Why I Believe in Eternity
I have a confession to make, At times, I have an irrational fear of dying. And I know that I am only in my early 30’s and I am in relatively good health. That I have a wonderful family and a job I am passionate about and lots to live for. And I know that as a believer in Jesus Christ I am not supposed to have this fear.
Yet, for some reason, there are times when I am scared that I am going to die young. And last year, this fear was at its worst. And I realized that more than than thought of simply death, I am scared that after I die it’s all over. That there is nothing more. That I will close my eyes and simply be no more. It will all just end. So, I have been praying that God would give me a sign or a dream (And for those that know me, this is not how I usually pray. I am quite skeptical of these types of supernatural signs.) that eternity is real and I am going to be with the Lord when I die.
Well, no sign or dream has come. But, I continued to pray anyways, adding to my request, that if I couldn’t get a sign or a dream, I would settle for an unexplainable certainty. I figured that maybe I had set my appeal a little high and better temper it was something a bit more practical. Anyways, still no sign or dream, and now to add to the list, no amazing heavenly peace and confidence, either.
However, I did start to have a thought. A thought that kept coming to me. And so I began to wonder, this is a persistent thought, maybe it’s not my own. Maybe God is trying to tell me something. And that thought was, Victor, you are a thinker. Why don’t you just think this one through?
Yes, God expects faith. But, God is also One who can be found through reason. He is the option that makes the most sense when you lay out all the facts and evidence. And this idea to think through the reasons that believing in eternity makes the most sense just wouldn’t leave me.
And where did this profound reasoning lead me? Why, to an old Simpson’s episode of course!
But, before we get to the wisdom of the Simpsons, I have to tell you that at the same time as I was struggling with these thoughts of death; I also was having some memories, some moments, from my past. And with all that is in me, I wanted to be able to go back to these moments. Not because I necessarily wanted to be at that certain point in life again, but more because I wanted, I needed, to feel that way again. I wanted to feel that same exact feeling that I had at that time. And yet, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what that feeling was.
Excitement? Yes, but no. Excitement is more like when I was in fifth grade and got my Super Nintendo for Christmas. This is better than excitement. Contentment? Yes, but that doesn’t fully capture it. There was still another dimension to it beyond just being content. You see, I am quite content eating a Papa Johns pizza and watching Star Trek. This was something far greater than that.
So, I had been trying to figure out what this feeling was. And why I had this intense desire to feel it again. Last Spring, Vanessa and I were on our return drive from a wedding in Baltimore and this gave me plenty of time to think, and also the ear of one with nowhere to escape, to try to think and talk through this. And as I was trying to explain it to Vanessa, my list of times I felt this elusive feeling grew.
The one that had been haunting me the longest took me back to the summer after my sophomore year of high school. I had finally given my life to the Lord that winter. And it was the feeling I had when I would first wake up in the morning. Having slept in, but not too long. I would stay in bed, genuinely excited to pray and read the Bible. After this, I would go for a run, staying in shape for the fall soccer season. And then work close to full time at my first real job, at Giant Eagle, thinking I was just making a ton of money, one hour and $5.10 at a time. Going to Cedar Point with my best friend Mark, who now had his license. Hanging out with youth group friends. Knowing that “real life” lay just ahead. It was a small taste of responsibility with a huge dose of freedom. And that feeling when I would first wake up every morning…. This was the one that has been on my mind for months now, But when I talked to Sessa, there were more.
Loading the charter bus in Lorain Middle School’s parking lot early in the morning for the eighth grade Choir trip to Myrtle Beach. It was the first time I would be leaving the great state of Ohio.
Setting up my classroom in August before I would meet my first class of students in Baltimore.
Seeing the beachfront resort pop up in front of Vanessa and I on our first real vacation together to celebrate our one-year anniversary.
And even simpler, foolish things, like when Mark and I would split the cost of a box of football cards and take turns choosing packs out of the box before we began to open them.
This feeling. This feeling that I found myself longing for, yet eluding me for quite some time now. This feeling that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on.
And then, as I jabbered onto Vanessa, replaying all of these memories, it finally came to me…through the great insight of that old Simpson’s episode. In this episode there is a guest character named Jacques who has an amazing line where he says, “To the most beautiful moment in life, Better than a deed, better than a memory, the moment… of anticipation!”
Anticipation! That was it! That was the feeling I longed for.
And putting a couple of the synonyms for this word together defines it beautifully. An expectant hope.
It was that expectant hope of what is to come that I was longing for. When I would wake up in the morning, the summer before junior year, thinking that life was great and that it was only going to get better. Expectantly awaiting what amazing things were to come.
The anticipation of going on a 14-hour bus ride and exiting Ohio for the first time. And not just on some family vacation, but with lots of eighth grade girls!
