Friday, August 19, 2011

“The resurrection of the body; and life everlasting." (part 2)

What the Scripture normally calls "eternal life," the creed calls "life everlasting."  Neither term means longevity of life, but a special quality of life, namely the life that comes from intimate knowledge of God and communion with Him.  According to Scripture, eternal life entails knowing and abiding in God (1 John 5: 20), which is why Scripture also says that eternal life is not something merely for the distant future.  It can be possessed and experienced right now, right here.  Eternal life is a knowledge, a relationship.  The One Whom we know and to Whom we relate is God.  In Peter's words, eternal life is our participation in God's own divine nature (2 Peter 1: 4), which means that we shall be like God, not in the foolish and sinful way attempted by Adam and Eve, but by the redeeming grace of God in Christ, the one into whose image and character we are ultimately transformed (Rom. 8: 29).
         Eternal life is not the same as mere endless existence, though such notions are included within it.  Nor does eternal life mean, as some commentators say it means, life "outside space and time" or "the absence of time."  Because eternal life entails resurrection of the body, because having a body implies a spatial context, and because space and time seem intimately and inextricably intertwined, eternal life cannot be timeless or spaceless life.  Eternal life is our life with Him Who is Life (John 11: 25), Light (1 John 1: 5), and Love (1 John 4: 8).  It is a life which death cannot end.  Quite the contrary; it is a life which in some ways death actually begins.  And as our resurrection is found solely in Christ, so also is our eternal life:  "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5: 11).
         Careful contemplation of the creed's teaching on this point is immensely practical and provides a much-needed spiritual therapy.  By contemplating the conditions of perfect beatitude that await us and the joy and satisfaction that arise from being precisely what our all-wise Creator intended us to be, we learn more effectively how to wean ourselves from the unprofitable attachments our fallen hearts too quickly make to evil.  Only in the face of infinite joy and godly bliss do we learn not to toy with the meager and shallow pleasures of sin, which can only hurt us.
         Eternal life is the final chapter of the world's great saga, a saga written by the hand of God, the Lord of History.  That chapter brings the end of sorrow, pain, evil and doubt.  Eternal life is God's final word to us -- not death, not annihilation, but life -- life eternal.  That is the creed's final word to us as well.  Where the creed leaves off, the life to come is just beginning.  Epilogue is but prologue after all.

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