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The Last Things, Part II: Eternity
Posted By Eric Sammons On November 2, 2010 @ 7:57 am In Spirituality | Comments Disabled
Second in a seven-part series
(Previous posts in this series: Part I )
The defining characteristic of our life after death is that it is wholly unlike our life before death. On earth we are always and constantly bound by time; after death we are no longer under this constraint and instead we are swimming in eternity. But what is eternity? What exactly does that mean?
One thing eternity is not is a “long time”. Eternity is nothing like a million years or a billion years or any other length of time. In fact, the last thing to compare eternity with is a lengthy duration of time, as it is more like an ongoing “now”. This is something impossible to grasp fully by those of us who are living in time, but we can try to understand it somewhat by analogy.
Think about two different types of hours spent: the first at an extremely boring lecture of no interest to you, and another in the company of a lover discussing your hopes and dreams about life. During these hours, we perceive the first event as never-ending; the seconds seem to pause and the hour feels like a lifetime. But during the hour spent with the lover, the time flies by and the hour passes without notice. It is a sixty-minute “now”.
But now think about your perception of these two hours a year in the future. For the first hour, nothing can be remembered and the hour has compressed into nothingness. The second hour, on the other hand, has expanded in your mind and every detail can be recalled without hesitation. In hindsight, the first is merely a blimp on your radar while the second fills the memory.
Eternity can be seen as the second hour experienced as the first hour was originally experienced: an memory-filling “now” which never ends.
Sheldon Vanauken in A Severe Mercy had a reflection on what eternity would be like. In it, he italicized all the words which suggest time to show how inadequate our language is to express this great mystery. He wrote,
It is a heavenly afternoon. Davy [his wife who had recently passed away] and I have just had a timeless luncheon (I am assuming that God will not waste so joyous an invention as taste). I then say to her that I shall wander down to sit beneath the beech tree and contemplate the valley for awhile, but I shall be back soon. I do so. I contemplate the valley for some hours or some years – the words are meaningless here where foreverness is in the air. At all events, I contemplate it just as long as I feel like doing. Then I get up and start back, but I meet someone, C.S. Lewis, perhaps, and we sit on a bench and maybe have a pint of bitter and talk for an hour or several hours – until we have said all we have to say for now. And then I go gladly back to Davy. She, meanwhile, has played the celestial organ, an organ on which perhaps every note of a song can be heard at the same time: that is, the song not played in time with half of it gone and half yet to be heard. She has played the organ for a few minutes and is just turning to greet me when I come in. Whether I was away for an hour or a hundred years, whether she has played for ten minutes or thirty, neither of us has waited or could wait for the other. For there simply is no time, no hours, no minutes, no sense of time passing. The ticking has stopped. It is eternity.
Vanauken himself admits that eternity will not be like that, but it is a valiant attempt to put in temporal language the things of an atemporal world.
Although we were created in time, we were created for eternity. All of us have a sense of the “injustice” of time: we feel as if we do not have enough of it, that it passes too quickly (or too slowly), and that it is a burden that always is present to us. After we die, this burden will cease and we will live where there is no constraint of time and every moment will be an eternal “now” which never ends.
In my next post in this series, I will reflect on the bridge that leads one from time to eternity: death.
Article printed from Divine Life – A Blog by Eric Sammons: http://ericsammons.com/blog
URL to article: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2010/11/02/the-last-things-part-ii-eternity/
URLs in this post:
 Part I: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2010/11/01/the-last-things-part-i-the-virtue-of-hope/
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