Despite growing up going to church, I never really understood eternal life. I was fine with the idea of being surprised at life’s end as to whether or not heaven exists. I mean I’ve been a “pretty good” person so I’ll live life and then confront whatever may be next when it’s in front of me. But for those who enjoy asking tough questions and looking for answers, or what constitutes to some people as intellectuals, society’s common depiction of heaven can be troubling.
But this depiction that is commonly pondered on is based off of incorrect conceptions about what eternal life really is, and I think these same misconceptions prevent so many from understanding Christianity and what it’s purpose is. I want to discuss 4 of the misconceptions I personally had that, when found to be incorrect, changed my view on the faith entirely. I love thinking through deep stuff like this and I hope you enjoy and take something from some of my thoughts from the past couple months.
1. Eternal Life is Simply Living Forever.
I’m a drummer and my family would tell you that I never stop drumming on something at all times. The steering wheel during drives to and from work, the kitchen table during dinner, railings go up and down the stairs… You get the picture. But the idea of doing something, heck even drumming, forever seems well… pretty boring.
In the same way, I had always found the idea of heaven to be well…. boring. Heaven was a bunch of people, clothed in white, in the clouds, behind those pearly gates, playing harps and singing hymns together forever and ever. On and on… and on…….. and you get the picture…
This life looked so much more fun than heaven did, and therefore heaven deserved to take the backseat in priorities to my own life here. Living forever might be fun for a few months, I guess years if you keep meeting new people, but after a while… yawn…
But this belief that it’s simply living forever, strips “eternal life” of it’s greatest characteristic. In the Gospel John, Jesus states,
“… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
– John 10:10 –
He doesn’t state that he has come so they may live forever. He states that they may have life, and have it to the full.
When we say eternal life, so much pivots around both of these words: Eternal and Life.
Life is something that is quantifiable. One can have a lot of life, while another can have very little, seemingly dead. Often we look at it as unchangeable and that we’re each given one and it’s a life regardless of how it’s lived. I would argue that we can have an abundance or scarcity of life.
Think about it. Two drivers on the road are both cut off by an aggressive driver. One of them reacts by flipping off the guy who cut him off and lets this detract from the rest of his day and makes him miserable with other people. The second driver, who realizes the insignificance of what has been done to him, realizing he’s okay and didn’t crash, and doesn’t let it affect his life and relationships with others. This is definitely an extremely simplified situation but hopefully it helps illustrate the point.
And Eternal. While we often associate this with unlimited time, it actually is meant to quantify the amount of life that is offered to us. Think of never ending life being represented by an infinitely long string along a timeline. What real eternal life is that same string of infinite length, but also with an infinite thickness. It’s about experiencing an infinite quality and quantity of life forever.
I think we can all say this world is difficult and trying. Multiple shootings, natural disasters, and heart-wrenching stories have occupied our news, especially this past year it seems. Living forever doesn’t really fix that, but an abundance of “life”, now that sounds enticing and worth looking for.
2. Eternal Life Starts at Death
The light. The moment when we pass from this world and continue on to whatever comes next. A man stands there (I guess this is God) and he determines whether or not you get eternal life and go to heaven, or go to hell. This is the common perception of when eternal life begins.
Growing up, I saw a huge disconnect between this life and this supposed eternal life. It seemed like it was simply a hope for people that needed lemonade in a world that was handing them a ton of lemons. This life seemed “fine” in many respects, and it was difficult to buy into the belief that we would live an entire life here, have it end, and then start another like this one never happened. And when things seem disconnected, one has a legitimate reason to question them. But I think it’s the fault of our culture’s oversimplification of eternal life that has led to this disconnect.
C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce I believe paints a better picture of when eternal life starts, or better yet, when the progression for it starts. He throughout his book emphasizes that right now, in this life, on a daily basis we can either gain life or lose it. Jesus said that he came so that may have life and have it to the full, which means that it wasn’t here before. Power, riches, beauty, sex, relationships, and titles have all been pursued by man as a way of achieving fulfillment, and yet time and time again we have seen how they have failed to fill the void in the individual that longs for purpose and significance and often left them a more deteriorated and lost individual. Christ showed us how to live a full life and then provided the forgiveness, mercy, and sacrifice to enable us to have it.
So in a world that tries to continuously feed us lies about what will make us happy and give us a worthwhile life, I would argue there is only one way to a fullness of life. It starts here and now, not after death.
3. Eternal Life Can Be Earned.
God opens the books and weighs the scales to see how much good and how much bad we’ve done. It’s simple and it’s fair. Like karma, if you do good things, good things happen to you like receiving eternal life. If you do bad things bad things happen to you, you’re going to hell. It’s balanced and just.
But when you realize you’re not as good as you thought before, you start to give more thought to what the whole point of this life is. Could I even earn eternal life if I tried? And what does eternal life look like?
How could an imperfect person be in the presence of a perfect God? If I’ve made but one mistake, how could I possibly be fit for heaven?
“For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
– Romans 6:23 –
God doesn’t want to judge and keep people out of heaven. He wants to be with us and doesn’t want us to experience death.
The ultimate way to demonstrate ones love for someone, would be to give up one’s life for that person to save them, right? A close family member or a significant other is about to walk in front of a speeding vehicle and you dive in and push them out of the way taking the punishment.
Simply put. That’s what Jesus did when he died on the cross. Sin earns death, and death is the absence of life. This world will wear us down if you don’t have anything that’s able to fill you up and give you life. He took the sins that deserve death from those who believe in who he claimed to be, and gives the eternal life he had to those same individuals. It was a demonstration of love. It was God showing just how much he loved mankind and how much he wanted us to be with him. We don’t earn eternal life, it’s a gift from God, sitting in front of us waiting to be opened.
4. Heaven’s Boring
A cartoon version of heaven may work for children but as an adult, I refuse to believe such a childish idea. As I hit my teenage years, I really had a hard time accepting heaven when it was often portrayed like fantasy. As much as I wanted to believe it because my church, and family believed it, I couldn’t myself. It wasn’t until I realized how unlike those typical depictions heaven really was, that I actually committed to believing in it. I’d like to briefly describe as best as I can what I think heaven will really look like. This are small glimpses into what I believe is impossible for us to completely explain or grasp.
Community. First off heaven is a community that is built on 100% pure relationships. Look at the elements of two or three of your best relationships in life. Think about some of the intimacy, trust, and love that is experienced in these. Now imagine that this exists between everyone, where there is no fighting between individuals, there is no sadness or hurt feelings, and everyone can find pure joy in everyone else.
Freedom. It’s a life away from so many of the things that restrict life like listed before. The pursuit of money, power, glory, and pleasure are all intrinsically valueless, and heaven provides fulfillment and frees the individual to satisfy the hunger and thirst for pure life that they long for.
Transformation. It’s not just about living forever. It’s much more about becoming more of who we were intended to be. Imagine a life without guilt, without disappointment in yourself because God has helped you reach the pinnacle where you no longer hurt others.
We often look externally, to possessions and experiences, for excitement and fail to see all the opportunity within the individual and especially within relationships to experience excitement. I think heaven presents a beautiful environment for us to experience those jaw dropping experiences but most importantly within perfect relationships and as the people we were intended to be, pure and without sin. Thanks for reading!
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
– Matthew 7:7-8 –