Setting up a classroom for my first group of students. And I was just sure that I would change their lives and help them to become better people.
Imagining the week just ahead with my beautiful wife; lounging on the beach, eating delectably, and coming back each night to our room with a view of the ocean.
Or picking the pack of cards out of the box that contained an autographed Peyton Manning rookie card randomly inserted 1 in every 36,000 packs.
And here’s the thing. All of these things were wonderful! That summer in between tenth and eleventh grade was one of the best I ever had.
I always recollect my Myrtle Beach trip with great nostalgia.
My first year of teaching is something I will forever look back on with pride.
Vanessa and I still reminisce about that room in Florida with the giant hot tub not ten feet from the bed and the sound of the ocean as we stood on the balcony.
And there was nothing more fun than taking turns pickings packs of football cards with Mark and then slowly opening each one to build the suspense.
Yet, somehow, each of these did not quite live up to the anticipation, the expectant hope, that I held before the actual event. By the end of that summer I had spent all of the money I had earned from my stock boy job and had nothing to show for it but a bottle of cologne and a boom box.
The week in Myrtle Beach came to an end and although Julia set next to me for the entire fourteen hour bus ride home and fell asleep with her head in my lap, when we got back to Lorain I was still “just a friend.”
And when my first year of teaching ended I hadn’t reached all my students, not Reazon … or Zaire … or Essence….
And during our week in Florida, Vanessa and I found out it was $40 an hour to sit in a beach chair under an umbrella and lounging in the sun did not go quite as expected.
And in all those boxes of football cards that Mark and I bought, neither of us did ever pull that autographed Peyton Manning card.
The truth is, here on this Earth, with every great anticipation, there is the great let down. Typically, this is because the experience just doesn’t live up the expectant hope you had for it. But even in those rare instances where all of the stars align and everything goes exactly as you imagined it; it still comes to an end. And you are left waiting for, yearning for, even aching for, the next great anticipation.
And this is my first reason for a belief in eternity. I call it the Ultimate Anticipation. And now I borrow from CS Lewis, the fact is, this anticipation we feel is to give us a momentary taste of the life to come while leaving us longing for more. It is not supposed to fully quench our thirst because it is one of the ways God is not only trying to get our attention and let us know He is real, but He is also trying to make us realize this existence is but a shadow of real life, eternal life. Think about this life. When there is a natural desire, there is something to satisfy it. When you are hungry, your craving is satisfied by food. Sexual desire is met through intimacy with a partner. The craving to learn is realized with books and reading and classes. The desire to nurture is accomplished through child rearing. And the desire for our anticipation to be fully satisfied, this desire for our experiences to live up to our expectant hope, this this desire will indeed be met as well!
It just won’t be met on Earth as we know it. It can’t be met on this side of eternity. But, I believe when we enter into the Kingdom of God anticipation will still be present. In fact, in a more intense way then we can now possibly imagine. But here is the beautiful difference; there will be no let down! The experience will always meet, and even surpass, our expectant hope! And what’s more, it will lead us directly into the next anticipation that will once again be fully met! The Ultimate Anticipation! Now, that is a beautiful reason to believe in eternity!
My next reason for believing in eternity is neither as profound nor as beautiful. However, I am convinced that almost every person can relate to it at one time or another. And it is simply the thought that this can’t be it; there has to be more life than this! Even the vast majority of people who believe in no particular religion or that there is not any personal God, believe there is something more. The ideas get quite odd as to what there will be after death, but most of the world is in agreement that there is something! But, why is that? Why are we not satisfied with the fact we once were nothing, then through an act of love (or possibly drunken stupidity) we became something, and one day we will die and go back to being nothing once more? All just a part of the circle of life, I suppose.
Yet, most of the world stands up in defiance with me and says, “No!” This is unacceptable! There has to be something more!
Maybe it is just because life has been a bit rocky for me over the last year or so. Now, not to say it has been terrible. It is probably more that my life has been so blessed to this point, that I see some minor inconveniences as major life crisis. But, still, I say to myself, there has to be more than this. More than this continual cycle of digging part way out of debt to only fall further in. Or the roller coaster ride of getting Victor and Jasmine into good schools after making the ridiculous, unwitting move to Maple Heights. Is this all there is? A continuous cycle of, “Oops, that wasn’t such a good idea!” And then, “Well, now what are we going to do about it?”
And there has to be more than these nagging health issues! The sore back. The frequent urination that has me running out of my classroom. The weak esophagus that has me freaking out thinking something is wrong with my heart and keeping me from good sleep. I mean, really? I’m 33. Hopefully not even halfway through my life. And my body will never feel as good as it did ten years ago. Or even 5 years ago. Is that it? A healthy body the first twenty-five years of my life and all downhill from there?
