in the fabric of the universe and there is no vineyard fermentation.
Without time we would never die, nor would we ever be fully alive.
So don’t pray to be stuck. Do not fear your death, but see it as a starting line.
In summation, two mistakes we make about the life after this: That it will be a mere continuation of the experience through which you are passing now, and that it will not really be everlasting. Both seem too good to be true, but I think both are what Christ has promised us.
Most of all, this life we are promised is centered around the person of Christ Himself, for He is the source of healing. He is the source of joy, of peace, and of hope. He is the reason we have this mad hope of something better and more solid than anything we could experience here.
Tomorrow you will be dust.
Today, Christ says, come to me and taste life
and life to the fullest
and life everlasting.