And I don’t know about you, but my job is just not as exciting as it used to be. And I have a pretty awesome job! I’m a teacher. I get to inspire young minds and mold futures. My job is never boring. Each day is truly different. I never watch the clock just waiting for the minutes to tick by. Every day I get there, I blink and it’s lunch break. I blink a second time and its dismissal. But, how I long for the passion I felt when I first began teaching. And I think to myself, there has to be more than a waning passion that leads to a couple decades of monotony until I reach the highly sought after retirement (which really just means I probably have a few short years left before I find myself six feet under).
And how about some people with real problems? Three people I work with are battling cancer, as is my wife’s cousin. One woman at work was just given 6-18 months to live. She is the main caregiver for her grandchildren. Another is a woman my age, mom of three, diagnosed with stage 4, aggressive breast cancer. My wife’s cousin has lost her grandmother and mother in the last three years, only to now be diagnosed with cancer herself. And again, for lack of more sophisticated language, really? Is this it? A few short decades, a painful miserable death, loved ones left mourning and wondering why? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I suppose.
But you see, this isn’t just for people whose lives seem less than ideal or who are facing painful and difficult circumstances. Let’s take a person who has worked their entire life in their dream job and got rich doing it. Had the perfect spouse and the most darling 2.5 children. Traveled and seen every corner of the world. Still, picture with me this person in their last moments. When they lie there knowing the end is near and thinking back over the extraordinary life they’ve lead. I can picture a contented smile form for a moment as the wonderful memories of their life flood in. But, then, as quickly as that smile formed, it begins to disappear. And you look into their eyes. And all you can see is fear. Fear that this is really it. That when they close their eyes, there will be no more. They will be no more.
Poof! That’s it. And in this moment, the clichés of, “But he’s lived such a full life,” or “He was such a good man,” seem empty, if not condescending. And those eighty or so short years, however good they were, don’t seem like hardly enough! But why? Why isn’t that okay? Why can’t we just do our time here on Earth, be buried, and become food for the worms and fertilizers for the flowers? Why can’t we go back to the nothing we came from in peace? I would suggest that maybe, just maybe, we consider that it might be because there is indeed something more!
In John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” we are given a glorious picture of what an almost utopian Earth would look like. I am afraid, however, that Lennon ends up with only a half of the truth here.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…”
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
The world he imagines is beautiful, isn’t it? And it is the world we should help strive to create. A world where we love and accept one another. A world where we live in peace together and make sure all people have what they need. However, when it comes down to it, while we know we should all endeavor to produce this type of world, we somehow know that in reality the world will never quite be this way. That things may improve, become more peaceful, the number of starving people may lessen; yet there will also be evil people and violence and those who care too much about their own well-being and wealth to help those in need. And yet, in spite of this reality, we still long against all hope for this “perfect world,” this utopia.
And again, I would offer up the possibility that this longing is because indeed this world does exist! And when we ask that question, “Isn’t there something more?” Once again, the answer is, “Yes!” And this is the half of the truth that Lennon was missing. This perfect world he imagined cannot exist in the here and now. Nor can it exist through the power and effort of mere humans. But it exists only in eternity. It exists only when Jesus comes back to make all things new. Creating a new Heaven and a new Earth, when all of the longings of our hearts, the cravings for eternity, and the desires for a world without pain and suffering, will become a reality!
In the book of Revelation we get a little glimpse of this world that is to come:
(Revelation 21:3-4) “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
And in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the day was prophesied when all will be made right for all eternity:
(Isaiah 11:6-9) “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like an ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
You see, what was on John Lennon’s heart as he penned the words to “Imagine” is written on every man’s heart. A day when all will be right. A day when this Earth will be full of love and goodness and evil and depravity will be no more. And yes, this is written on our hearts so that we will do all we can to go out and change things for the better now. But, even more than that, this idea that there has to be more, this notion of eternity, is written on our hearts because this ideal we long for is unobtainable in this lifetime and draws us to reach out for something more; to believe that there is indeed more beyond our short existence. And when we get to this point and we cry out, “Lord, if you’re there, reveal yourself to me.” When we reach that moment of true seeking, He promises that indeed He will show himself to us.
And when we go even further and take that next step to bow our knee to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that longing for eternity doesn’t go away, but it intensifies. Because it is at that moment we realize that our short years of what we call life are only the beginning. And that this place we call Earth, at least as we know it now, is not our true country. And that longing intensifies for what will be. When we will enter into everlasting life in our true country, a place that is beyond all of our wildest dreams, where our anticipations come without let down, where we live without pain or fear, where we stand awestruck forevermore in the goodness and splendor of our Maker, our Savior, our Lord.